Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Issues not addressed in shared future strategy

he largest peace wall in Belfast, at Cupar Way, which separates the Catholic Falls area and the Protestant Shankill area of the city
he largest peace wall in Belfast, at Cupar Way, which separates the Catholic Falls area and the Protestant Shankill area of the city

Noel McAdam dissects the proposals and assesses what remains to be done

PEACE WALLS

A 10-year programme to reduce and eventually remove all so-called interface barriers – in agreement with the communities they currently divide.

This proposal was contained in a leaked shared future document but has now emerged as a commitment from the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness said they recognise that community confidence in interface areas can only be built when assurances can be given "that the intimidation and threat which led to the erection of the barriers has been removed".

As an incentive, local communities will be able to access support and help including capital and project grants, ensuring walkways and gates are included as part of a phased opening of the barriers.

YOUTH PROGRAMME

A total of 10,000 young people classed as 'Neets' – not in education, employment or training – are to be offered placements in a scheme which will include a cross-community element.

Its three objectives will be building better community relations, creating better citizens, and giving work experience and volunteer opportunities.

It will "facilitate the young people to meet new friends they would not have met otherwise" to create strong cross-community bonds.

SHARED SUMMER CAMPS

These aim to encourage greater shared education. Around 100 one or two-week summer schools will be created, with activities "designed around creating trust, empathy and greater understanding of each other".

The schemes must have a specified minimum of attendees from both communities and relationships fostered at the camps will be followed up by in-year school activities.

HOUSING INTEGRATION

Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland is being asked to bring forward proposals for the creation of 10 new shared neighbourhood developments, with the detail on where they will be located expected in the next two months. In addition, there will be an overarching review of housing leading to recommendations on how shared neighbourhoods can be enhanced, as revealed in the Belfast Telegraph last year.

SHARED EDUCATION

There is no commitment to the expansion of integrated education. Building on the existing proposals for Lisanelly in Omagh, where five schools have signed a memorandum of understanding, work on 10 shared education campuses will begin within the next five years. And others may follow, Mr McGuinness indicated.

The first step is to identify options and make an assessment of the potential "to bring together a range of schools" to share classes, subjects, sports and other extra-curricular activities.

URBAN VILLAGES

Each of the four villages will be designated as a development zone and a local board appointed to oversee and co-ordinate the planning and design, with a focus on creating community space.

YOUTH SPORTS

Initially it will be aimed at urban and rural interface areas and other locations where space is contested.

STILL TO DO

The three main issues – parades and protests; flags and emblems, and dealing with the legacy of the past – remain unresolved.

Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness are writing to the leaders of all the Assembly parties asking them to nominate two members to a new working group.

It will also include junior ministers Jonathan Bell (DUP) and Jennifer McCann (SF), but will be chaired by an independent person from outside the parties.

It was the failure to make progress on the so-called big ticket issues which led to the fragmentation of the so-called Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI) working group last year.

First Alliance withdrew its MLA, Chris Lyttle, citing a lack of progress on the key areas, followed by the Ulster Unionist nominee John McCallister, who has since left the UUP.

The SDLP's representative, Conall McDevitt, remained working on a document alongside ministers Bell and McCann and they finalised a document several months ago.

The new group will be able to decide which other stakeholders – community relations experts, for example – are invited to join its deliberations.

Residents wary of any bid to remove barriers that keep them secure

They are the most striking symbols of a city divided. Belfast's peace walls sprang up in the late 1960s and were intended as temporary structures

However, the escalation of the Troubles saw miles of concrete and steel increasingly snake through divided areas in a desperate attempt to keep rival factions apart.

Today they are looked upon as a constant, unsavoury reminder of the depths of division rife throughout Northern Ireland's darkest days.

But for a large proportion of those who live in the shadows of the imposing structures – which tower over seven metres in some places – they are viewed as a source of comfort, providing peace of mind and security from attack from "the other side".

In the unionist Woodvale area last night residents were wary of the plans to tear down the walls. Among those to bear the brunt of sectarianism in recent times were three Catholic nuns who had been living in the area for the past decade.

A woman in her 40s who lives just yards from the gate and the home of the nuns said she didn't think the time was right for the structures to be removed.

"I haven't had any bother myself but I know others have," she said. "The walls have been there since I moved here, and they were put up for a reason."

Others were far from enthusiastic when told of the plans – with the attitude mirrored on the other side of the divide.

On the nationalist Springfield Road there was also suspicion and apprehension.

"There's still a lot of issues," a resident said. "I think they should be taken down, but people have to feel safe."

North Belfast SDLP MLA Alban Maginness (below) said he believed the views were typical.

"There's a lot of questions people will ask particularly in relation to the peace walls," he said. "Initially people have to be brought along, persuaded of their own security, guided gently towards this ambitious, worthy goal.

"But there is an element of surprise, I would think, that this will be adopted by Government, so I suppose there will be degree of uncertainty and nervousness amongst people.

"I think that's not unreasonable in the circumstances."

How proposals for reconciliation ended up dividing parties

Every policy detailing steps towards a more shared future seems to be a dilution of the last – perhaps a recognition of the harsh political reality that Northern Ireland's communities will remain divided for the forseeable future.

Stormont's initial draft of the blueprint almost four years ago was described as a landmark. It was the first attempt by a power-sharing administration to draw up an agreed programme on how our deep-seated problems might be overcome.

As such, it marked a significant change from the neglect of the direct rule decades when there was little attempt to deal with the underlying issues of sectarian division.

The Community Relations Council said that during those years, policies on planning, public services, business and much of private life was carried out as if this was a normal society.

But reaction to Stormont's first attempt to improve relations from almost 300 organisations and individuals underlined how the proposals required "significant surgery". Responses to the document were "very damning", saying it lacked coherence, used "out of touch" language and left people involved in community relations work feeling excluded.

Then came the five-party Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI) working party which met weekly for months – without any real breakthough – leading to Alliance and the Ulster Unionists walking away.

It reflected not just the values of reconciliation and mutual respect in the Good Friday Agreement, but a commitment to a shared future which became part of the ministerial pledge for all Stormont ministers after the St Andrews Agreement.

While ambitious and well-intentioned, the paper did not contain workable definitions of what cohesion, sharing and integration might actually mean, and there was little in the way of specific measures which could effect change on the ground.

In contrast, yesterday's limited proposals from Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness would – if they ever happen – lead to real visible change on the ground.

But the problem with the current proposals is it would be a long time before we would see that change.

Discussions in Wales may be missing two of dispute's key players

Two of the key players in Northern Ireland's marching disputes may not attend a seminar in Wales aimed at easing tensions on the streets this summer.

All the main political parties are attending the two-day seminar in Cardiff next Friday and Saturday.

However, two central players -- the Orange Order and the Progressive Unionist Party -- may not attend.

On Thursday night Mervyn Gibson, a senior Belfast Orangeman, said he had been invited but couldn't make it.

He added: "The Orange Institution wasn't invited officially.

"(PSNI Assistant Chief Constable) George Hamilton did mention at a meeting that if anyone wanted to come they could, but that is not a formal invitation."

On Thursday night, ACC Hamilton said he didn't yet know if the Order was coming.

He added that the get-together, originally planned for Germany, would involve up to 25 people.

He explained: "The relationships between the police and some communities in Belfast were strained during the end of last year's marching season and flags protest.

"This is an opportunity to engage with people identifying ways of getting a broader base of support for the rule of law. It is not negotiation, it is about establishing the lines of communication. We are making sure that, from senior level to people on the ground, we have something in place that can help if there are heightened tensions this summer."

Those attending include UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, Gerry Kelly and Sean 'Spike' Murray of Sinn Fein, and the SDLP's Conall McDevitt. The event, news of which leaked yesterday, is being facilitated by former Community Relations Council chief Dr Duncan Morrow. It is paid for by the NIO and the PSNI.

The PUP confirmed the party had received an invitation and was considering it.

A party spokesman said: "There is a lot of scepticism about what can be achieved in such a short space of time, but it is better than doing nothing. Therefore, I think the space needs to be given for the initiative to take place."

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