A range of activist groups have severely attacked Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness’s strategy for tackling sectarianism.
Already rebuffed by three of the parties which form the Executive — the Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Alliance — the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI) blueprint has now come under fire from groups representing the disabled, the gay community and female victims of domestic violence.
As the Belfast Telegraph revealed last month, more than 150 prominent figures — including experts working in the area of reconciliation — have demanded the CSI initiative should be rewritten.
In an open letter to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister published in this newspaper, they warned the proposals hold out “only a future of sustained segregation”.
But now a Stormont committee has been told opposition to the policy document stretches beyond professionals and political parties.
Simon McClenahan, of Disability Action, said: “... the consultation document does not mention disability, which I find incredible. There is no mention of ethnic minority people with disabilities or of victims of the conflict. There is nothing at all about either.
“It mentions ‘shared space’, but there is no mention of whether shared space has to be open to all and accessible.
“There is no mention of disability hate crime, yet, according to PSNI figures, that goes on. There is no mention of anything for disabled people.”
Gillian Clifford, of Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland, said: “We and the wider women’s sector are extremely disappointed. (There is) complete astonishment, frustration and, indeed, hurt at the absence of any consideration of women and gender in the document.
“Far from promoting equality of opportunity for all our citizens, it appears to limit its scope to a discussion of race and political and religious beliefs.”
The committee which monitors the First Ministers’ office also heard from representatives of the Lesbian Advocacy Services Initiative and from the Rainbow Project, which has centres in Belfast and Londonderry.
The Rainbow Project’s Matthew McDermott said: “It is very short- sighted to limit the strategy to sectarianism and racism.
“We agree 100% that those are two blights on our society that need to be addressed, but there is no reason why they should be addressed in isolation.”
The proposals have also come under fire from the Community Relations Council, whose chief executive Duncan Morrow said: “Sectarianism here is part of normality. What we need is a root and branch change.”
The Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister have said they will consider all submissions sent during the slightly extended consultation period.