Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

NI 'risks lurching back into past'

Peter Robinson suggested a 'story-telling archive' could be established on the site of the former prison where IRA hunger strikes took place

Northern Ireland remains deeply divided across society and politics and risks lurching back into the past, a report has said.

Separate political cultures have not been reconciled while housing and education has seen deepening segregation, a review for the Community Relations Council added.

Paramilitarism remains a threat, the policing deal is not secure with many Catholic recruits leaving early and there has been no strategy for reconciliation or dealing with the past, the document added.

"No new political party has emerged since the 1998 Agreement and the stability of Northern Ireland politics is to do with the equilibrium achieved between the two blocs rather than any reconciliation between the two political cultures," it said.

In the May election the Democratic Unionists attracted only 2% of transfers from nationalist voters and Sinn Fein only received 2.2% of transfers from unionists. Both parties emerged having outdistanced their rivals the Ulster Unionists and nationalist SDLP.

"Their parallel trajectories have left them defined less by their constitutional preferences and more by their ethnic bases," the Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring report added.

"To put it more simply, the gravitational pull towards a strong voice in each community suggests that in the future Northern Ireland politics will be defined by one large Catholic party and one large Protestant party."

Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson has said no consensus exists on dealing with the past but First Minister Peter Robinson has suggested a "story-telling archive" could be established on the site of the former Maze/Long Kesh prison where the IRA hunger strikes took place.

The report, however, did highlight some positive points. It noted community peace building activities and said the political institutions are secure with all five main parties prepared to work within an agreed political framework.

The number of shootings and bombings fell by over a quarter in 2011, from 171 to 124, and Northern Ireland is relatively peaceful. However, new Catholic constable Ronan Kerr was killed by dissident republicans in Omagh, Co Tyrone, and there are signs of more Catholics than Protestants leaving the police within five years. The proportion of Catholics in the force is still lower than the general population.

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