Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

Northern Ireland shared future blueprint misses deadline... again

Belfast peaceline reflects extent of division across Northern Ireland
Belfast peaceline reflects extent of division across Northern Ireland

Stormont's long-awaited strategy for starting to tackle division and sectarianism has missed another deadline — and could remain under wraps for some time.

Already delayed by several years, the so-called Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI) proposals had been expected to emerge before Christmas.

But the Belfast Telegraph understands the Assembly parties remain deadlocked on key issues including parading and dealing with the legacy of the Troubles.

And even before the upheaval of the last fortnight, with death threats against politicians and street protests which sometimes turned to violence, the working group set up to deal with the detail of CSI had also failed to reach agreement on the flying of flags.

And in the same way in which changes to displaying the Union flag have unsettled the unionist parties, the complex issues around dealing with the past have the potential to unnerve Sinn Fein.

It is understood special advisers have failed to find a way to agree on around 10 pages of a document which has now been with First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness for weeks.

A few weeks ago, before the political agenda became dominated by the flags issue after Belfast City Council voted to move from flying the Union flag all-year round to designated days, Mr Robinson said the document would be made public before Christmas.

And earlier in the year Mr McGuinness told MLAs: “The vibes that are coming from (the group) are encouraging and I would hope to see a successful outcome sooner rather than later.”

However, the paper prepared by the small working group had at that point still to be signed off on by the party leaders.

The group is now comprised of representatives of the two biggest parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein — the junior ministers Jonathan Bell and Jennifer McCann — and the SDLP’s Conall McDevitt.

Earlier in the year the two other parties which form part of the Executive — Alliance and the UUP — walked away from the group in protest at the lack of progress.

First the Alliance Party quit, followed by the UUP, whose representative was former party deputy leader John McCallister.

Alliance leader David Ford is to attend a leaders’ meeting on the CSI document but has made clear he will not endorse it unless it is “significantly improved” from the draft over which colleague Chris Lyttle resigned, and some in Alliance suspect it may well be even worse.

Mr McCallister’s colleague Basil McCrea said it was clear the CSI process was “effectively a sham” and the document which will eventually emerge would amount to little more than “honeyed words”.

He also cautioned UUP leader Mr Nesbitt against even attending a meeting to agree it.

Story so far

2010

After years of wrangling, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness produce agreed ‘shared future’ document.

2011

January — analysis report of consultation responses arrives with OFMDFM

September — main parties agree a working group to examine the blueprint and responses

2012

July — After criticising Alliance, Ulster Unionists quits the working group accusing DUP and Sinn Fein of showing “contempt” for the political process

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