Belfast Telegraph

Blow to shared future strategy as UUP quits working group

By Noel McAdam

New doubts over Stormont’s strategy to tackle sectarianism have surfaced despite Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness moving to finalise the proposals.

An agreed blueprint for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI) still hangs in the balance after the UUP pulled out of a Stormont working group. Alliance withdrew some time ago.

Questions were being asked after it emerged the group — now comprised of the DUP’s Jonathan Bell, Sinn Fein’s Jennifer McCann and SDLP MLA Conall McDevitt — pencilled in more meetings.

Though the First Minister and Deputy First Minister said the five main party leaders will meet in September to conclude the report, senior UUP MLA Basil McCrea branded the process “a sham” and said leader Mike Nesbitt shouldn’t attend.

Senior sources said the next working group meeting is scheduled for August and is unlikely to complete its reworking of the original CSI proposals for some time.

South Belfast MLA Mr McDevitt said the OFMDFM statement was “clumsily worded”, with the group still “some way off” from finalising its report.

UUP MLA John McCallister accused Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness of “bad faith” in failing to inform the other parties about their statement before it was released to the media.

“My biggest concern is that they have jeopardised the progress being made by setting an arbitrary deadline for six weeks or so hence,” the South Down MLA explained.

Robin Wilson, the chairman of the campaign group which two years ago — via an open letter in the Belfast Telegraph — forced an overhaul of the strategy, said: “It is imperative that any new version of the CSI document is not another lowest common denominator outcome of private negotiations between the First and Deputy First Ministers’ political advisers.”

The Lagan Valley MLA argued OFMDFM statement “certainly reads as if they have recieved a document but the work had not been finalised.

“So this is the First and deputy First Minister with a fairly perfunctory statement just deciding to pack the group up and move ahead on their own,” he said.

Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness said they had received a report from their representatives on the CSI working group and were “encouraged that considerable progress has been made. (We) will meet with party leaders in early September to conclude the process.”

Analysis

It may have become inevitable that Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness would pull the plug on the CSI process. For even when a strategy has to go back to the drawing board — as this one did — it should not take two years to renew, review and refresh. It must be asked how successful the sequel could hope to be if it cannot garner support from even the middle-ground Alliance Party and at least the more liberal wing of Ulster Unionism. Some major planks of the blueprint still have to be worked out. Details are crucial, but they can bog down a plan meant to be inspirational, visionary and give leadership on perhaps the most vital issue for Northern Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph