Belfast Telegraph

Community Relations Council chief hails 2016 a year of progress

By Noel McAdam

The head of the Community Relations Council believes politicians and civic leaders should be "congratulated" on their achievements this year.

Peter Osborne said there had been fears 2016 - which included the Easter Rising and Somme centenaries - could prove difficult.

Mr Osborne added people were now prepared to see more progress on reconciliation, including segregated housing, education and teacher training.

"I think that, as a society, we need to start talking much more about tackling the causes of those divisions rather than managing the division," he said.

However, the CRC chairman said the peace process will "take decades".

Speaking to a Stormont committee, he said: "Politicians of all parties and others, including people in civil society, should be congratulated on what has been achieved with the institutions. We should not underestimate the importance of that to our peace process. We have had a summer that was as peaceful as it has been. Hardly a stone was thrown during the summer.

"We resolved contention in areas that people said were unresolvable just a few years ago. Not only has Northern Ireland and Ireland as a whole got through it, but we have got through it extremely constructively and positively. It has laid a foundation for future commemoration events during 2017 and in the difficult years that lie ahead."

Mr Osborne was giving evidence to the committee that monitors the First Minister and Deputy First Minister's office on the Executive's blueprint for governing Northern Ireland.

"Various studies and surveys tell us that people are ready for much more progress around segregated housing and segregation in education and teacher training," he said.

"The issue there becomes what is legislated for and what the Assembly and others want to do in policy and structures. We need to make much more progress in the next 10 or 20 years in dismantling segregation in education and housing."

Mr Osborne, a former chair of the Parades Commission, also said the education and the health systems continued to throw up major challenges.

"Educational underachievement is a huge issue for people from Protestant and Catholic working-class communities. Though we have an education system that achieves significantly, it lets down quite a number of people.

"We have a health system where, if you are a boy or man who lives in a working-class disadvantaged community, you will die six-and-a-half years younger than a man living in a middle-class community.

"We have a situation where if you are a woman living in a disadvantaged community, you will have 14 fewer healthy years in your life than a woman living in a middle-class community.

"We have 300 suicides every year. Those families are from Protestant and Catholic areas, but the thing that unites them is that they are largely going to be from disadvantaged working-class communities."

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