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Views wanted on document which sets out 'ambition Executive has for our society'

Published 27/05/2016

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness outside Stormont Castle
First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness outside Stormont Castle

A proposed policy framework for the new Stormont Executive has been published, with the public being urged to help shape the power-sharing administration's final programme for government.

The 114-page document is structured around 14 generalised "outcomes" with 42 proposed indicators to measure progress towards them.

Among the outcomes are pledges to create a more equal society; to develop a stronger, more balanced economy; to enjoy long and healthy lives, to foster a safe community and respect for the law; to deliver high quality public service; and to encourage respect for diversity.

The approach has been criticised by rivals of the Democratic Unionist/Sinn Fein administration who have branded it nothing more than an "apple pie" list of vague aspirations with no firm goals.

But the main parties insist that setting a general framework, and then conducting a public consultation to help shape the ultimate policies, is a more "thoughtful" way of governing - one that would ensure the maximum degree of community buy-in.

Publishing the document on Friday, DUP First Minister Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness urged civic society to engage in the process and feed back views.

The ministers have said the approach, which is being used for the first time in Northern Ireland, has previously worked to great effect in Scotland.

In a joint foreword to the blueprint, Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness said: "This Programme for Government Framework sets out the ambition the Executive has for our society.

"These ambitions are generational in nature. They are intended to address the big issues facing our society and to make a difference to the things that matter most to people.

"We believe a different approach is needed and so this new approach focuses on the impact on our people rather than the actions we take within Government."

They added: "This document sets out the direction of travel and the specific things we want to change.

"By the end of 2016 we will have developed detailed plans, working with others, to demonstrate how that difference will be achieved.

"We believe those plans will be better because they have the benefit of informed, expert and user views."

The leaders intend to set specific policies and definite targets when the public consultation exercise concludes at the end of July to enable an alignment with December's budget.

This month's Assembly election has ushered in a new era of politics in Northern Ireland.

Former executive junior partners the Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Alliance all declined the chance to enter the power-sharing administration, instead opting to sit on the opposition benches.

The change is set to significantly alter the dynamic at the executive table and in the Assembly debating chamber.

The only minister at the executive who is not a DUP or Sinn Fein member is independent unionist Claire Sugden, who stepped up to resolve the main parties' quandary on who would fill the politically contentious justice portfolio.

The erstwhile junior executive partners have been among the most critical of the framework approach.

The public consultation exercise ends on July 22.

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From Belfast Telegraph