Alliance: Give up on failed talks and let someone else draw up shared future plan
Efforts by Stormont parties to come up with a shared future strategy have failed and the process should be handed over to an independent group of outsiders, the Alliance Party has said.
Both Alliance and the UUP have quit the all-party Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI) working group, complaining that it was going nowhere.
Despite aiming for social harmony the group had become mired in wrangling, with publication repeatedly delayed.
Now Alliance has appealed to First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness to end the long-running row by handing the issue over to a shared future reference group.
The group would have an independent chairman and would tackle issues like flags, shared services between the two communities and integrated education.
It would have input from all political parties but would also include "representatives of civic society with expertise and experience in bringing different sections of our community together". The aim would be to reach agreement by the autumn.
The proposal came in a letter from David Ford, the Justice Minister and Alliance leader, to Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness at the end of last month.
"After 18 months of private discussions the parties-only approach has failed," he said.
"Given the importance of this issue to our community we believe the public have a right to voice their opinion, on the record, in an open forum. Nineteen years since the ceasefires, 15 years since the Good Friday Agreement and after 10 years of devolved Government, no effective strategy to move our community beyond the ending of violence has been produced. We simply have to get on with it," Mr Ford said.
Mr Ford added the First and Deputy First Minister should immediately conclude their working group and publish a draft strategy of what they have achieved so far for the new shared future reference group to consider, take evidence from the public, and respond to.
It would make recommendations by June of this year, and the First Minister and Deputy First Minister would bring a final strategy to the Executive after the summer.
Mr Ford released his letter to the Belfast Telegraph in an attempt to kick-start a response. He said he had sent it two weeks ago, but had yet to receive a reply.
Creating a strategy for improving community relations has been dragging on since 2005 when the direct rule administration produced a document called A Shared Future. After devolution was restored, local parties rejected it saying that they could do better. Since then they have failed to agree anything, despite NIO pressure to produce something.