Alliance unveils its blueprint for healing divisions in Northern Ireland
The flying of national flags from lampposts in Northern Ireland should be subject to State regulation, with zero tolerance of paramilitary symbols, an Alliance community relations blueprint has recommended.
Eight months after walking away from an Assembly working group, the Alliance Party has produced its own comprehensive proposals — and called for a new forum to decide on the way ahead.
Its blueprint includes areas on which the working group — which started off with all five main Stormont parties until the Ulster Unionists also quit — has yet to reach agreement, including the crunch issues of flags and the legacy of the Troubles.
Despite leaving last May, Alliance leader David Ford said he was willing to work with the other parties in new talks.
But he also made clear his party is not attempting to supercede the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI) document on which the DUP and Sinn Fein junior ministers, Jonathan Bell and Jennifer McCann, and the SDLP’s Conall McDevitt have been continuing to negotiate until recently.
Mr Ford and Alliance’s second Executive minister, Stephen Farry, insist their 72-page paper — called For Everyone — contains achievable targets and should be the benchmark against which any eventual programme is measured.
Employment Minister Mr Farry argued it is much more than an Alliance “wish-list” and had been written as if it could be an agreed Executive paper.
Under pressure following its recent tactics over the Belfast City Council decision on restricting the display of the Union flag, the initiative will be viewed as an Alliance attempt to recapture the political initiative and make up for any lost ground with voters and potential supporters.
On flags, Alliance said the Executive should agree the Union flag is flown on public and civic buildings on designated days, ensure a common policy is agreed for the 11 new super-councils to form next year and consult on the development of shared symbols.
Calling for work by the Government and statutory agencies to regulate the display of flags, Alliance said all flags and other emblems on the public highway should be subject to clear regulations under a new flags protocol.
On more shared education, Alliance called for a minimum target of 20% of children in integrated schools — compared to the present 6% — and 40% in ‘mixed’ schools by 2020. The paper said apart from exceptional cases, all future new schools should be integrated and a new revised duty in favour of integration placed on the forthcoming Education and Skills Authority.
The paper differs significantly from the most recent leaked paper from the remnant CSI working group, which had mooted the dismantling of all peace walls and interfaces by 2022. Alliance instead argues that of the present 82 “segregation barriers” — using figures from the Community Relations Council — a minimum of 20% should be removed over the next 10 years and 30% within 15 years.
On dealing with the past, and Troubles legacy, Alliance said the Executive must engage with the British and Irish Governments to agree a cross-party talks process involving victims and survivors.
Mr Ford said that his party withdrew from talks last May because it was becoming clear that Stormont was working towards a “lowest common denominator” approach.
What the proposals say about...
- Union flag is flown on public and civic buildings on designated days with agreed policy for new councils.
- New protocol to ensure all flags and other emblems on the public highway are subject to clear regulations.
- Executive must engage with the British and Irish governments to agree on terms for a cross-party talks process, allowing victims and survivors to take part.
- All new schools should be integrated.
- Minimum target of 20% of children in integrated schools and 40% in ‘mixed’ schools by 2020.
- Revised duty in favour of integration placed on the incoming Education and Skills Authority.
- Of the present 82 segregation barriers — using Community Relations Council figures — a minimum of 20% should be removed over the next 10 years and 30% within 15 years.
- Comprehensive review on housing to eliminate “all evidence of threat, intimidation and exclusive claims” to territory by 2025 so that mixed and shared housing is considered the norm.