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Anti-sectarian plan ‘doomed to fail’ as support evaporates

By Noel McAdam

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness’ Cohesion, Sharing and Integration blueprint to combat sectarianism appears to be hanging by a thread after rejection by all the other main Stormont parties.

Individuals and groups working on the ground have already rebuffed the strategy.

As the SDLP added its voice to the growing opposition, the Community Relations Council (CRC) — which is itself under threat — said the plan appeared doomed to failure.

CRC chief executive Duncan Morrow said the proposals lack co-ordination and could not deliver, partly because they did not recognise the link between community divisions and the current economic situation.

“The Government’s economic aims can only succeed with a serious programme to tackle sectarianism, racism and violence. Sectarianism and antagonism cement social exclusion and destroy prosperity,” he said.

“Sectarianism here is part of normality. What we need is a root and branch change, or it will be at risk of just tinkering.”

As the Belfast Telegraph revealed last month, more than 150 senior figures across Northern Ireland have demanded that the strategy document should be re-written.

Their criticism was backed by the Alliance Party — whose leader David Ford demanded publication of the document before accepting the post of Justice Minister — and the Ulster Unionist Party.

Now the SDLP has said the proposals are “fundamentally flawed” and “should not be progressed”.

Its rejection means that three of the five parties represented on the Stormont Executive are now opposed to the current package, although the DUP and Sinn Fein still have sufficient Assembly Members to force the policy through.

Former Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie’s party said the plan “fails to understand the problems in our society and therefore fails to provide an adequate platform to address (them)”.

The SDLP response argues the strategy “does not attempt to address the division itself or any of its causes” and sets its sights very low.

It said the plan may be the result of a dysfunctional office or “an utterly cynical exercise” by Sinn Fein and the DUP “who do not want a strategy to deliver a shared future in the North”. Platform for Change chair Robin Wilson said: “Since the First Minister and Deputy First Minister do not even agree on the derivation of the problem — the former blames (republican) paramilitarism, the latter British colonialism and Protestant supremacism — it is hardly surprising that nothing coherent has emerged by way of a solution and that there are no significant new concrete proposals to achieve it.”

Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott has insisted he will fight to retain the CRC.

Demanding the document should be overhauled, the Alliance Party’s Stephen Farry said: “The difficulty is the paradox that both these parties depend on the segregated power blocs for their support.”

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