Ford: our critics pay lip service to a shared future, they are happy to perpetuate divisions
Alliance leader David Ford has hit back in an increasingly bitter war of words over community relations by accusing Executive parties of failing to tackle sectarianism because they want to keep society here divided.
Mr Ford also blasted those parties that signed up to a segregated housing scheme on the site of the old Girdwood military barracks in north Belfast.
A fierce row has been raging at Stormont since the Belfast Telegraph revealed that Alliance had quit a key Assembly group to set up a Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI) strategy,
Mr Ford said he had done so because “other political parties are not prepared to look for ways to transform this society. They are merely concerned to maintain the strength of their section of the community”.
In a furious response, First Minister Peter Robinson dubbed his Justice Minister “boycotter Ford”
He added: “When the Alliance Party’s claims of being the party of consensus and finding agreement were tested, they failed.”
But Mr Ford said that it was impossible to find accommodation. “What we won't do is compromise on something which puts a veneer of respectability on division and actually takes us backwards,” he said.
Mr Ford said the “process” which led to his walkout started just over two weeks ago. Then he read a Belfast Telegraph interview in which Mr Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said that they would bring forward their own shared future strategy and blamed Alliance for holding up the work of five party groups.
Mr Ford ridiculed accusations by Mr McGuinness that Alliance’s attendance at the working group had left a lot to be desired.
“We have attended every meeting,” he said.
“They have failed to answer an urgent written Assembly question last week as to what the attendance record was. That suggests they didn’t have any substance to what they claimed.
“That shows what the integrity of the process was like, but much more importantly it lacked substance of the process. They simply weren’t prepared to be serious.”
Last Monday Alliance presented the working group with eight principles which were not accepted by the other parties.
“For instance, they wouldn’t have a target for the number of children in shared and integrated education. It wasn’t a case of what the target would be, they wouldn’t agree that there should be a target,” Mr Ford said.
“Girdwood is the classic example of where they are failing to deliver. It is a large site which will have recreational facilities in the middle and two sets of segregated housing. This is nothing to do with a shared future, this is about continuing to maintain those divisions,” he claimed.
He ruled out withdrawing Alliance from the Executive over the issue, pledging instead to open up a public debate and make progress where he could.
“We will continue to do the job we can do where we have the opportunities in our two departments and in the councils,” he said.
However, his move has clearly put strains on his relationship with all the other parties and they may not be easy to heal. While Mr Robinson led the attack, Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionists joined in.
Sinn Fein junior minister Martina Anderson said Alliance’s proposal on integrated education “appeared to amount to ending the Catholic education system”.
She accused the Alliance Party of being “politically wedded to the (community relations) industry and quangos who have worked in this sector at great cost to the public purse for decades.”