Sinn Fein and DUP at odds over delay to revised plan to combat racism
The long-delayed Racial Equality Strategy is still weeks away from being made public, it has emerged.
Sinn Fein said the unveiling of the blueprint – seven years after a revision of the proposals was first suggested – should happen in a few days, and blamed the DUP for the delay.
The DUP yesterday accused Sinn Fein of "disengenuous politicking", but added the party "hoped" the document would be published in the coming weeks.
The two main power-sharing parties batted the issue back and forth, in the aftermath of Peter Robinson's public apology for offence caused to Muslims after he defended a trenchant attack on Islam by Belfast Pastor James McConnell.
Sinn Fein insisted it had signed off on the strategy, and it was being held up by the DUP.
The DUP countered, saying Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness had this week sent a further series of questions about the document which needed to be worked through.
Sinn Fein junior Minister Jennifer McCann said: "I don't see any reason why it should not go out within the next few days.
"It needs to be put out immediately for public consultation."
Ms McCann repeated her insistence earlier this week that Mr McGuinness had already signed off on the document – which was first mooted almost three years before a strategy launched under direct rule came to an end.
"I stand over what I said in the Assembly that Martin has already cleared it," she said.
"Our side has already signed off on it and it is sitting as far as I can tell on the First Minister's side."
She said she did not know the reasons for any further delay.
DUP MLA Robin Newton said: "Sinn Fein seem to be attempting to manufacture differences when it comes to the Racial Equality Strategy.
"There is no substantive political difference between the two parties on this issue and good progress has been made.
"The Deputy First Minister, however, submitted a series of additional questions relating to the document this week, some of which require further work by officials.
"It would therefore seem unlikely that Sinn Fein are in a position to sign off on the document at this stage and should refrain from disingenuously politicking.
"We want to work through the remaining issues and hope that it might be published in the coming weeks.
"The publication of a strategy will not solve all the problems we face however but will allow stakeholders to assist us in creating a truly shared, diverse society."
Ms McCann responded: "Sinn Fein did raise questions and make comments about the draft Racial Equality Strategy earlier this week.
"However, those questions have been answered and we have cleared the document and believe that it should now be published and put out to consultation as soon as possible."
Research published as far back as 2000 identified that racism is a significant problem in Northern Ireland and there was a need for a "concerted strategy". The Community Relations Council warned that in areas where sectarian attitudes are high that "racist attitudes also tend to be high". Under direct rule – when Stormont was suspended – a racial equality strategy was published covering the period 2005- 2010 and was finally endorsed in an Assembly debate in July, 2007. Since then, officials have been working on a revised strategy to meet the "actual and real needs of our ethnic minority population".