UUP leader adds to the criticism of anti-hate strategy
Opposition to Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness’ blueprint to fight sectarianism grew yesterday after another political party voiced deep concern.
Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott slammed the strategy as “wholly inadequate” and warned it only pushes issues of community division into the long grass.
Mr Elliott also insisted his party would fight for the retention of the Community Relations Council (CRC), which could be under threat if Sinn Fein and the DUP use their majority in the Executive and Assembly to vote the proposals through.
“Today we have more peace lines than in the year of the Good Friday Agreement, 1998, and more people live in segregated communities,” the Fermanagh MLA said.
“This is despite the fact that we have a stringent and enforced equality regime in Northern Ireland and more people than ever want a genuinely shared future.
“It is this reality which makes the DUP and Sinn Fein’s Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI) Programme such a disappointment.”
It came after the Alliance Party — which demanded publication of the strategy in return for leader David Ford becoming Justice Minister — said the CSI document needed a radical overhaul.
As the Belfast Telegraph revealed last week, more than 150 prominent individuals have backed an open letter to the joint First Ministers urging a rewrite of the paper.
Mr Elliott said: “Northern Ireland is entering into a very difficult time as the scale of the spending reductions hit home. Those living in deprivation are often those who live in interface and deeply divided parts of our society — they cannot be left behind.
“If we are to grow our private sector and deliver jobs in Northern Ireland, we must give people the confidence to build better community relations and to create an environment in which others will want to invest. There is also the danger that if the DUP and Sinn Fein push through the current document the CRC will be abolished.
“The UUP recognises that, whatever its flaws, the CRC has provided an independent voice on an issue that politicians are often not best placed to address. Northern Ireland needs an independent voice on good relations and we will fight for its retention.”
Alliance MLA Stephen Farry said the problem has been three years of policy drift as the DUP and Sinn Fein failed to agree on any way forward, but at least “a platform for progress is now in place”. “But in many ways the current draft programme is flawed and it is incumbent upon the Executive to take on board the views received from wider society and to commit to significant redrafting before finalising any policy,” Mr Farry added.
With the consultation period for the proposals now finished, the First Ministers’ Office said all views would now be considered as part of a wider analysis.