Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

It's time to deliver on a shared future society

On the face of it, the latest financial package from the Westminster government to Northern Ireland is encouraging.

Many cupboards have been raided and while pinning down exactly how much this is all worth is difficult, the package overall does give Northern Ireland new opportunities. There is no silver bullet to rebalancing our economy but these measures are serious enough in their intent to get us a shove in the right direction.

We would liked to have seen even more help for the private sector perhaps at the expense of yet more tranches of cash lined up for the community relations industry. The efficiency of pouring more European cash into such projects never really seems to be the subject of proper evaluation and an ideal world would have seen more incentives for business to invest in research and development.

Nevertheless people here should be under no doubt that this package gives us more than other hard-pressed parts of the United Kingdom. We are sometimes lucky that the rest of the UK has little knowledge, or sometimes interest, in what happens in Northern Ireland otherwise questions would surely be asked about this country receiving special treatment at the expense of parts of England, Scotland and Wales in the grip of just as crippling poverty and deprivation. That is why we must now govern ourselves with more maturity and purpose and that is why the First Minister is right to ask for more levers of the economy to be placed in our hands so that we may begin the task of reducing our disproportionate take of Treasury cash.

Given the financial incentives, it is clear that the Stormont Executive has been under pressure to produce their Shared Future document ahead of the G8 summit, and we await the full results of that.

However, what no-one wants is for the committee report on parading, flags and the past to be delayed beyond December this year.

Once it comes out, however, there is a crucial need for grown-up reactions to the proposals on all sides, and not the all too frequent posturing. One major sticking point remains the concept of shared education. The Westminster Government appears to have accepted the Executive version of a "shared education" as a measure of a cohesive society.

However, this newspaper remains highly sceptical of this concept and we continue to campaign for more support for the many parents who want full integration of schools. In our opinion, different schools sharing a campus is not the best way to build a truly shared future, and the UK Government has unwisely allowed itself to be misled on this. Overall, however, this latest package provides some hope. It is time to deliver on a rebalanced and shared future society. There are no excuses left for not doing so.

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