Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

AWOL politicians should practise what they preach

It is about time the Alliance Party either puts up or shuts up, writes Jonathan Bell

Very occasionally, you read a newspaper article that causes your jaw to drop at either the naivety, or cringeworthy duplicity, of the author.

Once again, we have the Alliance Party preaching at everyone else on the issue of good relations in the Belfast Telegraph on Monday.

This is astounding from a party that, in a fit of childish temper, walked away from finding a consensus on a strategy for good relations.

What really takes the biscuit is Naomi Long lecturing us on the need to publish the CSI (Cohesion, Sharing and Integration) strategy. According to the Alliance deputy leader, "it will require all political leaders to work together to deliver shared solutions to what are shared problems".

Yes, this is the same Alliance that walked off the pitch when "all the parties" were negotiating the CSI strategy; the same Alliance that ran away when the hour came for "all political leaders to work together to deliver shared solutions to what are shared problems".

As the party that wants the draft CSI published now, I can respect, though I do not agree with, the view of those who argue that it is better to work on unresolved issues and let those further discussions inform the final document. However, I have no respect for those who went AWOL and abandoned the CSI working group and now call for its work to be published.

There is only one way to keep Northern Ireland moving forward and that is working together to find an agreed way to make progress on these issues.

Our process is built on consensus politics. In the spirit of good relations, we all have to compromise on the issue of cross-community consensus in the Assembly.

Why? Because majority politics is not deemed sufficient to create stability and progress at this time. How ironic, then, to hear the very parties who pushed for the procedure in the Assembly – Sinn Fein, SDLP and Alliance – cry 'democracy' when they forced through a decision on the basis of just over 50% of the vote at the City Hall. This is not consensus politics.

Alliance tries to put itself up as the champion of the good relations agenda.

However, its track record shows how woefully detached it is from the complexities of these issues on the ground, where they matter most.

David Ford, in his role in the Department of Justice, has the responsibility for interface barriers. Yet how many has he taken down?

The DUP takes on the difficult issues. While Alliance ran away from the working group, we took on the challenge of dealing with the past through additional provision for victims and survivors, support for the HET, alongside delivering a 10-year strategy and reform of service delivery for victims.

While Alliance complains about the number of interface barriers, the DUP has been supporting communities on issues such as community safety and building confidence in order to try to remove divisions.

Alliance, thus far, has been about empty words on good relations. The DUP is about action to bring about a shared and better future for all.

This was not the time to change the status quo at City Hall, yet Alliance cared little about building agreement, but instead pushed ahead with restricting the flying of the Union flag.

This was a serious error of judgment.

Instead of making the progress we all need and want on building one community, Alliance's actions have set back this agenda.

A shared approach to difficult issues is required and, as we move forward, I hope that those who didn't have the bottle to be part of taking the hard decisions will return to the table and involve themselves in real consensus politics.

The DUP will not seek to overcome these challenges by either simply wishing them away, or by standing on the sidelines, while others work hard to find solutions.

The DUP is fully committed to achieving a shared future for all; it is now time for Alliance to put up, or shut up.

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