Belfast Telegraph

Equality and trust must be at the heart of the Executive

Stormont's draft Budget must make building a peaceful society its central theme, says Duncan Morrow

The Executive has just completed its consultation process on the draft Budget which has yet to be agreed before the Assembly is dissolved next month in preparation for elections and a new Assembly.

It does not take a genius to recognise that these are difficult financial times that require efficiency and effectiveness savings, as well as ensuring the delivery of essential services.

This could be an historic opportunity to apply resources and change practices to the overarching task of building a shared society based on equality, trust-building, mutual respect and real justice. It is still hard to see that this has been put at the heart of the draft Budget.

There does not appear to be any evidence that the recent Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI) consultation, or even the peace process of 16 years, has had a direct impact on departmental spending plans for the next four years - or that there has been any serious planning for tackling the costs of division.

There is thus a risk that this vital issue - along with the potential savings which could be achieved in sharing services - is still seen as 'irrelevant' to key financial and political decisions.

In our consultation response, the Community Relations Council comes from the position that there is an urgent need to agree a Budget that demonstrates that a rhetorical commitment to a shared future is matched by a willingness to apply resources to the task.

We are worried that there is no explicit link between peace-building and the draft Budget, or any proposal of a strategy for shared resources to the goals of new investment, creating sustainable communities, tackling disadvantage and improving education.

There does not appear to be any link made between the economics of conflict transformation and the economics of prosperity - including the role that safe and secure communities have in attracting inward investment and the manner in which segregation continues to act as a barrier to mobility, connectivity and employment.

Building a shared society needs to be at the heart of economic regeneration. Three interrelated priorities must all be addressed: attracting people, investment and creativity; building a just society within the rule of law; and addressing the legacy of the past and embedding trust, safety and partnership.

As of now, the Executive's Budget does not appear to recognise that division is a central element of economic policy.

Events last summer around parades and protests reminded governments across the world of the risks of visiting Northern Ireland. This kind of cycle continues to undermine attempts to generate sustainable industry here. Attracting and competing for reliable investment cannot succeed with a reputation for instability and division. The need to address the risk of violence, conflict and potential instability is, therefore, not a diversion, but an investment in all our futures, without which we will continue to find it difficult to escape the cycle of dependency and underlying recession.

We need to examine how government spending can proactively prevent problems from developing at an early opportunity.

Sustainable peace will clearly require years of focused work by the Assembly and Executive. But we do need to set the direction and invest resources for the development of a normal civic society.

The draft Budget should be adjusted to recognise the interconnectedness between prosperity and creating a stable society. We need a Programme for Government and a Budget in which building a peaceful society is a central theme.

Some things just don't go away, you know.

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