What will it take for our politicians to face up to the challenge of building a shared future? We must seek a way forward — that is, those with the responsibility of |actually governing this country must be challenged to take action.
Pictures of rioting on our streets have been broadcast around the world; not only have local businesses been damaged by the disruption, but we will also see an impact on our economy, as investors and tourists see Northern Ireland as a place to avoid.
The anger and violence we see on the streets are inexcusable, but signs, surely, of a deeper malaise. There is a perceived gulf between the politicians and the people and there is an apparent inability at the top to decide and to act on fundamental issues affecting the everyday lives of so many citizens.
What is behind the inertia of our Executive when it comes to implementing positive change? It can’t be denied that there are huge economic pressures on the public budget, yet money which is actually available to the Executive to tackle social problems is not being used.
Set up in March 2011, the Social investment Fund was created: £80m set aside with the aim of |delivering social change to targeted areas.
It was designed, surely, for districts like the lower Newtownards Road, where much of the recent |violence has been concentrated.
The Executive approved a plan for operating the fund on May 17, 2012, but now, as we enter 2013, not a penny of that £80m has been spent.
Another example is the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI) policy. The New Year messages of our First and Deputy First Ministers spoke of the need for reconciliation and a shared future.
But, unfortunately, our Executive cannot decide on what such a ‘shared future' should look like — let alone a plan of action to develop it.
It has been almost eight years since the original shared future policy was developed. Surely, if cross-party agreement could have been reached on contentious issues such as flags and emblems, then we would not be where we are today.
We need to create and live in a society where all members feel valued, included and respected — that feeling is a good foundation for extending respect and equality to others, for acknowledging the rights and culture of people from all backgrounds. Yet there is inexplicable caution and even inertia when it comes to tackling the structures underpinning division and resentment in Northern Ireland.
Action is long overdue on issues such as integrated education, as well as more shared housing programmes, both of which would be initiatives commanding overwhelming public support.
If change was possible for policing and employment laws, then the same can be true for our education system and housing.
The consequences of such shameful delay and inaction over CSI and the Social Investment Fund are threatening the very stability of our society. Surely, we deserve answers and explanations from our Government?
If they can't deliver, then they will be contributing to the untold damage that is being done to Northern Ireland. Are they choosing to stand over measures which copper-fasten the segregation inherent in our lives? Or would they rather be the leaders who oversaw real change for the better?
The task of building a shared |future is a difficult one, but I am convinced the majority of ordinary people are impatient to begin.
Many communities have already led the way. Integrated schools have led the way. There are countless |examples of good practice in what can be achieved.
We cannot allow the events of recent weeks to deter us. Together we can achieve a society where all our traditions and cultures are |respected and celebrated.
Baroness (May) Blood is campaign chair of the Integrated Education Fund