Shared future outline is simply not good enough
OFMdFM's Together Building A United Community strategy document is perilously low on ambition, writes David Ford
The Alliance Party believes that building an integrated community is the single biggest challenge facing the Assembly. If we are to build our economy, how can we seriously attempt to attract investment when we continue to maintain a segregated society?
If there is not a long-term commitment to an open and shared society, we will not attract the level of investment and jobs that we need.
If we do not urgently agree a way forward on how to make a society that is open and respectful of other people's identity, we may not solve these issues for generations to come.
However, 15 years after the Good Friday Agreement, that challenge has yet to be seriously tackled.
The First and Deputy First Ministers should have produced an overarching document that puts the delivery of a genuine shared future at the centre of the how the Executive operates.
Yet, after six years of delays, they have instead published a strategy that is low in ambition and weak in terms of detail.
While some of the specific individual proposals are to be welcomed – indeed some of these reflect ideas previously put forward by Alliance – the document itself is not going to create the necessary step-change towards reconciliation and integration.
A rounded judgment on its effectiveness cannot be reached without agreements on the way forward on dealing with flags, parades and dealing with the past.
These are now to be addressed through a working group.
Its success will be judged on the basis of whether it has the capability to deliver an end result on such sensitive issues.
There are three major aspects of creating a shared future that remain unaddressed.
Firstly, is the lack of targets to increase the number of places available at integrated schools.
When you think of a shared future, integrated education is often the first issue that comes to mind, yet it isn't even mentioned in OFMDFM's document.
While there is a proposal to build 10 shared education campuses, this will not achieve the same benefits as integrated education.
We will only be able to build a shared society by increasing the level of close contact that our children have with those from different backgrounds.
Through opting for these shared campuses, we are actually saying no to integrated education in these areas for 50 years – the life-cycle of a school.
In contrast to integrated education, Alliance believes that shared education is promoting 'separate, but closer'. Children being dropped off at the same bus stop will not improve community relations when they have different uniforms, different teachers and learn in different buildings.
Secondly, there are no serious initiatives that outline how we will create shared spaces and shared housing. We must take action to prevent the marking out of territory. Alliance believes that every space should be a shared space. This is not about making all areas neutral; rather, it is about ensuring that areas are welcoming to all cultures and ethnic groups.
Thirdly, the strategy does not contain details of how we will encourage a mutual respect for all cultures and traditions.
We must commit to supporting a vibrant, lively and open society, where everyone is free to celebrate their identity in a peaceful society, while fully respecting the lives and rights of others.
Earlier this year, the Alliance Party put forward proposals on how a shared future should be created in our document For Everyone.
We did so because we cannot create a shared society merely by tinkering around the edges. We must tackle the underlying problems of segregation in a serious and comprehensive manner.
Other political parties may be content with headline-grabbing stunts that deal with the symptoms.
Alliance intends to tackle the causes of division and build an integrated society for everyone.