Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Walking hand-in-hand is the only way forward

Creating an economically prosperous society can only happen when everyone's values are shared and respected, says Chris Lyttle

In recent months, my Alliance colleagues and I have withstood systematic misrepresentation and intimidation to stand up for a shared and better future for everyone.

The resolve of our party has never been stronger and support for our alternative to the destabilising and economically fatal politics of the past is steadily increasing.

Alliance councillors in Belfast put a shared future policy alternative on the table when it came to the display of the Union flag.

They did not side with Sinn Fein, the SDLP, or unionist councillors, but instead presented a long-term and stable solution for everyone, which saw nationalist councillors historically support the flying of the Union flag at the City Hall for the first time.

The sincerity of this support remains to be tested, but we are committed to the task of scrutinising others.

Across the world, people of all backgrounds, who had grown complacent about our peace process, took notice.

In the days and weeks following the flag decision, Alliance did not falter in the face of attacks and threats – and they noticed.

My constituency office has continued to serve all the people of east Belfast in spite of on-going daily protests – again they noticed.

Alliance stood up for balanced solutions in a divided society – and everyone noticed.

I am glad that people are beginning to accept that it is no longer an option to sit on the sidelines and watch so-called political leaders play Russian roulette with our future.

Alliance membership has grown substantially, with people of diverse backgrounds ready to make a difference.

A recent poll, highlighted in the media, reported that 44% of people surveyed believed designated days is the best policy for the respectful display of flags in our community.

For too long, people in positions of responsibility have allowed the divisions which clearly still exist in our society to ferment and the difficult task of achieving deep and meaningful community relations have often been glossed over.

But those divisions disappear with the desire of so many people here to live in an economically prosperous society, with jobs, world-class education and safety for everyone.

That can only happen in a shared society, where all are respected, allowing us to address the challenges ahead.

Alliance values remain consistent, in spite of the political expediency of others. We have backed up our vision for this society with our Shared Future Strategy entitled For Everyone, which challenges political institutions and wider society to change how we live, work and play.

Our document lays out a clear vision of how we can move forward together, leaving behind the politics of the past, to start and build a better future for everyone. The continued divisions in our society are at risk of deepening if we don't take the necessary steps – and soon – to come together and address all the issues that keep us separated.

A shared future can only strengthen Northern Ireland; making it a better place to invest, strengthening our economy and increasing employment opportunities.

The Alliance leader, David Ford, has written to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, proposing a new framework for talks, including greater engagement with civic society. It Is only by doing this that we will gain a meaningful shared future that all can contribute to. In the meantime, David has facilitated the opening of peace walls and improved community safety in interface areas, while Alliance Employment Minister Stephen Farry is reviewing segregated teacher training. They have both introduced Shared Future Proofing, a policy appraisal system to promote sharing over duplicating budget allocations in their departments.

Momentum is gathering behind Alliance and growing stronger as we lead change from the heart of government to address inequality and build a sustainable economy.

Make no mistake: Alliance is proud to be a party for everyone and committed to delivering a shared future for all.

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