Belfast Telegraph

We're all in this together so let's build a united society

Executive ministers must deliver a shared future, not simply a shared out one, argues Chris Lyttle

A shared future is about everyone being able to work and living together and also delivering the best value for money on public services. It is not about carving up Northern Ireland, calling that equality and living by a 'separate, but equal' mentality.

Significant progress has been made on building peace in Northern Ireland and we must continue this strong progress by delivering a shared society for everyone.

Alliance has shown leadership in representing the increasingly united calls from all sections of society to dismantle division and we are winning the argument.

Political parties are now beginning to talk the talk of a shared future and the public deserves to know what they mean. A separate, but equal future, or a 'shared out' future, is not want we want.

Alliance wants meaningful action to build a united community and tackle the £1bn spent every year on maintaining and managing a divided, duplicated Northern Ireland.

It is both an economic and social imperative that we proactively move towards a more shared and integrated education system.

The Bain strategic review of education in 2006 identified an estimated 53,000 surplus school places. More recent figures, cited by the Education Minister, have put the figure at just under 85,000.

The resources spent on managing separate school estates could be redirected towards improving pupil attainment and shared learning would provide pupils with opportunity to access a wider range of subjects and sporting and cultural activities.

At the last Assembly election, Alliance identified key policies that we believe must be delivered by the political parties if they are to pass the shared future test.

We believe that core elements of a shared future are: a shared education system where children of all social and religious backgrounds can achieve their potential together and a target of 20% of children in integrated education by 2020; making it law that the Housing Executive actively encourages and facilitates mixed housing; and a requirement on public bodies to promote shared space in any new capital projects.

There must also be a requirement on Government departments to tackle division, an end to the tribal Assembly designation system, a protocol to promote the respectful display of flags and emblems, support for communities to remove peace walls, strengthening the Community Relations Council and cross-party agreement on dealing with the past.

The difficult times in which we are living mean our economy, public finances and the most vulnerable in society are under massive pressure. We must not underestimate what delivering a shared future could do for our economy and public services by releasing public finance for use where needed most.

The First and Deputy First Minister sat on 288 consultation responses to their proposed community relations strategy for almost all of the past year.

Rather than utilise these suggestions to redraft and implement this policy, they have brought in the other political parties to help them reach agreement on delivering a shared future for all.

Alliance is committed to leading the way in delivering this change and is setting the shared future agenda. Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry announced plans for an integrated teacher-training system and former Belfast mayor Tom Ekin had a motion passed at Belfast City Council on addressing peace walls.

It is essential we address the physical and infrastructural barriers, not only to tackle sectarianism, but to ensure our towns and cities are open, accessible places for economic and social development for the benefit of all.

We must all work together if we are to rise to this challenge. It is insufficient for the people if all our political leadership can provide is a separate, but equal peace.

It is time to deliver the united, fair and prosperous community that everyone in Northern Ireland deserves.

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