Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Why the only successful future is a shared one

A peaceful future depends on genuine equality and access for all. The time for action is now, argues Duncan Morrow

Another Christmas and another political crisis. It is hard to know whether to be frustrated or frightened. In the middle of a global recession and facing years of swingeing cuts, the world knows that it has bigger fish to fry.

But make no mistake - the the return of bitterness, recrimination and fear is not progress.

Politics and what politicians do is still enormously important here. The choices that politicians have made have transformed most people's expectations of what is normal.

But the critical choice is the choice to put the welfare of everyone in a shared, peaceful and just future before constitutional aspiration or short-term political advantage.

This requires tough negotiations and hard conversations - but it also requires leadership which seeks to realise progress in a spirit of generosity and decisions which represent an iron commitment to peace and the equal value of others.

Every time we forget this, the only options left are gridlock or crisis. Looking back on the last year, the vast majority of us continue to enjoy the benefits of peace. Much of that has to do with the existence of shared institutions.

The shootings of Army NCOs in Antrim and of a police officer in Craigavon in March drew a swift and united response from political and community leaders. The year 2009 was not 1969 or 1979.

But we are not honest if we conclude that all is well. The Community Relations Council continues to confront the troubling fact that fear and hatred have not been set aside.

Events such as the murder of Kevin McDaid, sectarianism in Rasharkin, parade disputes and attacks on people of minority ethnic background, most notoriously leading to the return home of more than 100 migrants to Romania, underlined the fragile nature of the truce and underlined the difficulties.

Fear continues to shape attitudes and behaviour in the generation which has grown up since the ceasefires; in many places access to parks, shops, libraries, leisure centres and even public squares may be restricted by fears and anxieties and puts the viability of some facilities into unnecessary jeopardy.

While other young people and other districts may have left the Troubles behind, the persistence of anxiety that sectarianism is real makes all talk of taking down of peace walls seem absurd and continues to hold back economic and social redevelopment in some places which need it most.

Politics is still organised around a sharp division over the past and on the question of who was and is to blame. The raw emotion of these issues came together at the publication of the report of Eames-Bradley Working Group into the Past.

The past matters because it treats generosity as appeasement and acknowledgement of our role as perpetrators of violence as weakness.

If the past continues to be the best predictor of the future, then the future is one in which division is constant, violence is always possible and the others are always out to destroy us, no matter what they might say. The importance of spreading confidence that conflict will and can be resolved by purely political means has never been greater.

In this context, the fact that the Executive is at loggerheads over its own policy to refresh 'A Shared Future' is deeply discouraging and disappointing.

If policing is to be resolved or interface walls are to come down, then the work of building trust needs political leadership, committed resources and agreement.

Whether the language is of peacebuilding, of community relations or of good relations, the only successful future is a shared one and the requirement now is not to manage or to rely only on small local groups, but to devote the resources of investment, education, social development, culture, policing and local government to regeneration in a comprehensive commitment to society which includes and values each and all of its children.

During 2008/9, the Community Relations Council was responsible for a budget of £3.3m through OFMDFM. In the same year, the Housing Executive was forced to spend more than £9.2m through the SPED scheme on moving 127 people due to intimidation. CRC believes that united, consistent and decisive action is critical.

CRC is committed to a peace process in which the future is built on genuine equality and access for all. It is not a time to take our eye off the ball, or to piously proclaim that it has all gone away.

The opportunity of our time is for 'real action for a new normal' not 'back to normal'. The opportunity of change remains, but there is a risk it will be squandered if we do not find ways to act decisively - now.

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