Belfast Telegraph

Life-expectancy gap and inequality in education Executive's top priorities

By Noel McAdam

Pledges to tackle the life expectancy gap between people in affluent and deprived areas and inequality in education dominate the Stormont Executive's new blueprint.

The programme for government, unveiled yesterday, also includes the aims of boosting the level of shopping and leisure centres and libraries used by both Protestants and Catholics and increasing the use of public transport.

Ministers also envisage measures to "increase respect" between the two main communities and improving the province's international reputation.

Now eight weeks of public consultation on "a new way of doing things" is under way, with a finished set of proposals due to be agreed by the end of this year.

"Much more joined-up thinking" is promised alongside a plea for the public to help develop the detail of the strategy across all Government departments from First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

"We want to work with local government, the private sector, voluntary and community sectors and beyond to maximise what we can achieve collectively," Stormont's 'Top Two' said.

"We believe a different approach is needed and so this new approach focuses on the impact on our people rather than the actions we take within Government.

"By the end of 2016 we will have developed detailed plans, working with others, to demonstrate how that difference will be achieved." They also set out their ongoing priorities including:

• A resolution on dealing with the legacy of the Troubles;

• The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry;

• Major road schemes on the A5 and A6;

• The Belfast Rapid Transit system;

• Completion of the sports stadia programme; and

• Building a new children's hospital.

Ministers also warned, however, that in a number of areas it will take some time to trace progress, because a baseline from which to start has yet to be established.

"It is also important to recognise that some measures cannot be shifted quickly. For example, change relating to healthy life expectancy is only possible over a long period of time." Recent statistics showed, on average, a man living in a deprived town or city will live four years less - and a woman three years less - than their counterparts in relatively affluent areas.

Stormont's new opposition leaders, however, attacked the document, with Ulster Unionist chief Mike Nesbitt claiming the DUP and Sinn Fein had failed to deliver on the first promise of their 'Fresh Start' deal just 24 hours after the first Executive meeting.

"We are still at the 'motherhood and apple pie' stage.

"We should be at the stage where the Executive is publishing the actual plans to deliver," he said.

And SDLP leader Colum Eastwood commented: "There are many words but no commitments."

Belfast Telegraph


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