Belfast Telegraph

Row over anti-sectarianism plans

Northern Ireland political leaders have clashed over plans to devise policies aimed at healing the region's religious divide.

Stormont Justice Minister David Ford attacked the efforts of the DUP and Sinn Fein and warned that the success in ending large scale violence had to be followed by a serious bid to break down barriers between Catholics and Protestants.

But First Minister Peter Robinson accused Mr Ford of playing politics over the issue and said the focus should be fixed on negotiating policies that can secure maximum support.

The row came after a leading community relations organisation said sectarianism remained deeply rooted in Northern Ireland, where most Protestant and Catholic children are taught separately, and where research into housing shows the two communities largely live apart.

Mr Ford told a conference on the issue, held in the Titanic Belfast venue under the banner "No More Them and Us", that combating sectarianism had to be made a priority.

"History will not forgive us if we squander the opportunity presented by an end to violence to tackle the underlying divisions of this society," he said.

Others have hailed the success in ending generations of conflict, but Mr Ford said: "Above all we must move past preening ourselves for moving on from the disaster of the 1970s and face the challenge to act to make change."

He said that if the drafting of new policies was left to the Stormont assembly's largest parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein, they may set some of the thorniest issues aside.

Both parties have, however, pointed to their partnership in government as being a positive signal to the community, while leading figures have tried to reach across the divide.

First Minister Peter Robinson recently attended a Gaelic games event, despite its traditional association with the nationalist community, while deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness broke new ground for Sinn Fein by attending a match at the home of Northern Ireland football in Windsor Park.

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