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Ritchie calls for steps to tackle segregated society

By Noel McAdam

Practical steps to tackle on-going segregation across Northern Ireland need to be drawn up and implemented as soon as possible, Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie said today.

The SDLP minister was speaking as it emerged that the number of people intimidated from their homes in Northern Ireland is on the rise.

And she said that the momentum of the peace process underpinned by lasting political stability is beginning to be in danger of being lost.

This year since April there have been 65 applications received for emergency housing after people were intimidated from their homes. This compares to 100 for the whole of the last financial year and 60 in 2007/08.

Former PSNI chief Sir Hugh Orde said last week Stormont was not doing enough to address the causes of the conflict.

He said while his officers remained determined to face off the threat posed by dissident republicans, the authorities had to do more to address the underlying causes of conflict and tension in the region.

After seven years at the helm of the PSNI he urged the government to deliver on its ‘Shared Future Strategy', which he claimed had been left on the back burner.

According to the University of Ulster just 6% of Northern Ireland's 330,000 children attend integrated schools. The DSD source added: “We have a culture here in Northern Ireland that where there is sectarian intimidation you just shift the victim on and don't tackle the problem.”

He said there was a danger of people fleeing to be replaced by somebody more “acceptable” to the intimidators.

“There is a fundamental question there in the long run,” he added.

But now the senior SDLP figure has begun a series of public meetings — due to reach Belfast tomorrow — and hopes to gain backing for a number of radical proposals, probably in the new year. But it will be no easy task.

Her initiative comes as the long-delayed Shared Future Strategy blueprint appears to remain logjammed in the Office of the First and deputy First Minister.

Ahead of the first Executive meeting after the summer break this week, Mrs Ritchie argued: “It is not enough to just stand still, because the danger is we could go into a downward spiral.

“We live apart, we are educated apart, we largely socialise and have our recreation apart — and to me that is not normal. A new generation of children born in this century is not growing up together and our new immigrant communities are not always welcomed,” she said.

Laying claim to the mantle of the vision of her former party leader John Hume, Mrs Ritchie conceded real progress had been made in recent years but Northern Ireland remains a long way short of a shared society.

“The guns now remain largely silent. Political institutions are up and running. You would think that our society could now move on and yet we have moved on very little,” she argued.

“Despite the progress we have made politically and economically, we are not going to tackle poverty effectively, we are not going to be able to address housing needs and we are not going to be able to create communities as places where everybody feels safe unless we better tackle divisions in our society.”

After the open meeting in the Radisson Hotel, at the Gasworks, in Belfast tomorrow evening (7pm) Mrs Ritchie moves onto Craigavon (the Seagoe Hotel) this Thursday, September 10 at 7pm; the St Patrick’s Centre in Downpatrick on Thursday, September 17 and Island Centre in Lisburn on Monday, September 21 (both also 7pm).In tomorrow’s Belfast Telegraph: Minister Margaret Ritchie sets |out her vision

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