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Shared future plan 'a political fig-leaf' to cover up lack of will

By Noel McAdam

A pressure group which forced a Stormont rethink on shared future proposals has blasted the latest initiative to tackle sectarianism as a "political fig-leaf".

The self-styled Platform for Change (PfC) campaign said the blueprint from Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness lacked clear objectives, allocated budgets and coherence.

Three years ago an open letter from the group, sent to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister through the pages of the Belfast Telegraph, resulted in the initial Cohesion, Sharing and Integration plan going back to the drawing board. The revamp led to a Stormont working team of all the Executive parties – DUP, Sinn Fein, Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Alliance – which fragmented last year when first Alliance and then the Ulster Unionists walked away over the lack of progress.

After months of delay, Stormont's top two finally produced their own raft of projects, including the dismantling of all peace walls in the next decade, a programme providing 10,000 placements for young people, 100 summer camps, 10 shared education sites and increased housing integration.

But a spokesman for PfC said: "The fundamental problem with the announcement is that the First and Deputy First Minister are desperately looking for a political fig-leaf in the absence of a real commitment to an integrated society or even any significant ideas as to how to realise it.

"A serious strategy to achieve a shared future would have a clear aim, objectives, dedicated programmes and projects, significant allocated resources and so on, all pulled together into a coherent policy framework for Assembly and public debate, with significant legislation to implement it.

"But this announcement is just that, a minimalist fait accompli."

The Community Relations Council, however, gave the package a guarded welcome – while warning it will require political determination to succeed.

Chief executive Jacqueline Irwin said: "It will take all of us working together to become a shared society and a united community."

Story so far

After months of deadlock in Stormont – with Alliance and Ulster Unionists resigning from a five-party group working on plans for a shared future – Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness presented their own proposals. The aims include the disappearance of all peace walls by 2023, an extra 10,000 places for young people on an employment scheme, and 100 cross-community summer camps. But three of the central issues – how to deal with contentious parades, a mechanism for the flying of flags, and dealing with the legacy of the past – are to be put before a new, larger working group.

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