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Editor's Viewpoint: Time to embrace integration ideal

While most people decry sectarian divisions in Northern Ireland, the unpalatable truth is that we literally have been setting them in concrete for decades.

For 90% of public housing in the province is segregated along religious lines. In spite of the peace process, the situation in those estates is no better than it was 20 years ago.

During the worst years of the Troubles it was understandable why people wanted to live in separate communities. Indeed, the early years of the violence saw mixed estates become polarised almost overnight. But now there is the opportunity to set aside the sectarianism of the past and begin to build a new future.

Currently 30 schemes being developed by the NI Housing Executive and the Department for Social Development are to be integrated and a report by the Independent Commission on the Future for Housing here says there should be a 10-year plan to make all public housing accessible to both Catholics and Protestants.

Many people will dismiss the proposal as idealistic and argue that sectarianism is endemic in the province and cannot be eradicated. That is a defeatist view and takes no account of the changing social and political landscape. In the privately-owned housing sector, integration is so commonplace as to be unremarkable. There is no logical reason why the situation cannot be mirrored in the public housing sector.

This is a bold and imaginative report which puts forward real initiatives to make Northern Ireland a more shared community. It must be seized upon by our politicians and town planners and not allowed to gather dust on some forgotten shelf. The default position is often to do nothing when faced with a difficult decision. That should not happen in this case. Surveys show that 80% of people want to live in integrated housing, yet few are given that opportunity. Future generations, quite rightly, will ask why.