Alliance Community relations spokesperson Eileen Bell MLA has raised concerns over the future of the Community Relations Council following the launch of the NIO’s new consultation paper ‘A Shared Future: Improving Relations in Northern Ireland’ today. Alliance launched its own paper ‘Building a United Community’ two weeks ago.
However, Mrs Bell congratulated the NIO on producing the consultation document within three months – something that Mark Durkan and David Trimble failed to do in nine months.
Mrs Bell stated: “It is now over a year since Dr Jeremy Harbison tabled his review document on community relations to the devolved Executive. Alliance published its own paper, as we believe that community relations are fundamental to the future of this society. The fact that a few of the Government’s ideas are close to our own shows that they are beginning to move in the right direction.
“Other proposals are more concerning, such as the suggestion that community relations functions could be centralised within a restored Executive. Given the Executive’s disastrous track record of failure to tackle the basic divisions in our society and its lack of commitment to even bringing forward proposals, that is an idea that would lead to bland proposals and a lack of any real action.
“A strengthened, properly funded Community Relations Council would provide an independent voice to challenge sectarianism in all its forms, and would allow for innovative proposals to go forward. We must not simply tinker around the edges but challenge how we live, learn, work and play together.”
Mrs Bell added that while district councils have an obvious role to play, some had yet to prove as a whole that they were committed to improving community relations.
“A shared future is an admirable aim, but it needs to have a common aim. Unfortunately, there are some councils that simply do not want to put sharing before separation and have failed to do anything meaningful about community relations, so plans to commit funding to local initiatives must be carefully monitored.”
Mrs Bell also criticised the Government for its own ‘two tribes’ attitude to Northern Ireland. The continuation of this would be detrimental to the vision for a shared, pluralist society that the new document envisages.
“Government practice at present is to work on the basis that Northern Ireland is rigorously divided into two opposing communities. This practice is carried forward in areas such as Fair Employment Monitoring and the Census. If the Government are to be true to their new vision, this is one area in which policy and practice must change.”