Alliance North Antrim candidate Jayne Dunlop has urged those who want to build a united community in Northern Ireland to remember that only Alliance is fully committed to community relations.
Ms Dunlop wrote in the Belfast Telegraph:
Community relations is the forgotten issue of this election, and despite its importance, few political parties have paid more than lip service to it.
Rather than deal with our divisions and begin to build a united community, our tribal leaders would prefer to either brush our problems under the carpet or deny that much can be done to resolve the problem.
In fact, sectarianism and segregation have had a costly and debilitating effect on public policy in Northern Ireland. If we were more willing to share facilities that are duplicated for each of the ‘separate communities’, we would have millions more for hospitals, leisure centres, libraries and other services that are suffering.
An audit of the cost of maintaining our ‘benign Apartheid’ might make some think twice about their attitudes. Bigotry has cost us billions over the years; we need to learn to put sharing before separation.
Despite this, there is substantial evidence that a clear majority of the people in Northern Ireland would like to have mixed facilities in which to live, to work, and to be educated. Almost a quarter of Protestants and a third of Catholics do not wish to be described as either Unionist or Nationalist and the 2001 Census showed that 14 percent of the population does not wish to be described as either Protestant or Catholic. Demand for integrated school places is also growing steadily.
Skilful conflict management of the current situation simply cannot be sustained. With little or no common bonds, it is relatively easy for ‘separate communities’ to go their different ways in any major crisis.
The healing of our communal divisions must be the greatest priority for our political institutions, and thus lies at the heart of Alliance’s agenda for change.