Alliance Party Justice Spokesperson, Stephen Farry, has welcomed the commitment by the Secretary of State, in an answer to Liberal Democrat Northern Ireland Spokesperson Lembit Opik, to the publication of a Shared Future framework document within the next few weeks, and the first triennial action plan this autumn.
Stephen Farry stated: “Tackling the deep divisions within our society must surely be one of the greatest priorities for the political system, yet community relations issues have been given little attention over the years since the Agreement.
“Our problems with sectarianism and racism, and the deeply ingrained patterns of segregation carry huge social, economic and financial costs. People are denied their full opportunities to develop, the NI economy is suppressed, and there are huge sums on money wasted in needless duplicating facilities.
“While these divisions must be tackled in their own right, there is a compelling political dynamic for an enhanced community relations policy. The continued divisions in society and the political impasse have a clear mutually reinforcing relationship. Progress on community relations is therefore vital to the task of finding political agreement.
“The notion of managing divisions through some form of ‘benign Apartheid’ is no longer an option. The only way forward is through building a genuinely shared future where people can live and learn, work and play together in safety.
“This new commitment from the Government to finally publish a framework document and then an action plan on community relations is therefore welcome, even if overdue.
“There was a tremendous level of interest in the original Shared Future consultation during 2003, and overwhelming support for the concept of building a united community, and offering people a real choice in areas such as integrated education and mixed housing.
“Alliance will study the details of the forthcoming proposals closely to ensure that they are sufficient to turn the vision of a shared future into reality.”
Extract from Hansard: NI Questions, Wednesday 19 January 2005 Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): We all recognise the crucial importance of tackling the deep divisions in Northern Ireland society, but it is now more than a year since the consultation on “A Shared Future” ended. Is the Minister aware that it identified continuing communal conflict and tensions, but little evidence of significant increases in shared education and housing?
Given that the consultation led to specific strategic and tactical recommendations, both national and local, may I ask when the Government intend to publish their action plan based on “A Shared Future”?
Mr. Murphy: The new policy framework is currently at the final draft stage. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State and his officials have engaged in consultation with all parties and other stakeholders in Northern Ireland. Publication is expected in late February or March, and an action plan is expected to follow in the autumn.