Explaining his decision, David Ford said:
“Alliance entered this process aiming for a new policy that would be a radical improvement on the CSI Consultation paper which was so heavily criticised by many right across this society, including my own party.
“Any new strategy must be genuinely direct towards a shared and integrated society, and reflect the views of the hundreds of organisations and individuals who responded so critically to that document.
“It has become crystal clear that this private process is actually producing the opposite, and will actually undermine, rather than build upon, the Shared Future strategy put in place in 2005.
“The current process has become an attempt at creating an illusion – an illusion that the DUP and Sinn Fein are serious about agreeing a strategy that will actually promote a shared society.
David Ford went on to set out the four years of inaction that led to the establishment of the working group:
“Back in 2007, just one month after the Assembly was restored, Alliance tabled a motion calling on OFMDFM – the DUP and Sinn Fein in other words – to implement the Shared Future strategy that was already in place. In good faith, we accepted an amendment from the DUP, by which they committed to bringing forward a refreshed version of that Strategy. We waited the rest of that year, we waited through 2008, through all of 2009, and still no refresh, no strategy at all. Month after month they repeated their promises to produce a strategy, but no strategy ever appeared. Their ‘commitment’ was an illusion.
“Eventually, over three years later, as part of an agreement in which we took on the job of Justice Minister, they finally produced the strategy promised since 2007. By doing so, we exposed the reality about DUP and Sinn Fein commitment to a shared future; indeed, it was so roundly criticised that OFMDFM refused to publish the consultation responses for a full year after the consultation ended.
“Finally, over a year later, in the absence of any agreed way forward by OFMDFM, they asked us to join a five-party group to seek agreement on a replacement strategy. For the last eight months we have participated fully, attending every one of the meetings of the group, and making specific and detailed proposals that reflect our party’s position and the 288 responses that OFMDFM received to the CSI strategy they published in 2010. Recently it has become apparent that the process was coming to an end. Not, as we had worked for, with a document that reflected the high ambitions of the people who responded to their last attempt, but with a document that reflected the other parties’ lowest common denominator. Instead of setting the bar at a meaningful and visionary level, and working to achieve it, they appear determined to set it so low that everyone can step over it without making any real difference to this community’s future. No doubt it was to be used as evidence of the commitment to reconciliation. But instead of seizing this historic opportunity to use the end of violence to deliver lasting change, we have a wasted opportunity and an emerging document which sets us back to before 2005”.
Commenting on the last two weeks of the process, David Ford said:
“The misleading and frankly ridiculous attempt by OFMDFM to blame Alliance for delays in producing a document would be laughable were they not further evidence of the bad faith of OFMDFM in this matter. But to determine the intentions of OFMDFM once and for all, Alliance went to this week’s meeting with a clear list of actions that reflect the public consultation responses and which we believe are the test of whether any shared future strategy will make a real difference. These included investment and targets for increased integrated and shared education; a review of segregated housing and prioritisation of mixed housing; a framework to remove illegal flags & emblems and a test for all public spending to ensure sharing over separation. The responses we received made clear that the other parties aren’t prepared to commit to the actions the Executive needs to take to build a genuinely shared future.
“We have also seen a revised plan for the development of the Girdwood site agreed to by all parties other than Alliance. This plan is about the further segregation of housing under a purely notional framework of sharing. It exposes the real dangers of the reality of new policy commitments not matching the rhetoric deployed.
Concluding, he said:
“We have now lost our faith in the integrity and value of this process. This must be a debate for the whole society, because it is about our future. From now on, we believe that the debate about how we achieve a genuinely shared future should take place in public, not behind closed doors. No more illusions. It’s time that everyone can see, and judge for themselves which party has the ideas, the policies and the determination, to build a genuinely shared future for our community.”
Letter to OFDMFM
Peter Robinson MLA
Martin McGuinness MP MLA
Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister
23 May 2012
Dear Peter and Martin,
I am writing to inform you that I have decided to withdraw the Alliance Party from the five-party Working Group that was set up to draft an agreed shared future strategy.
On the basis of the reports that I have received, and having had sight of the documents being worked on by the group, it is clear that this private process will not achieve what we believe is needed, which is a strategy that builds upon the Shared Future strategy put in place in 2005. Our growing doubts about the process have been confirmed by your recent comments on the process, which were a clear attempt to shift blame to Alliance for your failure over the last five years to deliver a strategy.
When Alliance agreed to enter a five-party process our aim was to produce a new policy which would be a radical improvement on the almost universally condemned CSI paper, reflecting the views of the hundreds of organisations and individuals who responded so critically to that document. Despite our efforts, the paper that is emerging from the process falls far short of that aim.
For the last 8 months we have participated fully, attending every one of the meetings of the group, and making specific and detailed proposals that reflect our party’s position and the 288 responses that your office received to the CSI strategy you published in 2010. Our proposals have been rejected by the other parties in the working group. I have stated publicly, and our representatives at the working group have made clear that Alliance will not sign up to a strategy that fails to deliver a shared future. The current approach within the group, of seeking to agree a strategy that everyone can sign up to on the basis that it makes little change to the status quo, is not one that we will participate in any longer, as it holds out no prospect of delivering the change which the people of Northern Ireland deserve and desire.
I look forward to OFMDFM accepting its responsibility to produce a new strategy, and hope it will go further than the previous and current attempts. Alliance will of course participate constructively in Executive and Assembly discussions on any such strategy if and when it is published. But I now believe that such discussions are better held in public, where everyone can read and listen to the arguments, rather than in private.