A Shared Future:
Alliance Party Response
· The Alliance Party gives a warm welcome to the publication and contents of A Shared Future by the Northern Ireland Office.
· A Shared Future represents a major step forward and shift in the thinking of the NIO. In particular, it begins to address the vision of building a united community. Ultimately, it is important that all actors are working to a strong, clear and coherent vision of a shared and integrated society, where people can live and learn, work and play together in safety.
· New thinking must permeate all levels of Government and society. The promotion of better community relations needs a strong champion and leadership at the heart of Government to combat the current low profile and fractured nature of policy-making.
· Therefore, it is important that the debate moves on swiftly from the policy framework to practical changes in actual policy. In terms of policy action, community relations can no longer represent a small niche within public policy, but rather must be mainstreamed throughout the actions of all Departments and public agencies.
· Alliance believes that any new strategy must address both new structures and new policies. It should be possible to shape policies, practices and institutions to enable trust and good relations to be engendered, and to eliminate sectarianism and other forms of prejudice.
· Alliance believes that government, statutory agencies and indeed civic society should actively encourage de-segregation and communal integration, and develop the appropriate policies.
· Alliance would create a positive duty on all Government Department and Public Agencies to promote community relations.
· In addition, all policies should undergo an assessment of Policy Appraisal for Sharing over Separation (PASS).
· An annual audit should be produced of the financial, economic and social costs of segregation.
· Alliance recommends the adoption of the following 9-point plan to expand the provision of integrated education in Northern Ireland, in line with demand.
· Alliance believes that the promotion and maintenance of mixed housing should become an explicit objective of the NI Housing Executive.
· Alliance believes that a good relations function, as established in the Northern Ireland Act (1998), should be further developed, beyond race relations.
· Alliance believes that there should be an enhanced, but not dominant, role for District Councils in the delivery of community relations programmes.
· Alliance advocates that a reformed Community Relations Council fulfil the following functions:
· Funding community and voluntary organisations
· Providing training and development
· Developing and promoting good practice guidance
· Increasing public awareness of, and encouraging debate on community relations
· Providing a challenge function to Government and district councils
· Commissioning and conducting research
· Innovation and institutional learning
· Alliance believes that Government responsibilities regarding Equality, Community Relations and Human Rights should be placed either within a dedicated Department, or as a major function area within an existing or future Department with wider responsibilities. Any Department should be given particular powers with respect to other Departments and public agencies to implement overarching community relations. It should fulfil the following functions:
· Providing leadership on community relations issues within Government
· Providing funding, oversight, support to the Community Relations Council, and to District Councils
· Monitoring implementation of a community relations strategy across Departments and public agencies
· Working with other Departments and public agencies in the conduct of Policy Appraisal for Sharing over Separation (PASS)
· Innovation and institutional learning
· Data collection
· Publication of an annual audit of the financial, economic and social costs of segregation
· Alliance proposes that the OFMDFM appoint an integration monitor. The office-holder would be an independent figure, and would be charged with commenting and assessing government policy for their impact on community relations and overcoming divisions in society, and pointing to failures of Government to take appropriate action where necessary.
· There are a number of aspects to community relations that A Shared Future fails to address. These include:
· the human and financial costs of segregation
· the link between a divided society and identity issues
· the link between our community relations problems and the negative signals sent out by the political system
· the interaction between community relations issues and human rights and equality
· A Shared Future also needs to go into greater detail on the proposed methodology for assessing progress on community relations.