ALLIANCE Assembly candidate Neil Powell has said that community relations will be at the centre of the party’s election manifesto.
Mr Powell said: “The healing of our communal divisions must be the greatest priority for our political institutions.
“Sectarianism and segregation remain major scars on Northern Ireland, and have even intensified in recent years. They are responsible for tremendous human, social and economic costs to our society. Indeed, continued divisions pose a constant threat to peace and stability and ultimately to the durability of the Agreement.
“A new Assembly proper community relations strategy must be extensive and must be radical. There is no point tinkering around the edges; it must challenge how we live, work and play as a community.
“Sectarianism is not something restricted to a few interface areas in and around Belfast, but is deeply ingrained throughout society. People are taught to see themselves as part of an exclusive community and to be suspicious of others from an early age.
“It is not enough to merely encourage people to respect and tolerate each other, we must work to change mindsets that pigeon-hole others as being different.
“Ultimately, we must tackle the institutionalised sectarianism that comes from the top down. Both within the Agreement, and in other areas of Government policy – most notably the recent census – there is a formal assumption that society is divided into two separate communities.
“This approach is sectarian in that it rides roughshod over people’s freedom to choose their own identity, and ignores the evidence of a growing number of people do not want to be associated with either a Unionist or a Nationalist community.
“When people are being conditioned to think of themselves in such group terms, is it little wonder that this translates into conflict over territory, resources and culture, and that so many police resources are eaten up in dealing with street violence and interfaces.
“Accordingly, the central theme to our manifesto is how Alliance will work towards building a united community. Alliance wants to provide everyone, unionists and nationalists included, with an invitation to join in something different, something better – a genuinely shared, non-sectarian Northern Ireland.
“We will stress that people be able to hold open, mixed and multiple identities, and will promote the notion of Northern Ireland as a distinct region – our reference point.
“Public agencies, such as the Housing Executive, should have an explicit objective of promoting integration. All policies should be screened for their impact on sharing over separation. This should be scrutinised by an Integration Monitor. This person would also have a role in seeking to quantify the social and economic costs of providing separate facilities.
“Alliance will seek to increase the resources available to the Community Relations Council allowing it to increase its work.
“Alliance wants to see 10% of our children in integrated schools by 2010. We need to be creative about we do this, and there should be a presumption that all new-build schools should be integrated.
“The promotion of mixed housing must lie at the heart of any new strategy. Fundamentally, it is a law and order problem. People in mixed areas must have appropriate security. At present when someone is intimidated in their home, the response of the authorities is to move the victim rather than punish the offender.
“The scourge of paramilitary flags and graffiti that is present in so many parts of Northern Ireland must be addressed. Not only should the police intervene when the law is being broken, but the Housing Executive and Roads Service should remove the offending symbols from their property. Alliance has proposed an inter-agency working group within the Executive to co-ordinate these efforts.
“Finally, Alliance is highlighting the need to reform Fair Employment monitoring regulations to reflect the reality that people define themselves in many ways other than members of a Protestant Community or a Catholic Community.”