Opinion Piece in the News Letter by Chris Lyttle on why we need to see a shared future

Flags controversy has shown need for a Shared Future

Chris Lyttle MLA

Alliance Party OFDMFM spokesperson

My colleagues and I have been systematically targeted with death threats, arson attacks and intimidation in recent weeks but are tremendously encouraged by the support we have received. It has increased our resolve to work even harder to build a shared and prosperous Northern Ireland for all.

It was never going to be easy to stand up for a shared society at ease with itself and at peace with its neighbours.

The Alliance Party didn’t propose the motion to remove the Union flag at City Hall but showed leadership in proposing its display with respect on designated days in line with Stormont and numerous other councils across the UK.

This policy reflects the constitutional position and the increasingly diverse society in which we live. It was supported by the UUP and PUP in 2000 and by the DUP controlled Lisburn City Council in 2006.

In 2012; however, unionist parties supported the distribution of approximately 40’000 leaflets misrepresenting the Alliance Party on this issue and targeting a single elected representative, the MP for East Belfast.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP must also show leadership if their commitment to a shared society is to be believed. Their vote to name a play park in honour of a man apprehended with a weapon connected to one of the worst atrocities in our history was wrong.

As the Good Friday Agreement asserted and recent Census results show, a new Northern Ireland confident in its own diversity is emerging.

Despite the severe human and economic damage caused by failed political leadership on this issue, we are now facing the astonishingly ill-advised attempt by the DUP and UUP to move this dispute to Stormont where the flag policy had been settled and agreed by all.

No political party should conduct important discussions or decision-making in a context of violence or intimidation and the Alliance Party will make no exception to this rule.

The only solution is for political parties to uphold solely peaceful means, democracy, the rule of law and to deliver a community relations policy that reflects the desire of the public to live in a shared society for all. This must include direction on flags and emblems, parades, education, housing, shared space and dealing with the past.

This is why Alliance is adamant that the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration Strategy achieve this aim.

These are not peripheral issues but of fundamental importance to our social and economic future.

The DUP, UUP and PUP have failed to represent a shared future decision at City Hall and are extending a false narrative that British identity is under threat for their own political survival.

It is time the First and deputy First Minister accepted they are responsible for the delivery of a Shared Future strategy for all and to do so without further delay.

This is the only approach that will put the needs of our people above the politics of the past. It is the challenge of our generation to hold politicians to this task.

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