The Alliance Party have launched a new policy paper on Community Relations, entitled Building a United Community.
Speaking at its launch, Party Leader, David Ford 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.
“Alliance has voted against three successive Programmes for Government due to the former Executive’s failure to adequately address community relations issues. Furthermore, it has stalled over the production of a draft community relations strategy – the Harbinson Report. Their record is particular damning when contrasted with the performance of the Scottish Executive whose problems are less acute.
“Any 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 paper is 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.”
Summary of Alliance Proposals
- Alliance is working for an open and free society, where we are all equal citizens – not a society where we merely tolerate difference, but rather a society where we celebrate diversity and cherish individuality. Only Alliance rejects the notion that we must all be pigeonholed into ‘two communities’, and respects personal choice of identity. Alliance offers everyone, including unionists and nationalists, an invitation to something different, something better than sectional politics – a genuinely shared and non-sectarian future. Alliance wants to build a united community, characterised not by communal separation but by sharing. For Alliance, the Agreement is not the ceiling of our ambition; it is the floor upon which we can build a shared society.
- Alliance believes that government, statutory agencies and indeed civic society should actively encourage de-segregation and communal integration, and develop the appropriate policies.
- Alliance will promote citizenship and a culture of lawfulness education in schools.
- Alliance stresses that people should be able to hold open, mixed and multiple identities, and can have loyalties to a range of political structures at different levels.
- Alliance believes that Northern Ireland should be promoted as a distinct region within a decentralising British Isles and emerging Europe of the Regions.
- Alliance proposes that new symbols be devised to give expression to Northern Ireland as a region, including a new flag. Greater use should also be made of the European Flag.
- Alliance restates its support for the work of the Community Relations Council, and would significantly increase the budget granted to it to expand its support for projects.
- Alliance believes that community investment funds should be increasingly concentrated on projects with a cross-community element.
- Alliance proposes that the OFMDFM appoint an integration monitor.
- Alliance proposes that the integration monitor be charged with producing an audit of the costs of segregation on an annual basis.
- Alliance proposes that a new form of policy proofing, entitled Policy Appraisal for Sharing over Separation (PASS) be introduced for all government policies.
- Alliance has set a target of 10% of children being educated in integrated schools by 2010.
- The duty on the DENI to encourage, not merely to facilitate, the development of integrated education should be extended to Education and Library Boards.
- Where new schools are being, for example to service new housing developments, the Department should survey local residents regarding a presumption that they will be integrated or inter-church. As far as possible, new schools should be sited to service mixed catchment areas.
- Alliance will encourage the transformation of existing schools to ‘transformed’ integrated status.
- Alliance will reform and relax the criteria for the creation and maintenance of integrated schools, giving recognition of those children of mixed, other or no religious background.
- Alliance believes that the promotion and maintenance of mixed housing should become an explicit objective of the NI Housing Executive. Alliance advocates the creation of an Inter-Departmental Working Group to facilitate an inter-agency approach to these problems. Alliance
urges the police to adopt a more pro-active policy of intervening when paramilitary flags and other emblems are being erected.
- Alliance further highlights the need for public bodies to defend existing and to further develop common civic spaces, especially in town centres. Best practice should also be developed regarding design of the urban environment to maximise cross-community mixing.
- Alliance stresses the full enforcement of the existing law and the revision of the criminal law where appropriate.
- Any community safety strategies must address community relations issues. In particular, the forces of law and order should support those trying to move from the perceived safety of segregated areas or facilities towards mixed ones, and to assist those trying to protect existing mixed areas and facilities from threat.
- Alliance does not believe that the building of ‘peace walls’ to keep people apart provides a meaningful solution to interface tensions.
- Alliance has called for the immediate extension of the racially-motivated offences contained within the Crime and Disorder Act to Northern Ireland. Alliance will support the creation of homophobic Hate Crime measures on a UK-wide basis. Alliance also advocates the creation of sectarian Hate Crime measures on a UK-wide basis.
- Alliance proposes that the Football Offences Act (1991) and other relevant legislation that are applied in Great Britain to deal with racist chanting at football grounds be extended to Northern Ireland to deal with both sectarian and racist chanting at local sporting grounds.
- Alliance believes that a forum should be established to allow victims (self-defined) to tell their stories, and have them placed on an official record.
- Alliance supports the creation of a Single Equality Act, to combat discrimination or other forms of unfair treatment based on religion, gender, perceived race, disability and sexual preference.
- Alliance proposes that fair employment monitoring regulations be amended to allow people to identify themselves as ‘Protestant’, ‘Catholic’, ‘Other Religion’ or ‘No Religion’.
- Alliance also proposes that the list of organisations exempted from fair employment Regulations be amended. In particular, the ability of schools to hire teachers exclusively from one or other community background should be removed.
- Alliance believes in the separation of church and state, which in the context includes the separation of religion from party politics. It sends a profoundly wrong message in our community for the monarchical succession to proceed on the basis of inequality of gender and equality of religion/denomination.
- As a longstanding supporter of human rights, Alliance would like Northern Ireland to have the best set of human rights protections possible, which could in turn be a model for parts of these islands and of Europe. Alliance supports the efforts of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to draft a Bill of Rights, as required under the Agreement. Alliance believes that the NIHRC should look to incorporate established international conventions, and properly reflect pluralism and diversity within its work.
- Alliance recommends that the NI Human Rights Commission draw up a Charter of Freedom from Sectarianism.
- Alliance strongly advocates a system that uses a straightforward weighted majority, free from designations, as the voting system for key decisions in the Assembly.