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The Alliance Party has launched a new policy paper on Community Relations entitled Building a United Community.

Alliance Deputy Leader Eileen Bell 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.

“Three times Alliance has voted against the Programme for Government because it failed completely to address the question of community relations. Equally unacceptably the Executive failed to produce the Harbinson Report because its recommendations did not agree with their thinking! The First/Deputy First Ministers’ record in the area of community relations is not poor, it is non-existent!

“Any proper community relations strategy must be extensive and radical. It must go to the very core of how we live, work and play as a society. This paper addresses all aspects of the problem. It must be seriously considered, even by those trying to bury the whole issue permanently.”

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.”

ENDS

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.

ALDERMAN Stewart Dickson has described his recent visit to the American states of Florida and New Hampshire as a “great success”.

The Alliance Party delegate, accompanied by Councillor David Hillditch and Alderman Jim Brown, jetted off to America on July 24th to attend the prestigious ‘Sister Cities Convention’.

The convention, held in Florida and organised to highlight the positive aspects of towns and cities from around the world, featured workshops and lectures on a wide range of issues.

Tourism, economics, education, politics, cross-party relations and the environment were just some of the issues discussed at the convention.

Although the convention was “extremely important” to the Carrickfergus team, Mr. Dickson also described his meeting with representatives in the New Hampshire state of Portsmouth as “equally important”.

The Carrickfergus councillors spent the first week in Florida before embarking on their trip to Portsmouth where they discussed plans to organise transatlantic educational visits and websites.

Councillor Dickson, who returned from the visit last weekend, is now hoping to continue with the contact they established in Portsmouth.

“After the recent spate of trouble in the town, it was good to see something positive happening for Carrickfergus,” said the Alliance man.

“The convention enabled us to develop links with other cities and many of the delegates were impressed with what Carrickfergus had to offer.

“We were intending – despite the recent negative images of Carrickfergus – to set the record straight and inform the Americans of the positive aspects of our town.

“The convention was a great way of understanding other towns, cities and countries and I hope we can put our experience to good use,” added Alderman Dickson.

But Alderman Dickson, who narrowly missed out on a seat on the Northern Ireland shadow assembly, said the visit to Portsmouth would also stand as one of the “highlights” of the visit.

He said: “The convention we attended was a memorable experience – but so too was our visit to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

“Portsmouth is the sister city of Carrickfergus and many of the delegates we met were determined to launch various projects between the two towns.

“An educational visit has been planned for next year but delegates from Portsmouth are also keen to establish a web-site between the two towns.

“Our visit to Portsmouth made front page news and we were also on television. Overall, the visit was a tremendous success and I hope that Carrickfergus is now seen in a better light.”

AS details of the US President’s second visit to Ireland emerged last week, the Deputy Leader of the Alliance Party was preparing to visit one of Mr. Clinton’s favourite states.

For Lisburn councillor Seamus Close, accompanied by fellow councillor Richard Good and South Down Alliance representative Dr. Anne-Marie Cunningham, jetted off to Boston’s Harvard University on July 18 to participate in a week long conference on conflict resolution.

The conference – entitled ‘The New Political Architecture: A Workshop for Leaders from Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain’ – was organised by the John F. Kennedy School of Government and the Foundation for Civil Society.

And apart from the attendance of Mr. Close, the Lagan Valley constituency was also represented by Democratic Unionist Party councillor Edwin Poots and the Ulster Democratic Party’s Gary McMichael.

A wide range of issues associated with the conflict in Northern Ireland – which Mr. Close described as “extremely useful” – were discussed at length during a series of workshop sessions, lectures and seminars.

However, although the conference was in “no way” linked to the workings of the new shadow assembly, Mr. Close said it was good to see a “great level of enthusiasm” from the Northern Ireland politicians.

“I think that by moving our politicians away from the political cauldron of Northern Ireland – and into a different political environment – we have the opportunity to recognise each other as human beings,” explained the shadow assemblyman.

“Even though my visit to Harvard was not connected to the workings of the new assembly, it was still good to see so many of our politicians who, I believe, were genuinely interested in what the conference had to offer.

“We met with political activists from around the world and I believe we gained some valuable experiences that we can use in relation to our own situation.

“I was very pleased with the way things went at Harvard and I welcome any attempts to address the issue of conflict resolution in Northern Ireland,” he added.

ONE of the Alliance Party’s longest serving councillors has called on parents and families to do all that they can to eradicate sectarianism in Northern Ireland.

And North Down shadow assembly member Eileen Bell – who is the Alliance Party’s chairperson – has also called on community, business and political leaders to follow in their footsteps.

The founder member of the Peace Train organisation and previous cross-community worker believes that the “first steps” in eradicating hatred and division can be taken in the home.

Mrs. Bell said that once the first steps had been taken to eradicating what, she claims is, “the principles of division” – other “influential groups” could then take over from the family.

“After the events of the last few weeks, it is clear that bigotry, sectarianism and hatred are still rife within Northern Ireland,” said the assemblywoman.

“That’s why everyone in this society must do all that they can to eradicate these evils from our society. It is clear that we all have a role to play in abolishing these terrible principles.

“By teaching children to have respect for all traditions at such an early age, we are giving them the chance to look at people as human beings and not just as Catholic or Protestant, Unionist or Nationalist.

“Most people would agree that the sentiments of hate, distrust and suspicion are formulated in the home.

“But all parents must do their best to instruct their children to have respect, tolerance and understanding for all sections of the community. Anything else, and the seeds of hate will continue to grow in this society,” said Mrs. Bell.

The Alliance councillor also urged parents and families to investigate the attempts made by their local business, community and political representatives to eradicate sectarianism.

EVEN though the image of Carrickfergus may have been damaged by the recent outbreak of violence which swept through Northern Ireland, a leading member of the Alliance Party has called on the people of the borough to “look to the future”.

Alderman Stewart Dickson – who stood as an East Antrim candidate in last month’s shadow Assembly election – said it was vital for the people of Carrick to remove the “dark spectre of sectarianism”.

And Mr. Dickson, a health spokesperson for the Alliance Party, has also described the intimidation and violence which flared in Carrickfergus as a form of “nazism” and “ethnic cleansing”.

The former Mayor of Carrickfergus is now calling on the people of the borough to “all they can” to improve the image of their area. He said that any hope of future investment and potential job creation in the borough lay “purely” with the people and local politicians.

But Mr. Dickson also pointed out that further outbreaks of violence would leave Carrickfergus “lagging behind” other towns in the province. He added that, with the new Assembly, it was now time for the people of Carrickfergus to move forward.

“The events which flared after the Drumcree stand-off in Portadown cast a long and dark shadow over the borough of Carrickfergus,” said the Alliance Councillor.

“Violence, mayhem, disorder and blatant sectarianism were all to evident in this borough in recent days. The intimidation which occurred in Carrickfergus can only be described as a sickening act of ethnic cleansing.

“Many Catholic families in the borough were intimidated, but many police officers in the town were also victimised by people who can only be described as thugs and animals.

“And at the height of the violence, what type of image was the borough portraying? An image where local hooligans had the authority to place young children at the burning barricades and road blockades. An image of sectarianism, hatred and bigotry.

“That’s why the recent levels of intimidation and attacks witnessed in Carrickfergus must not be allowed to happen again. We must fight against this hatred and we must do it together,” he said.

The Carrickfergus Councillor is also adamant that the people of the borough must do everything in their power to heal division and promote cross-community dialogue.

Mr. Dickson said: “We must not be allowed to forget about the victims of the past few weeks. They have suffered at the hands of evil and despicable thugs and we must all help them. It is clear that we must offer the hand of friendship.

“If we want to improve the image of our borough then we can start by showing the victims of intimidation that we care. It is essential that they don’t feel isolated at this moment. The thugs must not be allowed to win.”

And, in a further development, the Alliance Councillor has spoken of his contact with Americans who expressed concern about the situation in Northern Ireland and with Carrickfergus in particular.

“I have been inundated with calls from people in Carrick’s sister town in America. The people of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, were disgusted at the images on their television screens.

“They were genuinely concerned about the outbreaks of violence and intimidation, but what do I tell them now?

“Just before the referendum on May 22, American newspapers such as the New York Times painted a positive image of the town detailing its historical and cultural value to Northern Ireland.

“However, it is essential that we repair the image of this community. Carrick has great prospects and great potential. It must not be allowed to be destroyed by a small minority who are hell bent on causing death, destruction and mayhem,” said the Alliance man.

AN IMPASSIONED plea for the people of North Antrim to distance themselves from sectarianism and hatred has been issued by the local Alliance Party representative.

Councillor Jayne Dunlop – who was speaking after yesterday’s triple funeral of the Quinn brothers in Ballymoney – said now was the time for the people of North Antrim to eradicate “sectarian attitudes”.

She said that by working together and moving forward, the people of North Antrim and Ballymoney would help pay tribute to the lives of three young brothers.

And the Alliance Councillor has also urged Orangemen from North Antrim to call for end to the stand-off at Drumcree.

“I watched the mourners on Tuesday at the funerals of the young Quinn brothers and it was clear for all to see that Ballymoney was eerily quiet as the mourners passed by. The only noise being that of footsteps and the tolling of the Chapel bell,” said Ms. Dunlop.

“It was a heartbreaking sight to see the hearse pass by with three white coffins inside. I felt it was such a pathetic waste of young life and that this needless loss of life spoke volumes about the kind of society in which we live,” she said.

“That’s why I feel that it’s about the time the protest at Drumcree ended. A number of people feel that the deaths are not the responsibility of the Orange Order. But surely it is the stand-off that created the unsettled atmosphere in which the firebombing of the Quinn home took place.

“The only people who are truly to blame are those who carried out the attack, but in a sense we are all to blame if we continue to harbour sectarian attitudes and I would urge the people of North Antrim to distance themselves from such attitudes.

“I know that this will not be easy but those who are involved in the disputes need to try. We must hope that no other family suffers like the Quinn family,” added the Ballymena Councillor.

FOLLOWING last night’s outbreak of violence in the small County Down fishing village of Kilkeel, a senior member of the Alliance Party has urged the local Protestant community to “fully support” their Catholic neighbours.

And Dr. Philip McGarry, who is the Alliance Party President, said it was imperative that members of the local Protestant clergy show “total solidarity” with the village’s small Catholic community.

The Alliance man also urged members of the Protestant clergy to do “everything in their power” to prevent further outbreaks of sectarian violence.

“Catholic communities in towns like Kilkeel and Carrickfergus at the present time feel isolated and threatened,” said the former Belfast City Councillor.

“They are aware that the security forces have been unable to maintain their rule of law and they have grave fears about will happen over the coming weekend.

“I would also like to say that the Alliance Party welcomes recent contributions made by the main Church leaders. However, it is essential that local Protestant clergy are also active.

“I would further ask the local Protestant clergy in areas where there has been violence and intimidation against Roman Catholics, to show support for their neighbours in a direct and practical fashion,” he added.

Dr. McGarry also urged members of the local Protestant clergy to “actively seek” to ensure that there is no repetition of the violence which, he claims is, “spiralling out of control”.

The Alliance Group on Belfast City Council have submitted the following motion for discussion at this weeks Policy and Resources Committee meeting to be held this Friday 19 December.

The motion reads:

Belfast City Council notes the rich diversity of Cultural traditions present in the city, notes in particular the value attached to the Irish language by many citizens, and recognises the need for the council to deal with issues of cultural diversity in a positive and inclusive manner.

Policy and Resources accordingly agrees to establish a sub committee, initially for a period to conclude at the AGM in 1999, to consider and make recommendations on the councils approach to the Irish language and issues of cultural diversity.

Commenting on the initiative, Councillor Mervyn Jones, Leader of the Alliance Group said:

“For to long the Irish Language and Cultural Traditions have been used as political weapons , served on groups on either side as ammunition for use against the other. Alliance is now in a unique position in Belfast City Council to enunciate this proposal , and to ensure that these issues are dealt with positively in the future. The initiative is further proof of Alliance’s determination to make genuine and steady progress in improving the way Belfast City Council represents and serves its constituents.”