The Alliance Party’s forty-first annual conference, entitled “A Northern Ireland that Works”, took place last month at Dunadry Hotel. Following the theme of most speeches during the day, conference closed following its second motion: “Shared Future”.
The motion was very much focussed on how an integrated society is needed to overcome today’s economic circumstances of NI and tackle social deprivation, and how current divisions not only limit progression but actually cost the public sector by provisioning separation.
Stephen Martin, proposing the motion, explained that the cost of division “affects us all”; that Northern Ireland would “thrive” by embracing diversity, so we need to insure a shared future is at the heart of everything we do. He went on to say NI is not a “benign apartheid” and that Alliance have a choice to lead and engage in politics that brings people together, by selling policies which mean better care and which benefit the people, because that is what they vote for.
Martin put forward, as communities are “miles ahead”, that if they want to work in a shared society, Alliance have to work with the people instead of politicians because legislation is less effective than talking to people. The motion called for a “substantial re-draft of the Draft Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration to reflect a true commitment to the development of a shared society across Government.”
Alliance suggested that trust needed to be built within society. For example integrated schooling would not only bring children together but also the parents, teachers and governors. Housing should also be more integrated, and a case study of Magherafelt was given; where the community is almost exactly 50/50 Catholic and Protestant, but there is little mixing and all housing is separated. Harry Hamilton, seconding the motion, suggested Stormont need Community Relations training from the “grass roots” level.
Criticism of the CSI programme was surprising, as it has only recently been achieved through, as was mentioned earlier in the conference, the Alliance Party’s own successful lobbying. Furthermore, the Party’s issue with effectiveness seemed to be more about the programme’s execution, or even simply the Assembly’s commitment to it, rather than the legislation itself. There was also, perhaps predictably, very little discussion on the motion itself.
Nevertheless, the motion was most certainly a strong and conclusive finish to conference, tying together NI’s economic and political circumstances with Alliance’s progressive thinking.
NOTES: Text of motion
“Conference recognises the critical importance of a shared future towards achieving economic prosperity and addressing social deprivation.
“Conference further recognises that managing a divided society has a detrimental impact on our public sector finances and limits our ability to invest in the measures that create growth and stability within our economy.
“Demands that the Executive puts in place a robust strategy to promote a shared society;
“Calls for a substantial re-draft of the Draft Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration to reflect a true commitment to the development of a shared society across Government.”