Less in-group, more Shared Future group: Lyttle implores OFMDFM
Alliance discusses its blueprint document for a cohesive and integrated Northern Ireland
By Barton CREETH for Northern Ireland Foundation
2 March 2013
“The concept of a Shared Future is very different from that of a shared-out future.” — Judith Cochrane MLA
A heavy police presence outside the Alliance Party conference at the La Mon Hotel in County Down was not met by any anticipated flag protestors. Yet inside the hotel there was much discussion on flags and other identity issues, as party members put forward their vision on how to build a more cohesive and integrated Northern Ireland.
Following Party President Billy Webb’s opening speech, which commended his party colleagues for standing firm in the face of daily intimidation and violence, the first panel discussion of the conference put forward the party’s plan to build a shared society.
Titled, “For Everyone — Alliance Blueprint for a Shared Future”, the panel addressed the party’s latest Shared Future policy document and looked closely at the main issues of housing, integrated education and shared space.
Chris Lyttle MLA chaired the panel and introduced the party’s For Everyone document.
As deputy chairperson of the OFMDFM Committee, Lyttle defended the party’s decision to withdrawn from the five-party Executive talks, saying that “it became clear that the ambitions of other Executive parties for a shared future weren’t as sincere as their language claimed”.
Criticising the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, Lyttle said that rather than forming a single identity forum or calling for a premature border poll, they should form a Shared Future group.
In addition to elected representatives, Alliance’s proposal for a Shared Future group “would include members of our community with valuable experience and expertise to deliver real change on this issue”.
Judith Cochrane, MLA for East Belfast, and member of the Assembly’s social development committee, with responsibility for housing policy, argued for a more robust plan to deal with shared housing.
The residential sector in Northern Ireland is deeply divided with over 90 percent of public housing segregated along religious lines.
Meanwhile, polls show consistent support for mixed housing, and that most people, including Housing Executive tenants, believe better relations would result from greater integration.
Cochrane noted that some good work has been undertaken by Housing Executive around shared housing, but lamented that it still states on its website that it respects the wishes of those that want to live in singe or mixed identity neighbourhoods. “This,” Cochrane said, “is simply not acceptable.”
“How exactly does the Housing Executive support those wishes for single identity neighbourhoods?” Cochrane asked. She challenged the seemingly innocent language of the Housing Executive by casting it in a different light. “Are we to take it that if people asked for a white only estate that the Housing Executive would support the wishes of people to live there? Of course not.
“The perhaps innocent language of the Housing Executive fosters an acceptance of segregation and discrimination. And if it was applied to any other category of persons under section 75 it would be a matter of international disgrace.”
“All housing must be promoted and protected as mixed. Every house and area should be open to people irrespective of background. Nowhere should be off limits for anyone.”
Polls consistently demonstrate that there is around 70 percent support in Northern Ireland for integrated education.
Despite this, a recent report from the University of Ulster shows that all Executive parties, except Alliance, refuse to prioritise integration.
Trevor Lunn MLA, a member of the Assembly Education Committee, explained that fundamental to the party’s vision of a fully shared society is the idea that children in Northern Ireland, regardless of background, should be educated together, and not in separate school systems. The integrated school movement, he said, has carried the flag on this issue for more than forty years, adding that Alliance will continue to help their work move forward.
By 2020, Alliance would like to see twenty percent of children in Northern Ireland being educated in integrated schools. Lunn said Alliance will work to make the transformation process of those schools wishing to become integrated schools streamlined and easier.
Challenging the Education Minister, John O’Dowd (Sinn Féin), Lunn finished by demanding him to “acknowledge his obligations under statute to encourage and facilitate integration”.
Councillor Maire Hendron, Chair of the Belfast City Council Good Relations Partnership, led the Alliance Party Belfast City Council group in their support of flying the Union Flag on designated days only.
Hendron received a long and loud round of applause upon her introduction on the discussion panel.
She defended the Alliance position, pointing to the fact that they took on board the legal advice presented to them, and studied the recommendations of the Equality Commission, which performed two equality impact assessments in 2002 and 2011. On each occasion the recommendation was that the Union flag should only be flown on designated days.
Those designated days are determined by the College of Arms, the United Kingdom’s advisory body on national symbols.
“In spite of a sustained campaign of intimidation in the media, mainly instigated by the DUP, at no time did we deviate from what was the Alliance Party policy from 2002.”
She accused the UUP and the DUP of deliberately fanning the flames of fear and anger in selected loyalist areas through the distribution of 40,000 deliberately-misleading flyers that accused Alliance of wanting to “rip down” the national flag. The actions of the two main Unionist parties, she claimed, inevitably led to the outbreak of flag protests on the streets of Northern Ireland.
Hendron defended the democratic process by which the decision was agreed and criticised Peter Robinson for his condemnation of Alliance’s position.
“A sustainable flags and emblems policy which recognises the constitutional status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom and which respects the diversity of our divided society is urgently required for all of Northern Ireland.”
“It is imperative that the Executive exhibits badly needed leadership in this matter, to ensure that a policy is agreed prior to the implementation of RPA [Review of Public Administration, aka “Super Councils”] in 2015. Otherwise we are in for a very, very difficult time, if every council across the country can decided what they want to do.”
Full version of For Everyone: http://www.scribd.com/doc/129485978/CSI-APNI-20130129-For-Everyone