Sharing

sharing

Ministers suggest action on ‘peace walls’ and shared education but language and the past are two major obstacles.

The Executive claims that “much progress has been made” in creating a shared and better future and it “remains as committed as ever” to achieving that. However, the first step of its “Building a Strong and Shared Community” chapter relies on three separate sports stadia projects, rather than the single one proposed under direct rule in 2006. The whole community can unite around the World Police and Fire Games in Belfast (1-10 August 2013) and plans for a major golf tournament in 2013-2014.

On dismantling interface barriers, the Executive will take action (starting in 2013-2014) if local communities agree to bring them down.

There are currently 59 interface barriers. David Ford’s preference is to invest funds into good relations work instead of extending walls. When asked how it would reduce paramilitary influence, the Department of Justice said that an ‘inter-agency’ group would deal with interface problems (with PSNI involvement).

Prison reform, a legacy of the peace process, should be “ready to launch” in 2012-2013 and swift action is demanded. Thirty-six of the 40 prison review recommendations are to be achieved by 2015. At present, 79.4 per cent of prison officers are from a Protestant background and 10 per cent from a Catholic background; the remaining 10.6 per cent are “undetermined”.

As expected, the Troubles are not mentioned. The Assembly has separately passed an Alliance proposal for cross-party talks on dealing with the past and the Secretary of State has written to party leaders to ask for their views on the way forward.

Irish language and Ulster Scots strategies, promised five years ago in the St Andrews Agreement, have been held up by DUP-Sinn Féin disagreements.

Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín said her officials were “working to determine the scope” of a draft Irish Language Bill, which unionists view as unnecessary. Ní Chuilín wants Irish to be protected in law (similarly to Scots Gaelic and Welsh) but concedes that promoting the language is “not simply about a piece of legislation”.

DCAL officials started a ‘scoping exercise’ last month, which is due to finish by 31 January 2012. A “suggested timetable for consultation and publication” will then be provided to the Minister.

The ministerial advisory group on shared education (due to report in 2012-2013) could encourage a more detailed and rational debate. Shared education programmes and facilities can bring pupils together for certain classes, but fall short of permanently shared schools.

In 2010-2011, 6.5 per cent of pupils (21,051) attended integrated sector schools. This figure increases to 10.5 per cent and 33,629 pupils when other forms of mixing (e.g. Catholic pupils in controlled schools) are included. Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey results over the last Assembly term indicated that 62-70 per cent of parents would prefer to send their children to a “mixed-religion” school.

Those plans should be underpinned by a cohesion, sharing and integration (CSI) strategy. OFMDFM admits that the June 2010 draft was seen as a “politically negotiated document” which did not reflect what most of society wanted.

agendaNi understands that the cross-party working group on CSI has been meeting weekly since September. However, the draft Programme for Government says that this would only be finalised in 2012-2013. The Community Relations Council is continuing with its work in the meantime.

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