The way forward

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Both Sinn Féin and the DUP have published their own cohesion, sharing and integration strategies. agendaNi looks at where the parties can agree but also where the sticking point lies.

By their own admission, there are some things the DUP and Sinn Féin can agree on, but there are many they cannot. A common cohesion, sharing and integration (CSI) strategy belongs in the latter column.

Comments from both parties highlight the main differences between them: for Sinn Féin, read ‘equality’ and for the DUP, read ‘integration’.

Martina Anderson has said outright that “Sinn Féin is committed to an approach premised on equality” and is on record as saying that for her party, CSI is an opportunity to promote equality.

Jeffrey Donaldson has taken a different tack: “If we are to tackle issues like racism and sectarianism we have to work to remove the divisions in our society”.

Entitled ‘Building a Better Future: A Cohesion, Sharing and Integration policy for a shared and better future’, the DUP document was produced on 28 October 2008 and is the latest version of an OFMDFM working draft. The last amendments were made by Peter Robinson.

This was released to demonstrate the policy differences between the DUP and Sinn Féin. The DUP concedes that further work “was and is still required”. Indeed, the draft says that other departments had to have their say.

‘New Community, New Times’ was the suggested title from the DUP for the final version. Good relations is a running theme; this covers both the normal ‘community relations’ term and also race relations. Basically, the document prefers to talk of integrating into one community rather than ‘equalising’ the two main communities.

Sinn Féin’s ‘Rights and Respect’ document, released on 16 September 2009, says “due regard” must be given to, and good relations must exist between, individual communities. That party, like the DUP, also takes those “good relations” to cover both community relations and race relations.

Agreement

Both documents agree that a zero tolerance policy with regards to hate crime is required and both agree that Northern Ireland already has “strong and comprehensive” anti-discrimination legislation.

Strong local political leadership is seen as essential to any strategy’s success, both agree. Indeed a good relations panel, led by OFMDFM Ministers, would be established to review and monitor how the Executive puts the strategy and relevant Programme for Government commitments into practice. It would also work with the already existing Racial Equality Forum and Good Relations Forum.

It is that panel, again both agree, which would decide on the specific problem areas that need “direct action”. Those areas should include: young people and communities, the flying of flags and emblems, developing shared space and crisis intervention i.e. rapid response from agencies against hate crimes.

£28.7 million has been allocated for the work of the panel between 2008 and 2011.

From both parties there is a particular focus on young people. It is commonly held that while young people in some cases are working positively to improve relations between communities, it is often they who are both victim and perpetrator of such crimes.

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A difference of opinion

That the sticking point between the two parties is the equality issue. Sinn Féin’s document centres on promoting equality as the basis for good relations.

It is the role of the Executive and government departments, its document explains, to promote “rights and respect” and a “shared and better future”. But not for the first time, the party centres on equality as “the foundation of good relations”, rather than integration which is advocated by its partner in government.

The DUP believes local council leaders should be responsible for bringing communities together within their areas. A shared future would be incorporated into the community planning process, resulting in plans to create shared spaces, cut hate crime incidents, integrate ethnic minorities and promote cultural diversity.

Safe and shared spaces and public services are also advocated by Sinn Féin, though both communities should be able to have pride and confidence in their different cultural identities, not deviating from its equality line.

The DUP recognises that there are already many shared spaces but says that all should be this way. Public services should be shared rather than duplicated unnecessarily.

In all these issues, Sinn Féin says, the Executive, not local councils, has to be committed to being a leader.

“Dealing with the legacy of the past” is a common key aim though while both parties have spoken out against the Eames Bradley report, only Sinn Féin have published specific proposals (agendaNi issue 32, page 13).

Sinn Féin may let that phrase cover victims groups but the DUP explicitly adds that a “strong financial and support framework” for those groups should be put in place.

The DUP’s document recognises that many people in both main communities want to see mixed religion neighbourhoods, workplaces and schools, and it says those aspirations should be supported.

For the DUP, the arrival of migrant workers has changed the traditional context for division and so could make Northern Ireland’s society more open. Rights are important but people must also accept their responsibilities.

This does not mean “neutralising” areas by removing all symbols. Government would work with communities to remove paramilitary flags and murals and threatening graffiti. The implication is that if a community wants the offensive symbol to stay, it would not be moved.

In a slight break from its equalityfocussed strategy, Sinn Féin concedes that law enforcement and policy cannot deal with intolerance and discrimination alone, and says that division and polarisation has been ingrained in Northern Ireland. It wants to tackle that legacy by “promoting progress towards a more shared and integrated society”.

“All sections of our community should feel comfortable expressing and sharing their cultural identity”, the DUP continues. Its document notes that the marching season had become less tense but attacks on Orange and GAA halls had increased since 2005.

Experiences can be shared with Scotland and Wales; the Scottish Government is equally committed to tackling racism and sectarianism and Rangers and Celtic are working together to tackle similar problems.

Where to next?

In OFMDFM questions on 23 November, the First Minister said that department officials have produced a joint draft document which was, at the time of writing, with the special advisors.

He said: “When I see it, I hope that it will have been endorsed by the special advisors on both sides and that the deputy First Minister and I will be able to move forward… We are very happy to look at whatever we receive.”

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