Like their last election Manifesto, the Alliance Party’s “blueprint for an Executive strategy to build a shared and better future” [PDF of Executive Summary] is not a skinny tome. So far I’ve got about a third of the way through the seventy or so pages. While I read the rest, here’s a synopsis of some of the key points in the “For Everyone” blueprint for you to ponder and comment on.
[Building a shared society] won’t be addressed by tinkering at the edges, or trying to simply manage the symptoms of the problem … The ending of violence has given us an opportunity to tackle the underlying divisions of our society; history will not forgive us if we squander it. I want Northern Ireland to become a truly shared society where nowhere is out of bounds to anyone because of their creed, colour, gender, sexual orientation or disability.
For two decades Northern Ireland received huge international support to ease our transition from hostility to peace. Across the world we have proclaimed that our peace process is a model for others to follow. And yet almost nineteen years after the ceasefires of 1994, fifteen years after the Good Friday Agreement, eight years after the publication of the first ‘shared future’ strategy under Direct Rule, a meaningful, strategic approach to tackling our pervasive divisions has yet to be developed under, and embedded into, our devolved political structures.
The proposals and arguments in the blueprint are based around Alliance’s vision:
A shared and integrated society free from intimidation and discrimination and fear, where every member is safe, has opportunities to contribute and participate and is treated fairly and with respect; a truly civic society, underpinned by the shared values of equality, respect for diversity, and a celebration of our interdependence.
As well as appealing to the get-along-together side of people’s better nature, the document also outlines economic reasons for investing in “mechanisms, policies and programmes”.
Alliance’s existing practice of examining “all major policies … for their potential impact on sharing versus separation” in the the departments they control – DEL and DOJ – would be extended to all departments.
Sharing would be intentional and not an add-on with “new leisure, educational, health, social and community facilities … built with an explicit objective to ensuring optimal and open public use”.
Initiatives would not be limited to short-to-medium term outcomes. Executive “resources will be made available to enable investments [to] support longer term reduction in hostility and the normalisation of sharing, either through the provision of shared goods, facilities and services to meet demand or to provide support and security for those making the choice to mix, share or integrate”.
Children growing up within divided societies continues to perpetuate division, this must be addressed, by getting to the roots of the problem facing our children and young people with real and meaningful action, not just papering over the cracks, tackling issues early on not relying on last minute intervention.
Shared education would: reduce “the cost of maintaining around 85,000 empty school places” as well as “directing funding towards pupils rather than the maintenance of the school estate”.
The integrated education targets – along with flags – have been the focus of much of today’s media attention around the blueprint.
- Set a minimum target for 20% of children being educated in integrated schools by 2020.
- Make the process for schools transforming to integrated status easier.
- All future new school builds should be integrated, bar in exceptional cases.
The BBC’s Mark Devenport calls Alliance’s proposals “more radical” when he compares these proposals with those in the leaked CSI draft report from Stormont’s cross-party working group on Shared Relations.
Around housing Alliance propose:
Setting and delivering a target through proactive and inter-Departmental programmes, that by 2025 all evidence of threat, intimidation and exclusive claims to territorial monopoly by any group or cause will be eliminated in Northern Ireland and mixed and shared housing must be considered normal throughout the region and at all levels of income.
On peace walls the targets are smaller than the leaked cross-party draft report, but perhaps more achievable:
There will be an aspiration to the removal of all interface barriers over time, in collaboration and partnership with local communities. This approach should allow the setting of baseline targets for a minimal reduction of 20% in the number of interface structures over the next ten years, with a further 30% removed within fifteen years.
There’s a nod to the past, but as Pete corrects me, not to the Eames/Bradley report that was tainted by a single recommendation out of the pages and pages of proposals:
In order to deal with the past and its legacy it is essential the Executive will engage with the British and Irish Governments to agree terms for a cross-party talks process, aimed at reaching agreement on arrangements for dealing with the past. This will take account of the Commission for Victims and Survivors’ Report on Dealing with the Past.
Under the section on flags, there is a statement that “Northern Ireland is and remains part of the United Kingdom, until or unless people decide otherwise”, noting that “we have divided and overlapping identities” and “in matters of esteem all must be treated with dignity and in a spirit of equality”.
There’s a call for the Executive to
agree that the Union Flag is flown over public and civic buildings in Northern Ireland on designated days as defined by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport
as well as an appeal for the Executive to “carry out a consultation on the possibility of developing shared symbols for Northern Ireland”.
… there should be zero tolerance of paramilitary symbols, there is no place in a normal society to celebrate a culture of violence and intimidation. The inappropriate use of national symbols is also an issue. People have the right to display any legal symbol from their home. It must be recognised that this does not extend to street furniture.
The display of flags should be regulated with enforcement when required, with a proposal that statutory agencies involved in this regulation would grant approval for “flags and other celebratory material [to] be displayed in a regulated, time bound manner by application” in order that “all space in Northern Ireland is shared and cannot be claimed by anyone permanently or exclusively”.
Along with “Executive leadership” there’s recognition that work is required at a district council level, along with adequate funding and a suitable champion. The proposal in Alliance’s blueprint is that the Community Relations Council is developed into a Shared Future Council.
The devil will be in the detail, and the practicalities of implementation under the current structures in the Assembly and the Executive. The reaction of other parties will be interesting to watch. Conservative NI spokesman Trevor Ringland was not universally happy with the blueprint or Alliance’s role in building a shared future.
[Trevor Ringland] welcomed some of the ideas in Alliance’s latest document about integration, but he said that the party had missed its best opportunities to help deliver a shared future.
We certainly need a plan to combat division, as our greatest political priority. However Alliance has to shoulder a lot of the blame for failing to deliver a viable strategy on a shared future. The party had leverage during the negotiations to devolve policing and justice, which it could have used to demand much more concrete progress on a CSI strategy and that key aspects of the 2005 Shared Future document were maintained …
Any meaningful CSI strategy must contain targets for things like sharing schools, integrating housing and reducing duplication of services. Alliance has said some things I would agree with, but they have consistently failed to deliver their key objective of implementing a strategy to bring about a shared future. In the process they together with the other executive parties have let the people of Northern Ireland down and the sooner they all face up to that, the better for all of us.
Whether you deem the report to be ambitious, idealistic, well argued or laboured, the “For Everyone” blueprint will certainly be a talking point in the corridors of Parliament Buildings over the next week, and a focal point of the Alliance conference on Saturday 2 March.
But before then, will Alliance tuck these proposals under their arm and march confidently back into the cross-party shared relations working group?