Peter Robinson’s attack on the funding of Catholic education was one of the rare examples of deft politicking in that it had a broad appeal to unionist voters from the most hard core to the most liberally minded. What could be more ‘shared future’ than educating all NI’s children in the same schools? Erm, well…
And, as Duncan Morrow pointed out on Monday, the Shared Future strategy, launched by Des Browne in 2005 has found very little purchase with either party at Stormont Castle:
Devolved government did not like A Shared Future. The fact it was enacted under a British direct rule government was enough to make it an object of suspicion. But agreeing an alternative has proved a hard ask.
As part of the deal at Hillsborough in February, the Alliance Party demanded a policy be agreed and, in July, the Executive agreed to consult on cohesion, sharing and integration, known by the unfortunate initials of CSI. Public consultations end on October 29th.
The fact that a programme emerged is its own achievement. But what the CSI document shows is that political leadership in Northern Ireland still has a hard time in prioritising reconciliation and an intercommunity future.
The words and actions in the document are not of themselves dishonourable, but the programme does not amount to a systematic attempt to tackle sectarianism, racism and the consequences of violence and discrimination. The default reality of today – separation and even hostility – will remain embedded in housing, culture, regeneration, community and education.
Morrow believes this sterility at the heart of devolved government will erode some of the very few things upon which there is genuine cross party consensus in OFMdFM:
The current push for international investment will prove impossible if we do not tackle our signature international weakness. Small businesses which might benefit from a reliable increase in visitors and tourists will remain moribund if every summer is overshadowed by riots.
Creative people will not choose Northern Ireland, if the quality of life is undermined by fear. Our brightest children will continue to leave if we do not make Northern Ireland a place which prizes openness and tolerance.
Probably, almost certainly undeniably so. The question is how do you get from the territoriality of the past to the fulfilment of the broadest needs in the future?