At the annual Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) conference at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast, I attended a panel discussion on shared future policy. The event was facilitated by Councillor Ross Hussey. Panellists were Duncan Morrow, Bill Manwaring, Lesley Macaulay, Kenny Donaldson.
The session began with an introductory presentation by Duncan Morrow, Chief Executive of the Community Relations Council:
Mr Morrow described the opportunities that shared future policy presents, including attracting inward investment, encouraging young people to stay and make their livelihoods here, and that a shared society is where we have to go — reflected in all public policies. He repeatedly said that the draft Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI) policy needs to be at the core of a welcoming society.
Far from community relations being a soft and mushy issue for contented middle classes, he said that those who suffer most from segregation are the poorest.
He described success as being when people are free to be who they are, in an open way and without fear.
From the perspective of the Community Relations Council, the opportunities that the CSI consultation process represents must not be squandered; politicians from all parties must commit themselves to a vision of a shared future.
A 40-minute Question & Answer session followed, with the facilitator feeling compelled to provide his own responses to most of the questions from the audience:
- Ensuring sincere and genuine interest by community leaders and civil society representatives
- Defining a shared future in one sentence (to which Duncan Morrow replied, “Building our future WITH each other”)
- Do we have a too strict equality regime?
- What are the biggest challenges we face in realising a shared future?
- How do we get from A to B?
On the last question, Mr Morrow proposed that the way forward was to get a shared future “built into the way we think about things — move into it, get used to it, then take the next step”.
Overall, the session was successful in that the format encouraged participation from every panellist. However, as I also attended the SDLP’s conference panel discussion on the same topic, what was different here was a lack of excitement or enthusiasm. I would have liked to have heard more about how UUP members and representatives are working themselves to realise a shared future. To be fair, there were references to such work during the Q&A session, particularly by Lesley Macaulay, but not in a galvanising way.
There is no doubting the UUP’s desire for a shared future. But my suggestion is for it — and all other parties — is to further articulate its own strategy for realising this vision.
There needs to be more connection between the valuable work that ordinary party members and others do in communities with the party’s own vision for a shared and better future for all.