OFMDFM’s anti sectarian strategy reeks of bromide rather than stale cordite…

For years our politicians knew about little more than throwing shapes for their electorate. Some, more than others, took the time to study and then work the system to bring out the vote. In the case of Sinn Fein they have an impressive record of democratically engaging communities whose equivalent elsewhere simply do not vote.

But as Peter Geoghegan points out in his Irish Times Op Ed today, talking the talk is not the same as walking the walk. OFMDFM commissioned a consultation on its own Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI) report which was sat on for some 10 months; ie, from before the Assembly election, all through the summer and then quietly lodged on the OFMDFM website on 25th October this year.

Geogehegan picks a useful binary, Scotland first under Jack McConnell and latterly the more dynamic Alex Salmond:

Since 2006, Scotland is the only place on the planet that possesses both a sizeable Irish Catholic and Protestant population and an anti-sectarian strategy. The contrast with the situation across the Irish Sea could not be starker.

Northern Ireland’s devolved government has no anti-sectarianism policy. More than 13 years since the signing of the Belfast Agreement and the ending of a conflict that cost more than 3,000 lives, Stormont has yet to agree a formal strategy to address the sectarian division.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Under the 1998 Northern Ireland Act the Executive must formulate a policy for encouraging “good relations”.

Ayrshire MP Des Browne’s Shared Future initiative was designed to fulfill that promise, but it was junked as the work of a direct rule minister (though Browne’s family connections with ‘here’ gave him a sharper insight to the problems than most direct rulers. But it was dumped in favour of a more indigenous deal:

Finally put out for public consultation last year as a condition for the devolution of policing and justice powers, the document is lightweight, insubstantial and implausible. Responses, which can be accessed on the web, are almost universally critical, accusing the strategy of relying on an unhelpful, static view of identity, failing to build on existing work and lacking a clear vision for moving beyond sectarianism.

Forget cordite, the whiff coming off the Stormont administration smells more like bromide. Time and again First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness reiterate their commitment to working together to improve Northern Ireland’s lot, but the results belie the rhetoric.

It’s an old Alliance poster slogan to suggest that maintaining sectarianism reuires duplication and that an ‘Equality overall’ policy costs a lot of money to run. According to Geoghegan Alastair Adair of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors suggest these costs may total at about £1.5 billion. Ouch!

The problem seems to be a lack of political will. But the problems that were to be tackled from 1998 onwards still abide, without an agreed approach from Stormont Castle (where OFMDFM are headquartered):

Belfast is still by far the most residentially segregated city in Europe. This legacy of division won’t disappear of its own accord.

The Executive needs to take a leaf out of Scotland’s anti-sectarian book. Tackling Northern Ireland’s shame requires a robust, thought-out policy with coherent objectives and political will.

  • Mary Anna

    Those who brought sectarianism to the table – DUP PS/F are quite happy to leave things the way they are – Why upset their voters, the die hards, the orange and the green, keeps the dictators the sinners in power! The more toxic and dysfunctional Stormont is the better, paying the main players to keep the peace and keeps the politicians in power – it is all a game and a joke! Fascists rule NI. 48% Would want nothing to do with the bullies!

  • aquifer

    These turkeys won’t vote for christmas, but they can be trusted to fluff up the coloured feathers sticking out of their arses come election time.

  • TwilightoftheProds


    I’ll have to use that quote in conversation.

  • Nunoftheabove

    They’ll need to make their minds up as to what the strategy is actually for; do they simply want better relations between separate communities who remain (more) comfortable with their separateness or to genuinely make some form of move ‘beyond sectarianism’ altogether ? Very different propositions.

    Is there much evidence that even when there is what they call ‘shared space’ – not among the Nun’s favourite terms – that people actually avail of it and do we have measures as to what the outcomes of that are ? Belfast city centre, for the most part, can reasonably be described as neutral space – people can work together, drink together, eat together, entertain themselves together and court together if they so choose with whoever they like – uncontroversially, safely and freely. Do they volunteer to though and in what sort of numbers ?

  • Jack2

    Jeffrey Donaldson MP delivered a letter to the Govt protesting a change in law allowing those in line to the throne to marry a Catholic.
    I dont want to railroad the thread but this is the very definition of sectarian behaviour.

    Elected officials must get their own house in order before telling us how to run ours.