Andrew McCracken: “Equality is not the preserve of any political party”

Writing exclusively for Slugger O’Toole, the Chief Executive of Community Foundation Northern Ireland gets up on our soapbox to talk about equality and how we should focus on this important issue

For those of us trying to make steps forward for our community, it takes us many steps back when politicians poison the very words we need to use.

The Political Talks at Stormont trundle on. Three weeks out from Christmas and already the ghost of Christmas past appears to have come and gone, leaving little room for optimism that the Festive season will bring forth a new found generosity from among our political leaders. But we travel in hope.

This past few weeks we have witnessed as clear a demonstration as we will ever need as to why the political parties will still have contentious issues to sort out even if they reach some accommodation in order to achieve financial gains from Whitehall.

The Trojan Horse and Toilet Paper comments from senior figures in the two main political parties have highlighted again that some things as fundamental as flags, parades and the past require urgent attention.

A focus on the constructive, shared understandings of these important words: partnership, equality and mutual respect would be a timely exercise for everyone, politicians especially, calling us back to the promise of the Belfast Agreement and what we expect from our political leaders. Partnership and mutual respect take two to tango and neither can be foisted upon anyone. Similarly, at the heart of the Belfast Agreement was a fundamental principle of respect for cultural diversity. And when political leaders seemingly treat diversity with something approaching contempt, they cannot then be surprised when there are attacks on fundamental expressions of different cultures With elections looming in the Spring, it is more than possible that the current political talks will produce nothing other than recriminations and a date for a new round of talks in the New Year.

Equality is a different fish. It is not the preserve of any political party. It is not optional. Nor is it theirs to stall, withhold or use and abuse as a surreptitious ruse to gain political ground. It is a fundamental responsibility for government departments and political parties in government. It should inform and underpin government policy. It demands action.

The ever-­‐increasing gap between rich and poor in Northern Ireland is urgent evidence that the issue of equality is far too important to be left to the politicians alone. The Trojan Horse and Toilet Paper comments simply reinforce the point.

Our society deserves better.

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