Increasing reconciliation? The draft PfG’s trojan horse measure

The draft Programme for Government framework has been launched and has entered its consultation phase. Alan’s post explains how the new approach was developed while Brian has written a broadly positive piece, noting that it can be viewed “as an instrument….for building the Executive’s unity of purpose.

The aspirational and visionary setting and tone of the document can be understood if it is about steering the divided ship that is a two party coalition, composed of parties diametrically opposed on most views, in a general direction. The first paragraph of the Foreword is instructive in this regard:

The Programme for Government Framework sets out the ambition the Executive has for our society. These ambitions are generational in nature. They are intended to address the big issues facing our society and to make a difference to the things that matter most to people.

There is little to quibble about when it comes to the ‘Outcomes‘ proclaimed in the document. Seeking high quality public services, wanting to give our children the best start in life and for all in a more equal society to live longer and to be confident, outward looking and welcoming is the end goal of most ideologies across the political spectrum. This part is truly worthy of the mom and apple pie accusations levelled from many quarters.

However, the ‘Indicators’– and the specified ‘Measures’ to be used to gauge progress towards meeting the target Indicators– provide us with more scope to investigate where one party or other has managed to make a firmer imprint upon the document.

Which brings us nicely to Indicator 35.

Indicator 35: Increase Reconciliation.

Sounds noble doesn’t it? Who, in this deeply divided society, emerging from 25 years of conflict and thousands of deaths, would not be interested in increasing reconciliation?

As it stands, then, as an Indicator it will hardly raise any eyebrows.

However, let’s look a little closer at how the draft Programme for Government would have us measure an increasingly reconciled community.

The linked Measure for increasing reconciliation is the % of the population who believe their cultural identity is respected by society.


In other words, the PfG would have us measure reconciliation by effectively empowering those who perpetually (and erroneously) complain about their cultural identity being eroded (a theme we have visited before on Slugger.)

Let me explain.

The Outcomes, Indicators and Measures model works by getting approval in the first instance for the three to be linked.

Thus, if you desire the mom and apple pie society (Outcome), you believe there should be increased reconciliation (Indicator.) However, if you concede that the manner in which this will be assessed is by gauging the percentage of people believing their cultural identity is respected by society (Measure) you are then duty bound to support policies which could be construed as likely to ensure that more people currently not believing their cultural identity is respected will come to believe that is the case.

Remarkably, in a document which purportedly seeks to address all issues related to governance and how they impact upon society, it is only in how we are to measure increased reconciliation that an explicit breakdown of circumstances or attitudes on a religious basis is employed by the DUP/SF authors of the document.

In other words, the cold, hard objective facts and statistics relating to religious background that are available to inform indicators and measures in relation to employment, housing, health, education and poverty were overlooked; it is only in the area of threat to cultural identity that religious background is to be factored in, and then, crucially, only using the inherently subjective and therefore dubious figures relating to perceptions.

Unsurprisingly, disaggregating the statistics with regard to the NI Life and Times Survey (which is to be used as the Measure to assess whether this Indicator is being met) reveals that fewer Protestants believe their cultural identity is respected by society. Consequently, were this to be incorporated into the actual PfG post-consultation as currently designed, the Executive would be obliged to take steps to ensure that situation did not continue.

That the DUP would want this Measure to be used to assess how we increase reconciliation hardly requires explaining: it empowers them to push against an equality agenda, with Executive approval via an agreed PfG, on the basis that the very same unionists the DUP preach the message to about nationalists attacking their cultural identity are believing that party line.