Ministers pledge to remove 'peace walls'

Ministers pledge to remove 'peace walls'

The First and deputy First Ministers have pledged to remove all the so-called peace walls within 10 years in an ambitious package of measures unveiled in a bid to tackle sectarianism in Northern Ireland's communities.

The announcement was made by Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness on Thursday.

However, the most contentious issues of flags, parades and the past were not included and instead the Ministers said they will establish an all-party working group to look into those controversial measures.

The pair said the working group will address the "twin blights of sectarianism and racism".

The group, which will have two nominees from each of the five main political parties and an independent chairman, will also consider ways to handle parades, protests, symbols and emblems as well as how to deal with the past.

At its first meeting the group will determine which stakeholders will be invited to join it and which other organisations will be asked to give evidence.

Alongside the creation of the group the ministers will also publish their community relations strategy Together: Building a United Community within the next two weeks.

In a joint statement, Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness said: "Our vision is a united community, based on equality of opportunity, the desirability of good relations and reconciliation - one which is strengthened by its diversity, where cultural expression is celebrated and embraced and where everyone can live, learn, work and socialise together, free from prejudice, hate and intolerance."

Whilst recognising there are no easy answers, we are committed to attempting to find long-term and sustainable solutions that are in the best interests of the community we serve.

First and deputy First Ministers

Both ministers did, however, reveal an agreed package of "significant and strategic actions" aimed at tackling segregation among communities which includes working towards removing all the so-called "peace walls" by 2023.

The joint statement added: "Taking down interface barriers is not something that can be achieved without engagement, consent and support with the people who live there.

"We must be sensitive to the views and perceptions of residents and balance this against the responsibility on us to create the conditions within which division and segregation can become resigned to the past.

"Community confidence can only be built when assurances can be given that the intimidation and threat which led to the erection of barriers has been removed.

"We are committed to finding alternative ways of reassuring communities that safety can be achieved without separation.

"Removing interface barriers and other structures of division will send out an important message that our society is continuing on its journey to peace and reconciliation, but more importantly will bring community benefits."

The ministers also announced the creation of a youth programme to help get young people not in education, employment or training into work.

The United Youth programme will offer 10,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 24 paid work placements and volunteering opportunities - outside of their own community - to help build good relations.

The multi-million pound strategy will also look to establish 10 new shared education campuses, a cross-community sports programme and shared summer schools for post primary school-aged children.

They have also said a proposal to develop 10 new shared neighbourhood developments will be brought by the Social Development Minister within the next two months.

Such a strategy must commit to the creation of a society where people can live together with confidence, safety and security, both respecting and being respected.

Equality Commission

The announcements were welcomed by the Equality Commission, whose chief commissioner Michael Wardlow said they would carefully study the proposals.

Mr Wardlow added: "To be meaningful it must set out clearly how and when the objectives committed to will be achieved, by whom they will be delivered and the resources committed to them.

"The proposals set out today may be limited in number and in type but we acknowledge that long journeys are achieved step by step. We fully support the ambition that seeks to address the issues of division across housing, education and on and between our streets.

"We also welcome the ambition to create a sense of a united community, while cautioning that Northern Ireland is not about blending just two communities into one - our modern society is a vibrant and diverse collection of communities and identities each of which should be recognised and valued."

Co-operation Ireland described the plan's targets as "ambitious" but "highly achieveable".

Chief executive Peter Sheridan said: "I am delighted to see that at the core of their statement is young people.

"They have highlighted programmes that already have been tried and tested and have shown to have a positive impact on the young people involved."


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