Shared future plan is 'backward step'

Published Monday, 04 October 2010
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A human rights trust has criticised the Executive's latest plans to promote a shared future, which are said to be a 'backward step' from a previous scheme published in 2005.

The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JDCT) says it is concerned over how social policy in Northern Ireland is evolving.

It comes after the findings from a University College Dublin comparison between two government schemes on creating share communities were published.

The JDCT says the Executive's "previous strategic goal of reconciliation" has been replaced with a focus on "encouraging 'mutual accommodation".

Celia McKeon, Assistant Secretary from the organisation, has called on the Office of the First And Deputy First Ministers to show "strong leadership" and put forward a clearer vision for social change.

"It is far from clear that this vision is sufficiently compelling to prevent a resectarianisation of society in Northern Ireland, especially among the young," Ms McKeon said.

"Our experience of funding work in other transitional societies, such as South Africa, indicates the critical importance of strong political leadership not only on human rights and equality, but also on reconciliation.

"This is particularly important when the 'peace dividend' begins to wear off and when economic hardships begin to bite. With the looming spending cuts this is even more pertinent."

She said the new policy also takes a "simplistic view" of cultural identity, which it treats as stable rather than being subject to change.

"It fails to recognise the capacity of individuals and communities to make ongoing choices in ways which are open to influence and change," she continued.

"While this may suit political parties with a deeply rooted sense of conflicting priorities based on ethnic division, it overlooks the potential social benefit from processes that question traditional cultural identities."

Proposals in the new government policy for organising community relations also come under fire as being "weaker" than those in the previous scheme.

"The new policy proposes four optional formulas for organising the community relations infrastructure in Northern Ireland," Ms McKeon continued.

"The IBIS study concludes that all four options are weaker than the current mandate of the Community Relations Council to push forward community relations duties and look critically at the role of existing political and local organisations."

SDLP spokesperson on a shared society Conall McDevitt welcomed the critique, which he says highlights central weaknesses.

"This is a brave report which is not afraid to draw obvious political conclusions," the MLA said.

"It identifies the main weakness of the new OFMDFM strategy which is that it steps back from the previous aim of reconciliation in favour of mutual accommodation and shared spaces."

The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust is an independent foundation which has funded human rights, peace and equality work in Northern Ireland since the 1970s.

It commissioned the UCD Institute for British Irish Studies to compare two government documents - 'A Shared Future: Improving Relations in Northern Ireland' from 2005 and 'Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration' from July 2010.

© UTV News
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