Row over anti-sectarianism plans

Published Monday, 14 May 2012
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The First Minister and the Justice Minister have clashed over plans to build a shared future in Northern Ireland, following claims that sectarianism is still deeply rooted in the region.

Row over anti-sectarianism plans
Parliament Buildings at Stormont (© Getty)

David Ford hit out at the DUP and Sinn Féin, saying the opportunity to tackle underlying divisions between Catholics and Protestants must not be squandered.

The Justice Minister claimed that if those two parties are left in charge of the revised Cohesion, Sharing and Integration strategy (CSI) it will be "watered down" and will "only have the lowest common denominator" between them, thus failing to achieve a genuine, shared future.

However Peter Robinson accused Mr Ford of "mud-slinging" and "playing politics" over the issue, arguing that the focus should be on creating policies that secure maximum support.

The subject came to the fore after the chairman of the Community Relations Council said sectarianism remains deeply rooted in NI despite progress towards a more shared society.

Tony McCusker said he detected a willingness to deal with the legacy of conflict and division, but he said there was clear evidence that much more work remained to be done - with Protestant and Catholic children still taught separately while the communities largely live apart.

Mr Ford told a conference on the issue, held in Titanic Belfast on Monday and entitled "No More Them and Us", that combating sectarianism had to be made a priority.

He said: "For the first time in many generations we have an opportunity to address not only violence but to ensure that we address the underlying pattern of exclusion, discrimination and threat.

"History will not forgive us if we squander the opportunity presented by an end to violence to tackle the underlying divisions of this society.

"Above all we must move past preening ourselves for moving on from the disaster of the 1970s and face the challenge to act to make change."

But Mr Robinson slammed the Alliance leader over his comments, arguing that the DUP has led the way in working towards a strategy that can bring communities together.

The First Minister said: "I think it is unfortunate that there are some people who are trying to posture and party politicise issues around the CSI strategy.

"And it's sadly the case that some of those who publicly make the most noise are making the least contribution, and perhaps in particular the Alliance Party would try and focus itself more on trying to get an agreed result instead of going out and trying to indicate that somehow they are leading the way, when in fact they are dragging their feet on the issue.

"So perhaps they can get their head out of the sand and start attending more meetings, stop trying to delay meetings from taking place and make more of a contribution at the meetings."

Mr Ford defended his party's attendance at the meetings and said the DUP were annoyed with Alliance because they would not accept a "watered down" strategy, listing policies he said had to be included if the new framework was to deliver change.

The row came after Mr McCusker spoke at the beginning of Community Relations Week, which will include a conference discussing policies aimed at tackling division.

"There are still many difficult issues to be addressed, including segregated educational provision, interface areas and barriers, residential segregation, misuse of flags and emblems, parades and other expressions of cultural identity," he said.

"The number of interfaces in Northern Ireland was 22 when the Belfast Agreement was signed. Today the number is as high as 88 by some estimates.

"We still see flags and emblems as prominently displayed during the marching season as before the agreement. Deep divisions in housing and education also remain.

"These and the many events during Community Relations Week offer a picture of a possible future which is both shared and inclusive. It is one worth striving for together."

© UTV News
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16 Comments
Alan Anderson in Belfast wrote (790 days ago):
Iain, there are many ills caused by many, however what I am saying is mearly that Irelands border was created to support sectarianisim, in NI effectivly one must vote on sectarian lines. Being hand fed from London we will never be enabled to face up to realities. In my view the only way to defeat sectarianisim to to destroy every vestage of it and the structures which thive on it. This Island needs a clean start, and yes Unionisim in paticular seems to fail to see the bigger picture. And because i belive a political view to be fundamentaly flawed has no bearing on the fact that religion(both denominiations) in this country has been destroyed by deception and is no longer credible.
Iain in Belfast wrote (795 days ago):
Sure you don't care about religion Alan. Why else do you point the finger of blame solely at unionists in the previous post? It seems to you are if its only us that are capable of the ills in society. Take a look and you will see that simply isn't the case. But it probably makes you feel better to attribute the blame to one side of the argument rather than see the facts - unionist and nationalist are both to blame for our own problems. Sleep well buddy.
Alan Anderson in Belfast wrote (796 days ago):
Hardly Iain, I truly care nothing of anyones religion. I am stating the facts any region dependant on another will never truly have to accept the realities. That any form of racisim/sectarianisim(or any isim for that matter)simply have no place in modern society. Without necessity NI will never grow up from its juvenile sectarianisim. We must strive to create a NI where disowing your neighbour for being different is a luxury none can afford.
Iain in Belfast wrote (797 days ago):
Yes Alan, its always the fault of unionists etc, all you have done is show your true colours. Its funny that on the topic of trying to move away from sectaranism, you lay the blame squarely on unionists only. Maybe you don't appreciate the irony of your own comment. Blaming one side and one side only is hardly the truth let alone the answer.
Alan Anderson in Belfast wrote (797 days ago):
Being fed from Mother England will never encourage the realities that need to be faced up to. NI in its current form is incapable of sorting out sectarianisim. I do not believe its possible at all. Removing NIs sectarianisim removes its raison d'etre, this is something the unionist parties are very aware of. The future is VERY bleak with the blinkered view of the future of this Island being sold by unionisim.
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