Review: Towards a Shared Society?

Review: Towards a Shared Society? @NI_CRC
By Sarah CREIGHTON for Shared Future News
23 March 2011

Executive Summary of the Community Relations Council’s response to CSI

The Community Relations Council (CRC) was formed in 1990 to promote better relations between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland and to promote cultural diversity. The strategic aim of the organisation is to promote, ‘a peaceful and fair society based on reconciliation and mutual trust.’

The Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration was published by the Office of the First and deputy First Minister in July 2010 and followed the 2005 document, ‘A Shared Future: Improving relations in Northern Ireland.’ The document aims to set out the goals that OFMDFM believe to be crucial in achieving a shared future for Northern Ireland.

The Response of the Community Relations Council — Initial Points

  • The CRC states broadly that without a programme to enact change in Northern Ireland, vague commitment to peace will look unconvincing. It is the view of the CRC that if Northern Ireland is to succeed and move forward as a society, then work must be done to work on a future together.
  • The culture of ‘Them and Us’ in Northern Ireland does not contribute to trust and interdependence. The notion of ‘separate but equal’ is nothing more than a by word for exclusion.
  • The concept of good relations is poorly defined in law
  • CSI makes use of the words fairness, equality, rights, respect, and responsibility. These words are vital components of a shared and better future. However, there is a lack of a commitment to a value which would specifically target or reject separation or hostility. The Council suggests that the values of the document be revised to ensure that no ambiguity can be read into the Executive’s commitment to sharing, interdependence and intercultural interaction.
  • The Council suggests that the broad International, European and domestic legal framework is reflected in the final version of CSI. The CRC expresses disappointment that the policy of the Council of Europe, the UK’s Commission on Cohesion and Integration and the EU’s PEACE Programme is not reflected in CSI.
  • CRC welcomes CSI’s zero tolerance policy towards hate crime.
  • CRC wishes contributions from the EU and Irish governments to be acknowledged. CRC believes that present policy can only be measured if it builds on achievement instead of suggesting that no policy or practice has been built.
  • CSI lacks a defined analysis on the causes of the conflict. The Council is of the opinion that such an approach is unhelpful towards the aim of reconciliation between those that are victims and survivors of the conflict. The Council is disappointed that silence still seems to be the only basis on which co-operative progress can be made. CRC is of the opinion that unless ‘the legacy’ is tackled it will continue to generate violence and hinder prosperity. Tackling this legacy can be further helped by a commitment to safety for all.
  • CSI lacks what CRC calls a vital connection to economics. There must be a reflection on how division has affected the economy in Northern Ireland.

Critique of the Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration

The Community Relations Council is of the opinion that CSI does not meet the critical test of the proposals which is, ‘Do they work to promote Cohesion, Sharing and Integration?’

There is no strategy for dealing with the past, the concerns of victim and survivors should be at the forefront of CSI.

CSI should be connected further to the economy and recognise that a Northern Irish economy cannot grow while violence, conflict and social division are still present. Northern Ireland is left vulnerable to instability while such problems continue. Ongoing sectarianism makes Northern Ireland unattractive to business and foreign investors. Business is good for peace and peace is good for business.

CSI uses terms such as culture and identity somewhat ambiguously. The CRC is of the opinion that culture is primarily discussed as a legacy of conflict between the two communities. The CRC is of the opinion that culture remains an unsolved issue, which has led to a bitter ‘culture war’ between the two communities. The CRC believes that a ‘zero-sum game between two monolithic cultures would be a disaster for public policy and quality of life.’

CRC believes that racial equality and tackling racism is undermined without a proper commitment to reconciliation in CSI. Departments and agencies need to revisit the RES to ensure their commitments under CSI are indeed grounded in that strategy.

The CRC is of the opinion that while Ulster Scots and Irish are given a separate provision as a minority and regional language, the strategy does not seriously attempt to make their promotion less divisive.

The CRC believes that symbols and embalms have caused significant problems. The CRC calls for all political parties to identify the difference between cultural expression and the marking out of towns and districts ‘in a way that suggests that they are partisan expressions rather than the public realm’ The CRC is of the opinion that the flags protocol has been ineffective in co-ordinating statutory action.

CRC welcomes the inclusion of shared space but is concerned that there is no formal analysis of the many issues involved in the concept. CRC would like to see a greater ‘emphasis on the opportunities which the workplace presents’ for shared space.

CRC believes that young people are a vital part of the future. The CRC wishes to see a great emphasis on the impact that separate education has on good relations and the impact that it has on the economy. For the CRC, CSI seems young people as a problem for a shared future instead of a hope for the future. CRC calls for greater dialogue with young people and calls for greater investment in their future. CRC calls for an urgent review of the youth strategy.

CRC believes the issue of segregation surrounding housing needs to be tackled. CRC believes the issue of segregation must be tackled ‘while also protecting the fundamental principle of equal access to affordable housing.’ CRC is concerned at the lack of what it sees as a formal analysis of the scale of the challenge to be faced.

The CRC welcomes the CSI’s commitment to tackling the problems in interface areas. CRC believes that it is the government’s obligation to lead efforts to find alternatives to physical barriers that generate poverty. CRC advocates a ‘new paradigm of community safety’ that commits the ‘system to real engagement and innovation.’ CRC advocates ‘an inter-departmental approach which ties changes in communities to change in regeneration and investment.’

The CRC praises the work of community groups and organisations, who, in their opinion, kept alive inter-community development during The Troubles. The CRC believes that CSI lacks comment about community development or the need to improve shared resources.

CRC believes that the documents should include a formal definition of reconciliation aligned to the EU Peace Programme III. CRC believes the Executive should remain committed to the programme if the document is to remain plausible. CRC calls for ministerial leadership and inter-departmental co-ordination. CRC believes that the programme will not be deliverable without a serious resource review and commitment of resources.

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