Yes, a shared and better future is possible and necessary
by Jordi Gabarro LLOP
7 June 2011
Just two days before the Assembly election, six candidates from the East Belfast constituency held a hustings event in Belfast’s Knock Presbyterian Church, about Northern Ireland’s shared future. Mark Simpson served as host, and an active audience quizzed them for two hours about their views on cross-community and some bread-and-butter issues.
The candidates all agreed that a shared and better future is possible in Northern Ireland and there was also consensus that politicians and institutions should lead and move towards it to success. Some panellists pointed out that a non-sectarian society goal is strongly related to tackling other big issues such as education underachievement and poverty (listen from 3:30 to 27:50).
More education issues such as transfer test and academic selection (from 29:45 to 43:30) or higher education (from 52:00 to 53:00); health facing cuts (43:30 to 52:00); administration reform (53:00–1:00:00); women candidates and assembly representation (1:01:30 to 1:05:30); Alternative Vote referendum (1:05:30 to 1:08:30); sickness absence and double-jobbing (1:10:30 to 1:16:30); water charges (1:16:30 to 1:23:00); or Northern Ireland’s economy and business future (1:35:00 to 1:47:30) were also discussed by the panellists.
The event ended with some “cruel questions” from host Mark Simpson, which revealed an Alliance prediction to win 11 seats and a reiteration of the DUP commitment to take the Finance ministry first, and pick up Education as their second choice if it is still available (from 1:47:30 to final).
Ben Walker, Knock Presbyterian minister, welcomed “a debate to help us and think in peaceful democratic rights and responsibility” and pointed out that according to the Bible, all Christians have to persuade and sick peace.
Shared future and integrated education
Panellists included the Alliance Party’s MLA Chris Lyttle, the DUP’s MLA Robin Newton, the UUP’s MLA Philip Robinson, independent MLA Dawn Purvis, the SDLP candidate Séamas de Faoite, and the Green Party’s Martin Gregg. Sinn Fein’s Niall Ó Donnghaile apologised to the organisers that he could not make it along.
“The majority of people are glad to see somebody new, somebody who is not burnt with the past and that one of our priorities are bread and butter issues. People here has move on, but politicians has not and that is the challenge for us in the next years”, Séamas de Faoite (SDLP) said.
“Build a shared future is not only building a united community, it is also about building social justice and to tackle inequality, very much in terms of education and employment” remarked Chris Lyttle (Alliance).
“There are not easy solutions to difficult problems, but I am glad we have put in place the necessary architecture to help us move away the violence that has bladed our lives for decades. There is still very much to prevent conflict and work together to identify the solutions”, pointed out Robin Newton (DUP).
“The answer is very short and simple. Yes, we can achieve a shared and better future. And UUP will continue to work a shared future, a better understanding for everybody”, told Philip Robinson (UUP).
“Yes, a shared and better future is achievable, but I think that our biggest storming block to achieve it is poverty. If you cannot participate in the economy or if you were detached from society, it would be extremely difficult. This assembly has to tackle what exists”, said Dawn Purvis (Independent).
Martin Gregg (Green Party) defended what Northern Ireland really needed is an inclusive educational system.
“I am not in favour of educated integration as a stand-alone and separate body, but I am in favour of integrated education for all our children. Is an issue that we have to tackle over the next term of the assembly”, added Newton. Although Lyttle agreed with the DUP’s MLA, he showed scepticism about the main unionist party approach. According to Alliance candidate, segregated education is one of the main costs of maintaining division, calculated at one billion pounds per year.
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