28/07/2010

Shared Society Document For Consultation

There has been progress on NI's aspiration to a shared future strategy with news that the public is now being asked to consult on a draft document over the next three months.

The initiative was a key demand from the Alliance Party before its leader, David Ford, agreed to take the job of Justice Minister.

While the document has been delayed for around two years due to disagreements between the DUP and Sinn Fein about how to proceed, it is now moving ahead, with the consultation period to run until 29 October 2010.

Public meetings on the Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration are also set to take place during September.

In the draft, the Stormont Executive has pledged to urgently address the 'physical and community division created by interfaces' as a key goal of the draft strategy.

Ministers will also be committed to tackling "the visible manifestations of racism, sectarianism, intolerance and other forms of prejudice".

They will also adopt a "zero tolerance" approach to incidences of, and reasons for, attacks motivated by sectarian, religious, racist or hate prejudice.

First Minister Peter Robinson and the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness launched the Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI) for public consultation with Mr Robinson commenting: "We have all come a long way in the past decade and it is important that we now build on the good work that has already been achieved in shaping a better future for everyone.

"We want to build a society where everyone shares in and enjoys the benefits of peace and stability.

"The Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration will address issues impacting on disaffected young people, tackle the conditions that perpetuate urban interfaces and rural segregation, as well as addressing those issues facing both established minority ethnic groups and new arrivals within our community.

"We look forward to hearing the views of people from right across our society and we would encourage everyone to take the opportunity to either attend a public meeting or to respond in writing."

Mr McGuinness said: "The draft programme provides the framework for co-ordination across government departments for action against sectarianism, racism and all forms of hate.

"Working together, we will build a shared and better future for all based on fairness, equality, rights, responsibilities and respect."

The Sinn Fein Minister continued: "This is a draft document and we would invite people to study the document and take part in the consultation exercise.

"We recognise that government action alone cannot tackle inequality, sectarianism, racism and hate. It will take all sections of society working with government together."

Party colleague, Sinn Fein Equality and Human Rights spokesperson Martina Anderson MLA has welcomed the publication of the consultation on the draft CSI strategy.

"There is a need to develop a coherent strategy to tackle sectarianism, racism, homophobia and other forms of hate in our society," she said.

"Central to this is acceptance of and actions to deliver equality. Equality is the foundation of good relations. We welcome that the document reflects this.

"Equality and anti-sectarianism are the foundation stones of Irish Republicanism."

Stephen Farry, who is an Alliance party spokesperson, said: "Addressing the continued deep divisions in Northern Ireland through building a shared future is the biggest challenge facing this society.

"Alliance welcomed the initial political agreement between the DUP and Sinn Fein in February within the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

"We support this document going out to public consultation. While doing so, we also recognise that it remains deficient and flawed in a number of respects," he continued.

"These include the clarity of the vision and direction for Northern Ireland, the economic and financial dimensions, resourcing and delivery mechanisms, targets and timetables."

(BMcC/KMcA)

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