‘At a time of public sector cuts and threats to the global economy Northern Ireland cannot afford to delay or pass up the opportunity to build a more shared, cohesive and integrated society,’ according to Duncan Morrow, Chief Executive of the Community Relations Council.
Speaking at a special CRC conference at the Stormont Hotel today (19 October) to discuss its response to the OFMDFM consultation proposals on Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI) Duncan Morrow said :
‘The signature weakness of Northern Ireland has been sectarianism, territorialism and organised hatred. We have been handed an historic opportunity by the Executive’s CSI proposals to address the legacy of division and make Northern Ireland an attractive place to live. This is not an additional extra but a core challenge to build a new Normality of an inter-cultural integrated society open and welcoming to all and rooted in democratic values. If we fail to do this properly we will continue to waste public money by duplication of services to maintain segregation and we will discourage inward investment and the best use of local talent’
Criticising the weaknesses of the current CSI proposals Dr Morrow said:
‘The OFMDFM proposals need a clearer vision and purpose and a commitment to a better action plan. The principle of reconciliation which was embedded in the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement needs to be the core part of this.
‘A key weakness in the CSI proposals is the failure to acknowledge the civic effort and international investment to date. Progress must build on existing practice and on the contribution already of thousands of people. If existing inter-community structures are dismantled the danger is that the proposals will be a serious setback on the road to reconciliation.’
Tony McCusker, CRC Chair, said:
‘The Community Relations Council welcomes the commitment of Ministerial leadership in CSI. But it is vital that this is an inter-departmental document with ownership residing with the Executive as a whole. No one department can deliver CSI. It is also vital that the role of an independent regional body is maintained with responsibility not only for funding community relations projects and advising government but as a development agency and co-ordinating body ensuring innovation, expertise, networks and credibility. By proposing to discard a regional body there is a danger that the CSI proposals confuse political leadership with political control.’
‘The CSI programme will not be plausible without a serious resources review and commitment of resources, particularly as many strands of external funding come to an end. Moreover there needs to be a major rethink of larger and significant budgets such as education, housing, regeneration and community development. Without this rethink, commitment to reconciliation is likely to remain merely theoretical.’
The Conference provided an opportunity to hear and discuss CRC’s thoughts on the CSI proposals and to engage with a panel of politicians from all parties. These included Dolores Kelly (SDLP), Stephen Farry (Alliance), Dawn Purvis (independent), Danny Kennedy (UUP), Martina Anderson (SF) and Simon Hamilton (DUP).