The Ulster Unionist Party believe that creating a shared future for Northern Ireland should be at the forefront of the Executives thoughts over the coming Assembly mandate. Much time has been spent on this issue – it is over 5 years since the Executive decided to revisit the issue of a shared future, over a year since the CSI Consultation Document was published and 10 months since the consultation closed.
We believe that:
- The Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration Consultation Document was an opportunity missed but we believe that this new Assembly term presents an opportunity to drive this important Strategy forward.
- There seems to be a change in attitude in Northern Ireland with the reaction to the tragic murder of Constable Ronan Kerr as well as the widespread condemnation of the recent violence in East Belfast indicating that the majority want to move towards developing a truly shared society through the fostering of closer working relationships with one another.
- The cost of division in Northern Ireland has been estimated at around £1.5 billion a year and this figure can be drastically reduced through an effective CSI Programme which provides a framework for Departments to put practical measures in place to encourage Cohesion, Sharing and Integration throughout society.
- The Ulster Unionist Party believe that this strategy needs to be long term – at least 10 years – and it needs to set out robust actions which need to be taken forward by each relevant Department, Agency or Body as well as short, medium and long term actions, targets and indicators so performance can be measured.
- Key to building a shared future for Northern Ireland is the creation and support of shared spaces within our communities where people from all backgrounds can socialise regardless of cultural differences. An excellent urban example is the live site big screen currently located in the grounds of Belfast City Hall and segregation in many rural areas also needs to be tackled.
- Housing is a priority issue for the Ulster Unionist Party. The continued decline in production of social housing places more and more strain on low income households as they are forced into a growing and largely unregulated private rental market. However, there are deeper rooted problems within housing in Northern Ireland due to the fact that in many areas it is strictly segregated. Whilst some areas are clearly not ready for shared housing and this cannot be forced under any circumstances, Northern Ireland cannot move forward on the basis of a shared future without beginning to address this issue and practical solutions to problems with social housing need to be found.
- The Ulster Unionist Party believes that a debate is needed in the Assembly on the issue of creating a single education system in Northern Ireland. Such a system has the potential to alleviate divisions within our society. Part of our education policy ‘Every Child a Cherished Child’ promotes shared education as a contributing factor to a shared future. Too often children in our society progress through the education system with little understanding or knowledge of other cultures and this adds to the division which is apparent within our society. Controlled and Maintained schools operate in their own silos often with no interaction with each other.
- Various cultural issues need to be addressed within a programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration if we are to move forward in the context of a shared future. An Irish Language Act would bring with it extreme costs and would also be highly divisive and the Ulster Unionist Party want to see this language depoliticised. The most inclusive way forward is through the implementation of a Culture Act which contains the issue of language but broadens the argument out beyond language. The unacceptable Parades Commission must also be replaced with a clear and unambiguous body which is acceptable to all sides.
- The Ulster Unionist Party is acutely aware of the need to deal effectively with the past and indeed it represents the single greatest challenge for all political parties as we move forward and we believe that ideally a CSI Strategy would deal with this issue. Public Enquiries, the Historical Enquiries Team and the historical section of the Police Ombudsman Office are all means to an end, which is the truth. None works in a balanced manner and it is time to go forward with a balanced, inclusive mechanism, or to park these endless investigations that serve only to take the focus off the perpetrators and onto those who put themselves in harm’s way in the service of all.