Northern Ireland

Q&A: Shared future proposals

The Northern Ireland first and deputy first ministers have published their proposals for tackling sectarianism, racism and hate. Below are some questions and answers examining the draft plans....

What is the Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration?

The draft document sets out goals for achieving a shared and better future for everyone in Northern Ireland - regardless of race, colour, religious or political opinion, age, gender, disability or sexual orientation.

Why has it been published?

Progress on the so-called shared future strategy was a key demand from the Alliance Party before its leader, David Ford, agreed to take the job of justice minister as part of a deal to devolve justice powers to Stormont.

How long has it been in the making?

The document has been delayed for around two years due to disagreements between the DUP and Sinn Fein about how to proceed.

What were the causes of the disagreements?

Sinn Fein argues that equality considerations must be at the root of community relations strategy and is suspicious of any approach which appears to define the Northern Ireland problem as a conflict between "two tribes".

The DUP has been reluctant to extend any strategy to deal with gay rights and sexual orientation.

Critics of the two parties claim their reliance on voting blocs from either side of the communal divide makes them hesitant about embracing integration.

What are some of the main issues that the document aims to tackle?

The plans include aspirations to deal with sectarianism, racial violence and all forms of hate crime.

The strategy highlights sharing and integration for all sections of society in Northern Ireland, including racial and cultural minorities. It also says that the ministers will "agree to publish a sexual orientation strategy".

Some of the short-term measures include developing the relationships with young people and the communities they live in.

In the long-term it aims to bring people together by encouraging shared neighbourhoods and dealing with problems at interfaces.

Interfaces are areas where Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods meet and trouble has flared during different times, for example during the loyalist marching season.

Another long-term goal surrounds greater tolerance of different cultural identities including issues around flags and emblems.

How will the proposals be funded?

The draft programme contains no specific pledge for funding the proposed initiatives. Instead it says that "in times of economic stress, government and community must work together to make more improvement with fewer resources".

What happens next?

The public is now being asked for their views on the document over the next three months. The consultation period will run until 29 October 2010.

Will new legislation be needed for the proposals?

It is not expected there will be an umbrella law on cohesion, sharing and integration.

Instead the final programme will be a policy to be followed by all Stormont Executive departments. However aspects of the strategy may be written into the law.

For example a Justice Bill due in the autumn is expected to deal with sectarian behaviour at spectator sports events.

What has been some of the reaction from NI political parties?

The cross-community Alliance Party, which had pressed for the paper, welcomed its publication but expressed concern about the lack of timetables, targets and funding.

The SDLP claimed the programme lacked vision and conviction. The Ulster Unionists said they were disappointed by the lack of specific objectives.

Sinn Fein welcomed the programme and said it could spell the end for "unelected, unnecessary and ineffective good relations quangos".

The DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson said it was "important that we now build on the good work that has already been achieved in shaping a better future for everyone".

Comments from Mr Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness were contained in a written news release which accompanied the publication of the draft programme.

The ministers did not hold any news conference to launch the consultation.

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