Previously we have discussed the DUP’s preposterous insistence that the Programme for Government need not be revisited because it ‘prioritised the economy’. The logic apparently being that any document which is focussed on one particular policy area is immutably appropriate regardless of the fact that prevailing conditions pertaining to that policy area might alter. It is, to put it mildly, a reductionist argument, whatever the PfG’s merits.
This site has also long bemoaned the ‘Themselves Alone’ Coalition’s carve-up of government and its non-existent strategy to integrate Northern Ireland’s perceived ‘communities’. One of the first casualties of government led by Sinn Féin and the DUP was the Shared Future initiative. Effectively the goal of building a shared society was dropped and the two parties agreed, in preference, to horse trade the sectional interests of their respective constituencies.
Alliance MLA Stephen Farry is the latest politician to point out that not only does refusing to share entrench divisions in society, it is also very expensive. There are peace walls to be maintained, facilities which only cater for one side of the community and therefore have to be duplicated three streets distant, the burden of sustaining multiple sectors in our education system and so forth.
The Belfast Agreement imposed a duty to promote integrated education and integrated housing, but there has scarcely been a concerted drive in these areas. Indeed DUP and Sinn Féin representatives often fight shoulder to shoulder against proposed shared housing developments, supposedly in the interests of their constituents, who don’t, apparently, want to live together. The Programme for Government made no mention of a shared future.
These issues are not easily untangled and much hard work is necessary to make sharing both attractive and efficient. At the very least, though, integration must be promoted as a preferred alternative, particularly in the realms of housing and education. Of course parents and residents deserve a choice, but they can be encouraged, and incentivised, to make the right choice. In straightened economic times it is especially vital that waste, attributable to division, is explicitly targeted in our government’s programme.
The UUP and the SDLP have raised issues around this area too, and I welcome Alliance’s impending report, hopefully containing specific money saving initiatives linked to integration and avoiding duplication. The party might be equivocal about certain fundamental questions, but on this issue its general approach is commendable. I hope that the detail bears the weight of the concept.