The proposals set out in the Consultation Document on the Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration do not appear to be principle driven and the major problem that has divided Northern Ireland society over the past 40 years, which is terrorism, is not mentioned.
The document makes reference only to goals for a shared and better future for all, but does not explain for most of them how these would be implemented.
One of the rare goals for which a precise implementation process has been provided is a “new improved framework” for regulating public assemblies with OFMDFM Draft Bill and Draft Code of Conduct. However, the analysis of the proposed legislation has revealed that it would have made the process extremely complex and unacceptable for those who wish to exercise their right to freedom of peaceful assembly in Northern Ireland.
The contradiction between this declared goal and its outcome casts very serious doubts over the other goals mentioned in the Consultation Document for which approval cannot be given until the means of their implementation are also specified.
Furthermore, some key aims mentioned in relation to certain aspects of Northern Ireland society raise very serious concerns as they may well encourage the radicalisation of some sections of the community rather than uniting the community around common values with respect for democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The Consultation Document on the Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration is accompanied by a Consultation Questionnaire as an Appendix on which answers are to be provided.
The Foreword of the Consultation Document mentions that the Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration sets out goals in view of achieving a shared and better future for all. Although it is a good thing to set goals, this is not enough to be able to support the proposed policies. First the goals must be clearly defined and be aligned with the relevant causes of the problem they are attempting to resolve. Secondly, the means by which the goals are to be reached should be specified simutaneously so as to be able to assess whether the anticipated goals can be achieved and whether or not the means suggested will lead to their achievement.
Terrorism and paramilitary activity have been the major source of division within the community. Unfortunately, the Consultation Document does not make mention of the words “terrorism” or “paramilitary groups”. It refers to a “conflict” rather than a “terrorist campaign”. Such an approach, which avoids considering the major source of division within society and prevents the real issues from being addressed and dealt with, is unhelpful and as a result does not allow the appropriate remedies to be provided.
This paper analyses each of the chapters of the Consultation Document and provides reasons for not supporting the present proposed Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration, which should be entirely reconsidered using as a basis fundamental principles that would prevent radicalisation and bind the community together.
I. CHAPTER ONE: RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN GOOD RELATIONS AND OTHER KEY POLICY AREAS
The Consultation Questionnaire starts with Chapter Two and does not ask any questions in relation to Chapter One. This first chapter is nevertheless important, since it provides the basis upon which the proposed programme has been developed. It is stated in paragraph 1.4 that the promotion of equality of opportunity under Section 75 (1) is an essential element of building good relations as mentioned in Section 75 (2). It would appear that equality is to constitute the basis upon which good relations policies are to be developed. In the same chapter paragraph 1.8 it is said that policies that will promote equality for all of Section 75 (1) groups will complement the Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration. If such policies are complementary they cannot at the same time be the basis on which good relations policies are to be developed. Following the logic of what is stated in paragraph 1.4, the equality of opportunity should be achieved in the first place to allow good relations to prosper. Paragraph 1.8 seems to reverse that logic by pressing ahead with the development of good relations although equality of opportunity does not appear to have yet been achieved.
II. CHAPTER 2: POLITICAL LEADERSHIP/COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
The Consultation Document states a list of eleven goals for the Programme which seems laudable at first reading. However once considered more closely, some of them raise legitimate concerns.
Key goal 8 is “to create a new and improved framework for the management and regulation of public assemblies including parades and protests”.
On pages 31-32 of the Consultation Document it is stated that the Draft Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Bill and the Draft Code of Conduct are meant to create an improved framework for the regulation of public assemblies. However, it has become clear during the consultation process on the Draft Bill and Draft Code of Conduct that if these proposals had been implemented, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly would have been seriously undermined to the prejudice of those who wish to exercise their right to freedom of peaceful assembly. Rather than improving the situation in Northern Ireland it would have made it worse. Consequently, the proposed legislation has been abandoned and the present legislation which empowers the Parades Commission will remain in operation for the foreseeable future.
This example demonstrates that a proposed goal may seem appealing at face value, even profitable and deserving approval, while in fact the means suggested to achieve it could result in attaining the opposite of that proposed goal. For this reason the Consultation Document, which mainly states goals, is ill-advised and totally unpredictable. If the implementation of the goal concerning public assemblies has been a failure, it raises strong legitimate concerns that the same may happen with any of the other goals mentioned in the Consultation Document.
Key goal 1 is “to urgently address the physical and community division created by interfaces with the support of communities”.
Dealing with interfaces supposes that the problem posed by paramilitary organisations controlling different areas, which have been turned into exclusion zones for some sections of the community, is first recognised and dealt with. This is not addressed in the Consultation Document.
Key goal 2 is “to ensure and promote the safety of vulnerable groups”, key goal 3 “to tackle the visible manifestations of racism, sectarianism intolerance and other forms of prejudice” and key goal 5 “to promote equality of opportunity and tackle disadvantage”.
These goals may all appear sound at first sight. However, it should be noted that in relation to goal 5 a lot has already been done to ensure equality of opportunity by way of legislation and the establishment of organisations such as the Equality Commission.
Key goal 4 is “to adopt a zero tolerance approach to all incidence of, and reasons for, attacks motivated by sectarian, religious, racist or hate prejudice, including those on symbolic premises, cultural premises and monuments”.
This goal should always be one that is actively pursued by statutory bodies in a democratic society at any time.
Key goal 6 is “to provide and expand safe and shared spaces”.
This should apply to all public areas in Northern Ireland. Such areas by definition are shared spaces in a democratic society because they are open to the public. The goal does not make clear whether it seeks to reopen public areas from which sections of the community have been excluded or to ‘neutralise’ some public areas, such as town centres, to suit the demands of a particular section of the community.
Key goal 7 is “to build a society where cultural diversity is embraced and celebrated and to promote pride in who we are and confidence in our different cultural identities”.
This would appear to be a desirable goal to achieve. However, it also seems appropriate to look to our European neighbours and learn from their experience in trying to build a multicultural society. After 40 years of trying to achieve such a society, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel has come to the conclusion that the multicultural concept where people would “live side-by-side” happily has not worked and indeed has been a complete failure (Speech by Angela Merkel, Potsdam, 16 October 2010). Although respect for each other’s culture is required, this does not in itself favour integration. There need to be fundamental patriotic and cultural elements that are common to and shared by all people in the community which bind them together as a society, such as having and using the same language and having the same national flag and emblems. It is also important to underline that the nature of the cultures referred to need to be analysed and assessed. Indeed some cultures may not be worthy of being embraced and celebrated given their inherent immoral or violent nature.
Key goal 9 is “to achieve the full participation of all sectors in all aspects of society”.
This goal is vague, unhelpful, not necessarily desirable and probably unattainable. What exactly it is supposed to entail is anyone’s guess.
Key goal 10 is “to support the local community to resolve local issues through local solutions”.
This goal would appear to show a proper way of resolving difficulties, but the determining element here is who is going to be involved in dealing with the issues at local level and what are going to be the principles relied upon to reach a solution.
Key goal 11 “to take action which will address sectarian behaviour at spectator sport events” This goal seems acceptable.
Themes for action:
The Consultation Document makes mention of a number of themes for action.
It should be noted that the themes are not clearly determined and no explanation is provided in order to describe their scope and what they would entail. Furthermore, no reason is given as to why some themes for action are to be addressed in the short term while others will only be considered in the medium or long term. It seems unfair and wholly unsatisfactory to carry out a public consultation on these themes when their meaning and what they imply are unclear and the reasons for prioritising some over others are not given.
1. Short term themes for action:
1. “Developing ‘shared space’”:
From what can be read on page 21 (paragraph 3.40) of the Consultation Document ‘shared spaces’ would apply to town centres in priority. But the same urgency does not appear to apply to public places situated in locations where people have been segregated on the basis of their community background, most of the time as a result of paramilitary activity. In a democratic society ‘shared space’ applies to all public places and what needs to be addressed and dealt with is the fact that in some areas of Northern Ireland public places have been effectively closed to certain sections of the community. This is where efforts should be made in order to reopen these areas to everyone in the community regardless of their background.
2. “Enhancing community capacity to play a full role in implementing the Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration”:
The question that begs to be asked is how the enhancement of community is going to be achieved and who within the community will be in charge of the implementation of the Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration.
3. “ ‘Crisis Intervention’ and the need for a mechanism to co-ordinate multi-agency rapid responses to tackle sectarianism and racial violence and all forms of hate crimes”:
Surely this theme is good and deserves to be carried out without delay and one would expect that this is already the case to some degree.
4. “Ensuring good relations considerations are embedded within all government policy making”
This would mean that the entirety of the proposed programme would be implemented in all government policy-making. Since it is impossible to agree with an approach that consists in setting goals without defining the means to achieve them, this theme cannot at this stage be supported.
5. “Early and strategic intervention to tackle anti-social behaviour and tensions around interfaces”
No explanation is provided as to how anti-social behaviour and tensions would be tackled at interfaces.
6. “Promoting Cohesion, Sharing and Integration through a process of community renewal”
The meaning of ‘community renewal’ should be provided as well as the suggested ‘process’.
2. Medium term themes for action:
1. “The relationship between young people and the community”:
This should be made a priority in all circumstances and it should be dealt with on a constant, consistent and principled basis.
2. “Providing a new and improved framework for the resolution of public assembly disputes”:
This theme was dealt with as a matter of priority although it is classified as medium term. However, the proposed legislation had to be removed after it became clear that far from improving the framework it would make the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly much more complex and very cumbersome for organisers and participants.
3. “Ensuring the sharing of best practice projects aimed at improving cohesion, sharing and integration across all areas where appropriate and when required”:
The experience of other European Union countries should be taken into account. Germany for example has come to the conclusion that after 40 years of effort its attempt to try to build a multicultural society has failed entirely.
3. Long term themes for action:
Dealing with interfaces would appear to be a matter of priority and should not be left for the long term without further explanation.
2. “Encouraging shared neighbourhoods”:
It should be made a priority to eliminate ‘no-go areas’ for either Roman Catholics or Protestants. This theme should be addressed in the short term.
3. “Reducing and eventually eliminating segregated services”:
This is a matter of priority particularly at this time of drastic spending cuts.
4. “Tackling the multitude social issues effecting and entrenching community separation, exclusion and hate”:
This theme should also be made a matter of priority.
5. “Cultural Identity, including issues around flags and emblems, murals, bonfires, cultural expression, language and popular protest”:
This should be considered very carefully since dealing with communities should not entail splitting society into two or more communities on the grounds of their religious or cultural affiliations. There must be elements that bind people together within society and therefore apply to all, such as the same language, the same national flag and emblems, respect for the State authorities, etc. This also implies that the display of any flag and emblem that may be associated with terrorist organisations must be excluded.
III. CHAPTER 3: PEOPLE AND PLACES
The Consultation Document mentions five key aims for people and places (pages 22-23):
1. “Public spaces, thoroughfares, community facilities and town centres should be safe, shared and welcoming to the whole community”:
This aim should not lead to declaring town centers to be areas where for example the national flag and/or red, white and blue bunting, cannot be flown at any time during the year under the pretext that it makes these particular public places unwelcoming to certain people within the community. There are elements that acknowledge the authority of the State which in turn guarantee the respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all the members of the community. Public places that need to be made welcoming to all sections of the community are usually urban areas, which are said to be ‘nationalist’ or ‘unionist’. These are public places which should be made welcoming to the whole of the community. Unfortunately in the Consultation Document emphasis and priority appear to be put on town centres rather than these areas.
2. “All public authorities, including District Councils, should discharge functions and deliver services equally and inclusively recognising the diverse nature of the community they serve and the barriers which can be experienced by minority ethnic people in particular”:
This approach has created confusion between two types of services: 1) services that District Councils have the duty to carry out for the good and in the name of the whole community, which bind or have the purpose of binding people together in one community, such as commemorative events and 2) services which are provided to different sections of the community on the basis of equality. It is submitted that the correct approach is to consider people living in Northern Ireland as being members of the same community, whatever section they may come from. The community as a whole acknowledges the authority of the State and its expression by way of the Union flag and emblems. The people of Northern Ireland form one community and should be encouraged to identify themselves with a common flag and emblem. The national flag and emblems identify the State and the people who live in that State. At the same time the members of the community, from whatever section of the community they may be, identify themselves with the national flag and emblems and are encouraged to do so. This is particularly important in Northern Ireland society, which favours the integration of immigrants from various nations (particularly in the context of the European Union), who need to feel that they are part of one nation. However, when services are being provided in relation to cultural events organised by whatever section of the community, District Councils should ensure that it is done with due respect to the principle of equality and in order to promote good relations between the different sections of the community.
3. “Unnecessary duplication of services should be targeted through the enhanced delivery of shared services on the basis of objective need”:
Due to the budget cuts this is a matter that requires being addressed speedily wherever there is duplication of services.
4. “Safe and secure shared community spaces should be developed in a culture of fairness, equality, rights, responsibilities and respect”:
In a democracy public places should always be shared community spaces. However, it appears that this ‘culture of fairness, equality, rights, responsibilities and respect’ replaces the binding elements of a society, such as national flags and emblems, with an artificial neutrality, particularly in town centres.
5. “Display of flags and emblems, graffiti or murals, parades or public assemblies or festivals should be held in an environment which respects individual and community rights”:
It is essential that the display of flags and emblems and the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly take place within the legal framework provided by a democratic society. Displays of flags and emblems other than national flags and the Northern Ireland flag and emblems must be prohibited if they are related to paramilitary organisations. Public assemblies, whether static assemblies or processions, should be exercised peacefully at all times and may also be a manifestation of religion, and/or a peaceful expression of culture, opinions, information or ideas in a democratic society.
IV. CHAPTER 4: EMPOWERING THE NEXT GENERATION
The Consultation Document mentions four key aims for empowering the next generation:
1. “Under the auspices of the Ministerial Panel for cohesion, Sharing and Integration, establishing a major initiative aimed at developing a longer term strategic approach to helping marginalised young people;”
2. “Supporting young people to increase their civic responsibility including facilitating and empowering youth groups to work together on civic responsibility projects;”
3. “Focusing on education and promoting greater understanding of shared values”;
4. “Establishing multi-agency partnerships between indigenous and minority ethnic and migrant worker communities to address the specific needs of the young people in those populations.”
Issues that relate to young people should be made a matter of priority in all circumstances, and it is therefore difficult to understand why these aims were made a medium term issue. An efficient programme of education and training should be created and implemented for young people so as to teach them the fundamentals on which an open democratic society is established with the aim of preventing any form of involvement with paramilitary organisations and in order to avoid radicalisation and contribute to the fight against terrorism in all its forms. This matter should be at the top of the agenda of any government so as to empower the next generation to be able to strengthen democracy and the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
V. CHAPTER 5: RESPECTING CULTURES
The Consultation Document mentions six key aims for respecting cultures (page 35):
1. “Building a peaceful climate of fairness, equality, rights, responsibilities and respect”;
2. “Working with and supporting the local community to resolve contentious cultural issues;”
3. “Promoting greater understanding of cultural diversity and expressions of cultural identity;”
4. “Encouraging greater engagement with, and understanding of, cultural diversity and intercultural relations;”
5. “Working to eliminate attacks on cultural, sporting and other symbolic property and monuments;”
6. “Promoting cultural exchanges, joint events and tourism initiatives.”
Within Northern Ireland society there is a variety of communities of different sizes. Each one of these communities may express their culture provided it promotes peace and the means used to express it are peaceful in conformity with human rights. If this is done no-one should feel alienated or intimidated. In a democratic society there is no right to engage in any activity that aims at destroying the peaceful expression of the culture of others and this needs to be understood and promoted by way of educational and training programmes. However the expression of cultural identity by different sections of the community should occur within the context of respect for the State and acknowledgement of its authority over the people of Northern Ireland as one community. Any culture that by its very nature challenges the legality of the State authorities and threatens to cause public disorder should be banned. Within that context, the freedom of each individual to engage or not to engage with cultural diversity and intercultural relations may be exercised. From this flows the rule that in a democratic society any attack on properties which are a symbol of a peaceful culture should be prevented and those responsible prosecuted.
VI. CHAPTER 6: SECURE COMMUNITY
The Consultation Document mentions five key aims for a secure community (page 42-43):
1. “Encouraging community events which reflect cultural diversity and are open, welcoming and inclusive to all;”
2. “Ensuring that all responsible agencies continue to provide a high level of community safety delivered within a rights based framework and an overarching ethos of mutual respect;”
3. “Continuing to promote initiatives based on the principle of mutual respect, which reflect acceptance of cultural diversity and the ways in which it is expressed;”
4. “Building community support networks across community, cultural and minority ethnic groups;”
5. “Building capacity of the local; and minority ethnic communities to support people who have experienced hate crime.”
When dealing with cultures the key issue to be considered should be the nature of these cultures. To build a strong and homogenous community, within which there is a diversity of expression of peaceful cultures, a proper definition of what an acceptable culture within a democratic society is should be provided. The principle of mutual respect cannot and must not apply for cultures that encourage violence and radicalisation, undermine the legitimacy of the State and promote murder or terrorism in any form.
VII. CHAPTER 7: A COHESIVE COMMUNITY
The Consultation Document mentions seven key aims for a cohesive community (page 49-50):
1. “Zero tolerance for crimes motivated by prejudice and all forms of hate crime, whilst actively promoting rights and respect;”
2. “Promoting intercultural work through the Minority Ethnic Development Fund;”
3. “Building an inclusive community open to all, regardless of their background;”
4. “Promoting greater understanding between established sections of the community and new arrivals;”
5. “Working closely with the PSNI, the new Crime Reduction Partnerships and Probation Board in local areas to address racism and hate crime;”
6. “Encouraging greater understanding of new cultures and new sections of the community;”
7. “Developing and supporting workplace initiatives to promote respect and understanding of cultural diversity.”
The vision of an “intercultural” society whereby a dynamic process would be created through which different cultures and communities can interact peacefully does not appear to be based on any form of research. This seems to be a seducing idea but little more. The fundamental problem of Northern Ireland has been terrorism and it remains the key problem that still needs to be addressed. A community can only be made cohesive if there is respect for common overarching values that are binding over all activities performed by the different sections of the community. There cannot be cohesion within society on the basis of division and celebration of diversity to the exclusion of acknowledgement and respect for common values. The approach chosen in the Consultation Document does not provide the fundamental framework that would foster a sense of cohesion within the community. The outcome of the proposed approach may result in the radicalisation of different sections of the community in opposition to the State and other sections of the community, rather than binding the different sections of the community together in unity around common values and the respect of public authorities.
VIII. CHAPTER 8: SUPPORTING LOCAL COMMUNITIES
The Consultation Document mentions three key aims for Supporting Local Communities (page 54):
1. “Continue to support Councils’ delivery of Good Relations programmes and funding;”
2. “Ensure that the local community is integral to the Good Relations programme process;”
3. “Nurturing leadership at a local level and emp[owering the local community to identify solutions to local issues.”
The Good Relations policy is based on the division of society into diverse sections and the celebration of diversity, but there is nothing in the policy that refers to what members of the community have in common or should have in common. It is therefore difficult to see how such a policy could be supported. This policy also aims at empowering leaders of different sections of the community thus dividing the community rather than bringing it together (Consultation Document page 52, paragraph 8.6). These leaders may well be, most of the time, influential people from paramilitary organisations. It is hard to see how good relations within the community can develop while giving powers to such members of the community.
IX. CHAPTER 9: LOOKING OUTWARD
The Consultation Document mentions three key aims of looking outward (page 55):
1. “Identifying key exemplar projects which have proven track records of success in promoting good relations;”
2. “Sharing of relevant research and experiences on a North/South, Est/West, European and international basis;”
3. Mutual promotion of cultural diversity and encouraging better social networks on North/South, East/West, European and international levels.”
Looking outward, Northern Ireland could learn for example from the German experience attempting to create a multicultural society, which from their own assessment has been a complete failure.
X. CHAPTER 10: MECHANISM TO OVERSEE THE IMPLEMENTATION
The Consultation Document mentions the four key features of implementation (page 57):
1. “A Ministerial Panel chaired by OFMDFM Ministers, key statutory and community partners;”
2. “A senior Officials Steering Group which will be tasked with co-ordinating the cross-departmental alignment of activities and allocation of resources;”
3. “An Advisory Panel of practitioners and experts to provide advice to Government;”
4. “A Funders Group that will advise the Ministerial Panel on good relations funding issues and seek to improve the targeting and co-ordination of funding from many different sources”.
Instead of being politically driven this process would need to be principle driven. On this foundation the mechanism for implementation could be developed and adjusted without having to be led by OFMDFM.
XI. CHAPTER 11: OPTIONS FOR THE DELIVERY OF FUNDING AND POLICY ADVICE
Funding should be allocated for the implementation of a new and proper principle based programme that would promote genuine cohesion within a democratic society.
XII. CHAPTER 12: OPTIONS FOR THE FUTURE OF OFMDFM FUNDING FOR GOOD RELATIONS WORK
Once a principled policy for promoting democracy and human rights within Northern Ireland has been defined, the means of funding it could be reviewed.
XIII. CHAPTER 13 EQUALITY STATEMENT
The proposals if implemented would no doubt impact on the equality of opportunity of some sections of the community. For example, the Draft Bill and Code of Conduct which were supposed to deliver an improved framework for the resolution of public assemblies disputes would have restricted disproportionately the right of one section of the community to manifest their religion while processing peacefully on the public roads. The proposals would also affect other issues, such as the prohibition to display national flags and emblems as well as red, white and blue bunting in town centres, effectively making them ‘neutral’ areas. This would unequally affect those who, as a result of their political opinion based on patriotism would wish to see national historical events, such as the battle of the Somme, publicly commemorated in town centres. It is submitted that equality assessment can only be properly carried out when the goals and the means to achieve them are provided at the same time.
The approach consisting in considering the people of Northern Ireland as being from one particular section of the community or other can only prolong divisions and prevent cohesion and integration. Throughout the Consultation Document there is a fundamental element missing in order to bring the people of Northern Ireland together. This involves considering the people of Northern Ireland as forming one community under the authority of the State, whose duty and function is to unite the people and to provide equally for them according to their needs, whatever section of society they come from.
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