Robinson and McGuinness set out plans to start tackling division
First Minister and Deputy First Minister acknowledge biggest hurdles will be parades, flags and the past
First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. photograph: Arthur Allison
First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness have outlined a set of proposals aimed at improving community relations in Northern Ireland that include bringing down the “peace walls” within the next 10 years.
Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness at a joint Stormont Castle press conference yesterday acknowledged that issues such as parades, flags and the past couldn’t be readily addressed but that progress could be made in a number of other areas.
Their proposals include offering 10,000 young people from disaffected areas special paid cross-community work, volunteer and leisure programmes.
These are designed to foster good relations between people from nationalist and unionist working class backgrounds who could be susceptible to falling prey to paramilitaries and criminal gangs.
Within the next two years 100 cross-community summer camps are to be held across Northern Ireland for post-primary young people. Within five years 10 shared educational campuses are to be established where schools with Protestant and Catholic students could pool resources and share facilities.
They are to establish four urban village regeneration projects in targeted areas of deprivation and create a cross-community sports programme.
Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness said that in the next two weeks they would publish a new community relations strategy entitled “Together: Building a United Community”.
They are also to establish an all-party group to consider parades, flags and emblems and dealing with the past. This group will have an independent chairperson from outside the political sphere and will recommend how these issues can be tackled.
“Whilst recognising there are no easy answers we are committed to attempting to find long-term and sustainable solutions that are in the best interests of the community we serve,” Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness said in a joint statement.
Their most ambitious goal is dismantling the 60 or so “peace walls” in Northern Ireland by 2023. Most of them separate Catholic and Protestant areas of Belfast but there are also such structures in Derry, Portadown and Lurgan.
These proposals come after the Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers linked a major British government financial package for Northern Ireland to the Northern Executive making progress on improving community relations. While Mr Robinson said there was no relationship between yesterday’s announcement and Ms Villiers’s comments, he added that any additional financial support would be welcomed.
Mr McGuinness said tacking division was a “nettle that has to be grasped”. He added,:“It is ridiculous that we have become a successful peace process yet those issues have not yet been resolved”.