Strategy to end division on way, says Robinson
The DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson has said he hopes a Northern Ireland Executive strategy to tackle sectarianism in Northern Ireland will be published before Christmas.
Mr Robinson, in an interview with The Irish Times ahead of the annual DUP conference, which opened yesterday, said the programme for cohesion, sharing and integration (CSI) was almost complete and the document should be presented in a matter of weeks.
The CSI strategy is viewed as key to the Executive driving forward policies to try to end division, to start bringing down the North’s 50 so-called peace walls, and to begin tackling segregation in areas such as housing and education.
“We want to have the widest possible buy-in from other parties. So I see it as being no more than a week or two away before we talk to the party leaders and publish the additional work we have done,” Mr Robinson said.
Plans to fashion an all-embracing policy to address sectarianism has been dogged with internal political problems. A special all-party Northern Ireland Assembly committee was formed to devise the CSI strategy but the Alliance Party and the Ulster Unionists pulled out of the committee complaining of a lack of any substantial progress. The SDLP remained on the committee.
Mr Robinson was particularly critical of the Alliance Party for withdrawing. “I think they do a disservice to the community by the way they have behaved on this issue. The whole basis of the Alliance Party’s existence has been about consensual politics, about reaching agreements,” he said. “Yet, when it came to this key issue, instead of sitting down and reaching agreements – which means there has to be give and take – they have decided to take their ball and walk away unless everybody agrees with everything in their proposals. Well, that is not the way it works.”
Mr Robinson would not give any details about the content of the document but some of his additional comments in relation to Alliance indicated the document could be limited in relation to any plans to create a single educational system, which he has stated he favours. Such a policy would be likely to be strongly opposed by the Catholic education sector.
“There are things that I would like to have seen in that document, particularly about shared education, that Sinn Féin and the SDLP weren’t prepared to go along with. And I am sure there are things they would liked to have had in the document but they knew that unionists would not go along with [them],” he said.
Mr Robinson also criticised Sinn Féin’s call for a Border poll on a united Ireland. He said: “There will be no Border poll, because the Secretary of State [for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers] is required by law only to call it if she feels there will be a vote in favour of a united Ireland. And all of the opinion polls are going in the opposite direction.”