On Friday, the Belfast Telegraph published a letter, co-ordinated by Platform for Change, criticising OFMDFM’s draft Cohesion, Sharing and Integration strategy. Consultation on the CSI document was due to end on that day, but I gather the deadline has been extended by a week until Friday 5th November.
I’ve helped to write Labour’s response, and there’s no question that the consultation draft is of very poor quality (separate post on this to follow). I agree with the vast majority of what’s in the Platform for Change statement – but I didn’t feel able to sign it due to the paragraph stating that the Community Relations Council should be retained.
There is a very powerful argument for including some kind of non-governmental body in the CSI implementation structure. Northern Ireland’s government at regional level institutionalises the divisions CSI sets out to abolish. It’s important to remember that the previous good relations policy, A Shared Future, was introduced under Direct Rule. It’s not surprising that the Northern Ireland Executive has struggled with CSI, because a political system based on communal division cannot provide the leadership to implement a policy to abolish such division. Because state structures are inadequate, we must look outside the state for an organisation to assist with aspects of policy advice, project management, and monitoring and evaluation (although I’m not so sure about the administration of funding).
However, Platform for Change confuses strategy with tactics by being so specific about the nature of this non-governmental organisation in their statement. Form and function should follow the requirements of the policy, which are hard to fathom in the draft. If these can be clarified, so can the implementation structure. That’s why Labour’s response says ‘we lack the knowledge and information to assess whether the Community Relations Council in its present form would be the most appropriate organisation to carry out this role’.
I have nothing against the CRC, of course, and they have provided a cracking response to CSI. I was very pleased to see that it includes the very same point about implementation:
‘The CSI document does not contain a formal review of current delivery mechanisms. This makes any assessment of the proposals difficult, as no evidential base for change is provided' (p.48); and ‘a review of existing structures should follow the publication of policy principles with a mandate to ensure that the structures which emerge are fit for purpose, effective and efficient for the critical tasks required, broadly reflective of the whole community, honest, independent and transparent’ (p.50).
Anyway, here is the Platform for Change statement which I would have signed:
We, citizens of Northern Ireland from diverse backgrounds, believe that the only viable future for this region is as an integrated society in which individuals are free to define their unique identities in their interactions with others, in a culture of tolerance which can enrich the lives of all.
In this context, we express our deep dissatisfaction with the poverty of vision in the consultation document Cohesion, Sharing and Integration, which holds out only a future of sustained segregation, defying the clear public aspiration that we live, work and are educated in common.
The document dispiritingly assumes that Northern Ireland’s conventional politically-driven identities will survive indefinitely—and indeed should command respect—without regard to the much more fluid multi-ethnic and multi-faith world we now inhabit.
We call for the rewriting of this document, in collaboration with independent experts, with clear aims and objectives and concrete programmes and projects to realise them.
We are conscious that no issue can currently be discussed outside of the economic crisis and the prospect of unprecedented public expenditure cuts.
This makes it imperative that Northern Ireland become a culturally dynamic and open society, with effective and efficient public services accessible to all.