Most of the mechanisms for delivering a shared future for Northern Ireland are devolved to the Assembly. However, Westminster has an important role to play in ensuring that a shared future and good relations are central to Northern Ireland’s work.
As there is an inextricable link between the creation of a shared future and the economic transformation of Northern Ireland, we must recognise that continued divisions limit Northern Ireland’s potential. Therefore, any borrowing the UK Treasury and NI Executive embark upon to develop infrastructure should seek to prioritise sharing.
For example, investment in new schools should prioritise the integrated sector, and investment in housing and regeneration should be linked to ensuring space is accessible to everyone in our community.
Key elements for Alliance in a shared future, which must be reflected in the UK Government’s spending in Northern Ireland and with some delivered by the Assembly, would include:
- Creating a new Programme for Government outcome on ending sectarianism and division.
- Requiring all Executive policies to be ‘shared future-proofed’ to ensure that all major decisions support an integrated society rather than continuing or enhancing division.
- Working with communities to secure the removal of all interface barriers.
- Requiring Departments to review spending plans to identify the costs of managing a divided society.
- Creating a statutory duty on the Housing Executive to encourage, facilitate and protect mixed housing.
- Strengthening the statutory duty on the Department for Education and the Education Authority to promote the development of integrated education and increasing the number of integrated school places.
- Requiring public bodies to promote shared space in new capital projects.
- Ending tolerance of illegally erected flags and emblems.
- Passing a Single Equality Act.
- Introducing an Irish Language Act as well as appropriate support for Ulster-Scots and non- indigenous minority languages.
- We welcome the extension of Same Sex Marriage to Northern Ireland from January 2020 and will continue to support robust protections for faith groups.
Parades, Flags and Dealing With the Past
We believe that the peace process remains under threat as the result of other politicians being unable to come to agreement on tackling the controversial issues of parading, flags and the past. This has the potential to undermine public confidence in politics, in the Northern Ireland institutions, and in the peace process as a whole.
We are clear that these issues need to be settled. In recent years, issues around parading, the display of flags and how we deal with the legacy of the past have all caused significant problems or challenges. Reactions to these have also raised tensions within our community and been cited as a justification for public disorder.
Alliance will continue to support the urgent implementation of the Stormont House Agreement, which reflects many longstanding Alliance proposals. This package will finally offer the opportunity to deliver truth, justice and support services for victims and survivors.
We recognise that human rights are inherent and universal. They are an essential part of modern governance and protect the individual, from any background, from injustices. They also provide sensible and necessary limits on governments and allow governments to plan in advance for these limitations.
Alliance strongly supports the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). We will oppose any proposed repeal of the Human Rights Act or withdrawal from the ECHR.
We believe any Northern Ireland Bill of Rights must:
- Be realistic and capable of being enforced through our own courts.
- Be consistent with European and international standards.
- Be flexible enough to take account of changing circumstances and an evolving Northern Ireland.
- Avoid entrenching any particular view of identity, such as the notion of two separate communities in Northern Ireland and, accordingly, sectarian divisions. We also want the Secretary of State to urgently introduce legislation which would see the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s legal standing restored.
Alliance has a strong track record of opposing all forms of racism and sectarianism, including antisemitism and islamophobia, and we want to see strong equality legislation which both reflects and protects the diversity of identities.
Equality policy is primarily devolved to the Assembly, but it is deeply concerning that no significant progressive reform to equality legislation has so far been passed under devolution: all the major reforms have occurred under ‘Direct Rule’. This is not sustainable.
While devolution creates a powerful regional dimension to policy- making, this should primarily relate to decisions regarding the allocation of resources to fit particular economic and social circumstances, rather than creating special rights regimes.
We believe that there should be the same standard of equality provisions throughout the UK. We want to see the creation of a Single Equality Act for Northern Ireland.
Alliance wants to see the mutually interdependent identity and citizenship commitments within the Good Friday Agreement fully reflected in UK law. We call for the 1981 British Nationality Act to be amended to reflect and protect those who have only Irish identity and citizenship.
The Common Travel Area has evolved over the last century. However, it only provides essentially equivalent treatment for British and Irish citizens within Ireland and the UK respectively through custom and practice. Over recent decades, it has been overlaid by the much more comprehensive and legally enforceable set of mutual rights that come from the joint UK and Irish membership of the EU. Brexit threatens to strip away elements of this framework.
While the memorandum of understanding between the UK and Irish Governments is welcome, Alliance advocates that the Common Travel Area be encapsulated within a British-Irish Treaty.
We are deeply concerned at the tone of the current immigration debate. The language used perpetuates myths and allows anti-immigration views to legitimise racial stereotyping and enable racial abuse. Immigration enriches our society, boosts our economy, provides tax revenue and attracts inward investment.
EU citizens who have chosen to make their life in the UK now face an uncertain situation post-Brexit and are forced to engage with a flawed Settlement Scheme after previous promises of automatic entitlements were reneged upon by the UK Government.
As well as the personal impact on the over two million EU citizens living in the UK, the government’s decision to end freedom of movement for EU citizens will restrict the supply of labour in sectors where migrant workers are vital, such as the health service and agriculture.
It also potentially restricts highly-skilled workers in innovative and high-value industries from entering the labour market despite their valuable skills and experience. Alliance will:
- Provide a role for Northern Ireland in determining skills shortages for Northern Ireland in relation to Tier 2 visas, so that the particular needs of Northern Ireland’s labour market are reflected in immigration policy.
- Ensure regional flexibility is built into immigration strategy and legislation, so regions with different wage levels or particular skills needs are able to attract new labour where it is needed, for example by varying salary thresholds to reflect a lower cost of living.
- Guarantee the existing rights of EU citizens resident within the UK and the rights of UK citizens resident in the rest of the EU after Brexit.
- Remove the cap on non-EU migrants as this has been detrimental to attracting high-skilled workers and students to British companies.
- Exempt international students from being counted as migrants during the course of their studies and introduce a two-year visa for students to work after graduation.
- Ensure that any post-Brexit immigration policy remains open to workers in sectors that will have significant difficulty in functioning without migrant workers, such as the health service, agriculture and scientific research.
- Make the visa system simpler and easier for legitimate sponsors to fulfil their role.
- Pursue a rational and empathetic debate around immigration that emphasises facts and objective analysis, whilst remembering the human social dimension to immigration.
- Seek to end the hostile environment policies and establish a firewall to prevent public agencies from sharing personal information with the Home Office for the purposes of immigration enforcement.
Asylum, Refugees and Vulnerable Economic Migrants
Alliance believes we have both legal and moral duties towards people seeking asylum and refuge. The UK should fully honour its obligations to look after people fleeing persecution, disaster and extreme poverty and should work with other European nations to reduce the dangers experience by those attempting to reach Europe, whether from natural elements or criminal exploitation.
Recent moves from some EU nations to end search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean and to close borders to new overland migrants is creating a humanitarian crisis, often in already impoverished and unstable neighbouring nations. This must be addressed by EU actions to ensure that life is protected, human dignity is maintained and that suitable accommodation can be found as cases are considered. We believe:
- The current ban on people seeking asylum working results in many struggling to support themselves and their family and finding it difficult to integrate in their communities. People seeking asylum should have the right to work so that they can use their skills and live in dignity.
- The current system of indefinite immigration detention is expensive, ineffective and unjust. No one should be held in immigration detention for migration-related reasons, other than in the most exceptional circumstances, for example, someone who poses a danger to the public.
- The UK should provide safe and legal routes to sanctuary by resettling 10,000 vulnerable refugees each year and expanding family reunion rights. Northern Ireland should lead the way in providing a new home for vulnerable refugees.
- We must work together with other EU member states to deliver a Common European Asylum System and to step up search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea.
- We must end the culture of disbelief in the Home Office, including training decision-makers to deal with cases involving trauma and abuse.
- We need to train decision-makers to better handle complex cases involving the persecution of LGBT people, religious or ethnic monitories who are unsafe in their home country, irrespective of whether the state is the perpetrator. If their home country has not kept them safe, then they must be allowed to claim asylum elsewhere.
- The UK should create robust and flexible routes to documentation so that people can quickly and easily regularise their immigration status.