Building a shared society is the biggest single challenge facing Northern Ireland and should be the central over-arching priority for the NI Executive. Quite simply, we will not achieve what we want for Northern Ireland - economically and socially - if we don't address this critical issue. But we won't do this by tinkering around the edges. For the first time in generations, we have the opportunity to tackle the underlying pattern of segregation, exclusion, discrimination and threat. Northern Ireland should become a truly shared society. Division also hurts us economically. An independent report argued that division costs Northern Ireland £1.5bn each year and it is difficult to attract investors to a divided region. Our proposals to tackle the cost of division include:
- Ensuring that all government spending is directed at projects which emphasis sharing over separation. This will need to be across all government departments.
- Ensuring all new leisure, educational and health, social and community facilities will be built with an explicit aim to ensuring shared use.
- Creating an Executive-wide approach to tackling youth sectarianism and alienation, so that the next generation is not divided too.
- Setting a minimum target of 20% of children in integrated education by 2020, backed up by legislation which will make it easier to establish new integrated schools and help other schools to integrate.
- Aiming to remove all interface barriers in co-operation with local communities. 20% should be removed in 10 years and 30% in 15.
- Regulating the flying of flags in Northern Ireland - including only flying the Union flag on designated days from civic buildings.
- Establishing a working group on parades and protests to develop a new system that balances human rights and the need for shared space.
- Engaging with the British and Irish governments to set up talks designed at dealing with the past.
- Requiring concerted government action to improve relations with other groups, such as ethnic minorities and the LGBT community.