No room for caveats on starting Shared Future approach for everyone

It was unfortunate that the launch of the Alliance Party’s shared future document was hijacked by a debate on integrated education – not that such a debate is not useful, but it was hardly news that the party supports integrated education and it was far from the central point of the document. (That we have a media which divide “politics” so completely from “economics” is an interesting and frustrating legacy issue, but that is a debate for another post!)

In fact, the central feature of the document was that it made the direct correlation between a Shared Future approach on one hand, and job creation and economic prosperity on the other. You cannot support one without supporting the other – a point which, if not clear now after the last eight weeks of disruption, never will be.

Most telling of all, however, was the response of my friend Trevor Ringland, in which he suggested bafflingly that the Alliance Party “should not have voted” on the Flag at Belfast City Hall until an overall approach for Northern Ireland had been agreed. Such a bizarre line from someone nominally long bought into “Shared Future” thinking in fact reflects just how far we have to go. Firstly, there seems to be no understanding that Alliance “not voting” would have brought down the Flag altogether; secondly, I suspect what is really meant is Alliance should have voted for the status quo, in other words that Alliance should be Unionist until such time as Nationalists get serious about a Shared Future (implicitly, in other words, that a Shared Future is all ok once everyone has become Unionist); thirdly, it suggests Alliance should not have voted the way they had the previous time and the way it was fair for voters to assume they would again, thus breaching their contract with the electorate. This could all just be naive politics; but it looks really like the usual trick of being supportive of a Shared Future provided it is exclusively on your own terms. Anyone can do that, but it doesn’t get us anywhere.

Such naïveté/bias was much in evidence elsewhere. “Never mind a Shared Future, I just want good government” said one commentator, denying in the face of all evidence that a divided communal society will deliver divided communal politics where government by divided communal hand outs (in other words short-term, unthinking, bad government) is the norm. The SDLP embarrassed itself yet again by squealing even about a relatively meagre 20% integrated education target (while I respect the transition required to get there, my own target would be an entirely shared/integrated sector with the Catholic Church and indeed Protestant transferors removed entirely from state-funded education, for the record). Even among those who are genuine in their desire for a Shared Future there are too often caveats – it must be Liberal, or Conservative, or Green, or utterly secular, or not secular at all…

After the events of recent weeks, I do think a growing number of people are aware that the current default policy of “separate but equal” has failed and will always fail. It needs to be replaced by a “Shared Future approach” – but a lot of people new to that realisation have yet to come to terms with what it actually means. There can be no caveats or conditions, because to introduce any right at the start leads inevitably to a process of “a sweetie for them, a sweetie for us”, the complete opposite of the “Shared Future Approach”. In fact, it means not waiting for the “other side” to move before you do; it means accepting and occasionally even causing short-term discomfort for the long-term, overall greater good; and it means avoiding the “softly, softly” approach in favour of some risk-taking.

In short, it means leading change for everyone…

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5 thoughts on “No room for caveats on starting Shared Future approach for everyone

  1. In comparison to the many facelosses endured by other parties and other groups over the last few weeks, I’d hardly call the reaction of the SDLP embarrassing.

    On a practical matter both the SDLP and the Allance Party are simply consultative and scrutiny agents for John O’Dowd and his department to draw insight from, leave the quality vs. Quantity arguments to focus on the outcomes from
    the committees and the chambers

  2. The Listener says:

    A shared future? On a pesonal basis there is a considerable amount of shared future. There are those of us who do not pick, and do thing things only with one segment of society. Many who are relatively well off and probably doo not vote just avoid politics as irrelevant to their lives. Whatever religion they were baptised into, or whatever constitutional feelings they may have in the back of their minds they play and work together and interrelate in business. Thus it is necessary to encourage joint social activity in all segments of society. I appreciate that in Belfast and some othe towns there are ghetto areas and it is quite formidable to encourage interaction, but it must be attempted.

    The very fundamental basic idea of shared education should be encouraged with enthusiasm. It is better to grow up together. It is at that period of our lives that we can form trusting and longstanding relationships. I appreciate that children cannot be “bussed” from one area to another whilst at Primary level but it is feasible for many to be educated togethe outside parts of Belfast. I would have respect for those of our political parties if they were to look seiously at this issue. I appreciate that there are many excellent schools with a Roman Catholic ethos. Education in that area has had outstanding success in bringing many people with less advantageous backgrounds into well paid jobs and thus changed their lives. Maybe those such schools should actively encourage children of other faiths to be pupils. There is no problem with Christian values to be espoused, but denominational instruction would be reserved for those of that faith. It might be possible in some circumstances for schools to share a campus, albeit there might still be an “us and them” mindset. Better that all education is shared in one school with provision for general and joint religious studies and for those who particularly require it, denominational instruction.

    To foster a cohesive society and a feeling of ownership, there should be a common Civics class say at 14 and upwards. Pupils would be taught the structure of the pvarious political parties, the structure of government,and the role of tthe various representatives, Councillors, MLAs and MPs. Pupils should be encourage to take an interest and if they wish to eventually join a party. The fundamental message being that it is everyones duty to be informed and to vote and to have some understanding of its significance in the governance of where we live.

    It is only when there is a generally held mindset for a shared life for all of us that there will ever be a hope of a proper political debate, on bread and butter issues and indeed an informed debate on constitutional issues.

    To me the basic fundamentals for a shared society are simple so lets go forward, othewise it will just be waffle at Stormont!

  3. I share your enthusiasm, I think the target set by the Alliance does balance an obvious public demand which essentially will be the driver force perhaps with logistically constrained economics and social choice/resistance as the limiters or frictional forces, and perhaps drawing from the educational reforms in the Republic we see what not only is needed to be done but is actually demanded and expected by our society. There are many schools the Catholic sector can’t maintain under the current model by its own admission, perhaps these may become integrated in the first wave. I don’t see the traditional parties associated with Catholicism having a problem with that.

    Ghettoisation is perhaps a little more complex that a simple product of intra-community fears and interaction. Take Lumen Christi, here is a school that is in one of the most economically deprived regions here in terms of infrastructure yet is regarded as one of the best educational institutions in the North and carries out heavy defence of selection and arguably class snobbery, in someways one positive many in the Bogside/Brandywell region, including NEETs are more likely to make friends in The Fountain these days but they are less likely with the scholars of this nearby school compared to previous years

    I’m not an educationalist, nor do I really understand Lumen Christi’s side which even the future cardinal of Ireland has been heavily critical of. Im afraid I am not being as balanced or as fair as I like to be. It seems more to do with its own established educational culture, rather than a sense of Irishness or Catholicism or the educational cultures of other maintained and grammar schools. The premise used to be the place of the old St Colm’s College before the new school moved in, which seemed to be more open to people from the local area despite disadvantages brought in by the 11+, which had initially been devised to increase meritocracy and bridge divides rather than perhaps increase social divides and punish failure at an early level of emotional maturity. Children need to learn that failure is an educator too.

    Hopefully he can address this balance on this matter before moving on.

  4. James Campbell says:

    Ian,

    Interesting thought that – remove all financial support from faith schools. And then what? Staff not paid; consumables not bought; buildings not maintained. Then what? Schools close. What do you do with the children then? How will you convince the parents of those children that this is good for society?

    So much of Alliance thinking is undergraduate. Bold statement of ambition without taking reality into account and with no intimation of experience modifying vision. You aren’t sectarian; you’re merely prejudced.

  5. Who talked about removing funding for faith schools? The Irish News and the Green Party, that’s who. But not the Alliance Party or me c

    Please read the document and the article before commenting – and ignore others’ propaganda. Otherwise, no harm to you, it’s you who is left looking like the undergraduate.

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