Let's replace 'not an inch' with giant stride forward

Following article appeared in Belfast Telegraph on Wednesday 27 March 2013
Cllr Muir and Justice Minster David Ford MLA
who matches words with actions along with
Alliance Minister Dr Stephen Farry MLA
Concepts of a shared future and consensus based politics have recently gained prominence with many politicians trying to persuade us of their commitment to these ideals.

Despite their valiant attempts it is however now increasingly apparent that the terms are being used and abused for selfish and strategic party political interest.

A shared future isn't just about a few warm words and appearing at the odd symbolic event but instead it's about a new beginning where everyone is respected, included and accepted.

Unionist leaders claim they are fully behind the idea of creating a shared future, yet in recent months they have adopted a 'them and us' approach and created the tribal Unionist Forum to consider concerns of one community in complete isolation from wider society. The renaming of a play park in Newry after Raymond McCreesh shows that Nationalists do not fully understand how good community relations are fostered either.

These and many other examples prove that actions speak louder than words with the Alliance Party's credibility on the issue of shared society proven, whether via actions taken by Justice Minister David Ford or Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry or via the publication of our document "For Everyone", detailing our vision concerning what a shared future should look like.

In our document we highlight the wide range of work that needs to take place to achieve a shared future starting with our education system. Too many young people grow up without knowingly coming into contact with those from a different background. This division continues and is cemented as a result of our segregated education system.

The integrated education sector has successfully shown that when children from all backgrounds learn together these experiences stay with them later in life. Socio-economic and educational benefits associated with Integrated Education combined with the strong demand from parents who want their children to learn and grow up together provides a clear basis for the Education Department to prioritise growth in this sector.

Despite the overwhelming demand for more integrated schools the Education Minister continues to fail in his duty to provide sufficient supply. In 1998 the Good Friday Agreement promised "initiatives to facilitate and encourage integrated education", yet 15 years on there have been very little movement to help this sector. With falling enrolment numbers and school rationalisation on the horizon the time for action is now.

It is not just our education system that we should be looking at to radically transform our society. Issues such as identity, culture, public spaces, parades, housing and how we deal with the past need to be tackled.

This is not to say that shared spaces have to be neutral spaces. Public spaces should be areas where all ideas and identities are celebrated. We want to create a shared community that is safe and welcoming to all sections of the community.

Alliance firmly believe that a shared future isn't built upon the premise that Belfast is a British or Irish city but instead on the basis that it should be a shared city welcoming to all regardless of national identity.

The compromise proposed by the Alliance Party concerning flying of the Union Flag on designated days at Belfast City Hall reflects this position. It balances Northern Ireland's position within the UK against reality that we live in a divided society accommodating people of different nationalities whether British, Irish, Northern Irish, European, other and none.
Since our foundation we have worked hard to move Northern Irish society forward on this basis by consensus and compromise, when necessary and possible, despite the strong opposition experienced from Unionists, Nationalists, Republicans and Loyalists on many occasions.

Stubborn 'not an inch' approaches designed to stop decision making cannot be allowed to leave Northern Ireland divided forever. Consensus is about working with reasonable people to get a reasonable solution that everybody can support. It should never be about vetoes, diktats, threats and dirty tricks. Alliance will not yield in its opposition to such tactics and are determined to move forward together.

The battle is hard, the decisions are difficult but I firmly believe that we will see the goal of a shared future delivered. We owe it to future generations to resolve those issues that continue to divide us, to settle the tectonic plates and build a stable shared future together.

New beginning promised with Good Friday Agreement needs realised

I feel very privileged and proud to have been elected as Alliance Party's new Chair at our AGM in Newtownards yesterday at a time when the Alliance Party is showing real leadership in building a new Northern Ireland for everyone.

As a result of recent events and actions Northern Ireland has been forced to choose between politics of hope, reconciliation and sharing over separation, intransigence and indecisiveness.

The Alliance Party is determined to continue providing positive leadership to build a Shared Future and take the difficult decisions to build an open, welcoming and inclusive shared society.

Issues considered difficult cannot be deferred indefinitely. The politics of dither, delay, indecision and division are damaging public confidence in democracy evidenced by reducing voter turnout.

The new beginning promised within the Good Friday Agreement remains necessary today as it was on Good Friday in 1998 and must be realised to meet the hopes and desires expressed by the overwhelming majority of people who voted in favour of the Agreement fifteen years ago choosing Yes over No.

As someone born after the establishment of the Alliance Party, I am younger than Alliance but remember the background against which the party was founded. 
Whilst levels of violence have thankfully reduced battle for peace, reconciliation and resolution of the difficult issues which have divided our society for decades remains. 

I look forward to playing my role over the forthcoming year as Party Chair to ensure Alliance continues to lead this battle for everyone.

Muir welcomes Development Proposal for Priory Integrated College

Cllr Muir at Priory Integrated College
with Student Council members
I welcome the Development Proposal issued by local Education Board which will allow more pupils to attend Priory Integrated College.

By allowing Priory Integrated College to enrol up to 600 pupils Priory will be able meet local demand for Integrated Education and pave the way for a much needed new school building.

The proposal to allow increased intake is warmly welcomed and crucial to provide the school with a sustainable future.

With 66% of all people questioned in a recent survey stating that integrated schools should be the main model of our education system I am glad South Eastern Education and Library Board plan to allow Priory Integrated College to grow. The next step must be a new school building to allow all pupils to learn in a quality fit for purpose environment.

I urge everyone keen to secure a sustainable future for Priory to respond to the consultation by writing to Mr S Martin at SEELB, Grahamsbridge Road, Dundonald, BT16 2HS by 14 March 2013.