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Research: Martin Melaugh
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Devolved Government in Northern Ireland
Secretary Assembly Executive Departments Committees North- South British- Irish Conference Civic Forum

Programme for Government

Draft Programme for Government - Published 25 October 2000

2. GROWING AS A COMMUNITY

2.1

Introduction

If we are to build a cohesive, inclusive and just society, we must address a range of hard issues. Inequalities and divisions in society will only disappear if there are consistent, focused and effective policies. We will focus on:

  • the promotion of equality and human rights;

  • tackling poverty and social disadvantage;

  • the renewal of the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods;

  • sustaining and enhancing local communities, particularly in the most disadvantaged urban and rural areas; and

  • improving community relations and tackling the divisions in our society.

2.1.1

Overview

Each of these policy areas is important in its own right. But as an Executive we believe that we need to see the linkages between all these issues and seek to develop a wider approach to help make a real change in our society.

Only if we are confident in our rights and responsibilities, only if we create security for the individual from poverty and communities from disadvantage, only if we can help the confidence of a community to express its needs can we build a firm foundation for tackling the divisions in our society. In short we must create a feeling of justice for all, and ensure that there can be real inclusion of all individuals before we can fully secure a cohesive society. Among the most vulnerable individuals in society are the victims of our prolonged conflict, along with those who care for them and the relatives of all victims, whether surviving or dead. This society has a special obligation to ensure that those who suffered so much in conflict will have their needs addressed in peace.

Regeneration of our society - in the fullest sense - means that we have to tackle all these issues at the same time. This involves responsibilities as well as rights. This will not be achieved overnight. These are some of the most stubborn problems that we have to address. It will take generations for much of the pain and hurt of our history to be handled. However that should not lessen our commitment to work together to find reconciliation.

In tackling these issues, we have the advantage of a vibrant and extensive community and voluntary sector which already makes significant and critical contributions to many areas of life. A key challenge will be to build on this community capacity and to involve it in policies and programmes aimed at strengthening our community well-being.

In achieving our objectives we are committed to partnership working. We will build on the experience of existing partnership structures, such as District Partnerships, which epitomise real partnership in action - local people providing local solutions to local problems. Such partnerships have a key role in ensuring that the most disadvantaged benefit. The Programme for Government will build on this experience, and the European Union's Peace II programme will play an important complementary role.

2.2

The Promotion of Equality and Human Rights

2.2.1

We will ensure the effective promotion of equality and human rights

The protection of human rights and the promotion of equality are central to the Agreement. These policies are prerequisites for improving community relations and building community capacity, particularly in areas of greatest need.

We will therefore:

  • implement all Equality Schemes, as approved by the Equality Commission;
  • ensure that our legislation, policy and administrative practice comply with the Human Rights Act 1998, referring draft legislation to the NI Human Rights Commission and ensuring the highest human rights standards;
  • ensure that anti-discrimination legislation fully meets the implementation requirements of EC Directives and the requirements of Section 6 of the Northern Ireland Act 1988..

Actions

We will also take the following actions:

  • implement cross-departmental policies to tackle gender inequality within a strategic framework for the period 2001-2003;
  • implement cross-departmental policies to tackle racial inequality within a strategic framework for the period 2001-2003, including targeted support for ethnic minority groups and projects;
  • by April 2001, consult on a Single Equality Bill, to be introduced in 2002; and
  • by December 2002, complete an evaluation of the New TSN Policy.

We will ensure that our programmes take these issues properly into account. For example, we will:

  • ensure that Health and Personal Social Services caters for the needs of different users in terms of community background, social class, need and language;
  • in 2001/02, increase training and employment support for people with disabilities by providing an additional 400 offers under the Access to Work Scheme; an additional 50 places under the Employment Support Programme; and an additional 60 work trials under the Job Introduction Scheme;
  • promote equality and fair treatment in the workplace by establishing, in 2001/02, arbitration schemes for tribunal complaints; 3 additional chairpersons for Fair Employment Tribunals; and 3 additional chairpersons for Industrial Tribunals;
  • by May 2001, develop a programme to improve accessibility to culture and leisure facilities, in particular for people with disabilities or who are socially disadvantaged, based on an audit of an initial 40 culture, arts and leisure venues;
  • by April 2002, improve transparency and achieve equality in the distribution of funds to schools by introducing a new formula for determining school budgets under Local Management of Schools, which will be common to all boards and all school types;
  • ensure in particular that the equality dimension of cross-Departmental policy and practice in relation to the procurement of goods and services by the public sector is subjected to equality impact assessment; and
  • by June 2001, complete a review of the appointment and promotion procedures of the NI Senior Civil Service, with a view to tackling under-representation as quickly and effectively as possible.

2.2.2

We will address the needs of victims

In seeking to create a new future, and as an important part of addressing human rights, it is important that special attention is paid to the needs of those who have been most directly affected by the violence of the last 30 years. The needs of victims and survivors are complex, ranging from coping with serious injury through to physical and emotional trauma, along with dealing with often adverse economic circumstances. We aim, through meeting victims' needs, to promote models of community healing (both within and between communities) and to enable growth in confidence and empowerment for individual victims and survivors.

Actions

We will take the following actions:

  • by April 2001, put in place a cross-departmental strategy for ensuring that the needs of victims are met through effective, high quality help and services. This will be facilitated by an inter-departmental working group on victims;

  • by April 2001, ensure that capacity building takes place among victims' groups and also, importantly, among policy makers, to raise awareness of victims' issues;

  • by April 2001, ensure that contact has been made with as many victims' groups and individuals as possible and that a publicity exercise will have been carried out to inform the community about the presence and aims of the Victims Unit;

  • by April 2002, assess what improvements to services for victims have taken place and what further steps need to be taken; and

  • on-going collaboration and liaison with the Northern Ireland Office will ensure that close attention is paid to possible gaps in service delivery.

2.3

Tackling Poverty and Social Disadvantage

2.3.1

We will combat social exclusion and poverty, with a particular emphasis on children

Poverty has for too long blighted the lives of individuals and whole communities. We are committed to tackling both its causes and its effects. Our New TSN policy seeks to focus the activities of departments and agencies to address deprivation. We will in particular ensure that housing, social security, education and training programmes and social services are properly co-ordinated. We will work to combat unemployment and differentials in employment rates. We will also work for the advancement of women in economic and public life.

We will therefore:

  • implement all targets and actions in the New TSN Action Plans, updating them in 2001 and 2002, and publishing Annual Reports on progress; and
  • through the Promoting Social Inclusion dimension of TSN, identify ways of tackling factors which can cause social exclusion which need a cross-departmental approach.

Actions

For example, the following actions will be taken:

  • the Executive will bring forward proposals to introduce free travel on public transport for older people;
  • by April 2002, we will implement the reform of Child Support;
  • by March 2004, we will implement fully the ONE initiative, involving DSD, DHFETE and other Government Agencies in providing joined up welfare and employment services in all areas of Northern Ireland;
  • by April 2004, we will assist the Inland Revenue to implement the Integrated Child Credit to provide increased financial support for people on low incomes;
  • by March 2002, we will ensure that the provision of Social Security services respects and responds to the diverse needs of ethnic and minority groups;
  • from 2001, we will help households suffering from fuel poverty by introducing a new energy efficiency grants scheme designed to improve the insulation and heating standards of their dwellings;
  • in 2001/02, we will establish a taskforce on Employability to drive forward action to increase employability and reduce long-term unemployment. This group will focus on the factors that make people employable, not just knowledge, skills and motivation but also considerations such as childcare and readiness or ability to travel to find work;
  • from 2001, we will develop appropriate permanent accommodation which best meets Travellers' needs by:

    1. the NI Housing Executive taking over responsibility for serviced sites; and
    2. funding the provision of pilot group housing schemes by Housing Associations;

  • we will ensure appropriate measures are taken to address the educational needs of Traveller children and children from other ethnic minorities.

2.3.2

We will work to provide high quality affordable social housing for those on low incomes

We are committed to ensuring that appropriate, accessible and high quality housing is available, especially for those in highest social need. We will ensure that existing housing is best adapted to meet the requirements of those with special needs.

Actions

We will take the following actions:

  • continue a replacement programme designed to:

    1. provide more affordable and effective heating systems and
    2. upgrade kitchens and bathrooms of Housing Executive tenants;

  • sustain the current level of co-ownership activity which enables 570 families on low incomes to gain a foothold on the home ownership ladder each year;
  • from 2002, increase the number of families who can purchase their houses from Housing Associations by compensating Associations for discounts on sales (36 per annum); and
  • from 2001, increase the number of adaptations to existing buildings to make them accessible to people with disabilities by providing funding to the Housing Executive to enable 1,500 major adaptations to be carried out.

2.4

The renewal of the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods

2.4.1

We will work to regenerate our towns, cities and rural areas, particularly the most disadvantaged

We will take a co-ordinated approach to breathing new life into our towns, cities and rural communities, especially those which have become most depressed through social disadvantage, the difficulties facing agriculture or the effects of conflict. It is important that this regeneration works in partnership with local communities, seeks to develop local integrated approaches (using mechanisms such as "City Visioning") and develops opportunities for building the social economy. We will use EU Community Initiatives, LEADER + and URBAN II, to strengthen our approach.

Actions

We will take the following actions:

  • by early 2001, launch our new strategy for urban regeneration;
  • by 2001, consult on and begin to deliver comprehensive regeneration strategies for the most disadvantaged communities in our two major cities with the objective of reducing social and economic disadvantage in such areas;
  • from 2001, begin to put in place partnerships of the community, voluntary, private and public sectors in the most deprived urban areas as Neighbourhood Regeneration Taskforces with the objective of reducing social and economic disadvantage in such areas;
  • by 2001, under URBAN II, in partnership with the local community, launch a regeneration initiative;
  • during 2001, complete the review of the formula for the calculation of the resources element of the General Exchequer Grant to district councils to take account of relative socio-economic disadvantage;
  • by 2001, agree a strategy for reinvigorating city and town centres across Northern Ireland;
  • under the new Rural Development Programme, target disadvantage and continue to give priority to projects, programmes and strategies which address identified needs aimed at equalising economic and social opportunities across the rural areas; and
  • under LEADER+, develop cross-border network links, alongside the cross-border component of PEACE II. We will also work with our Irish partners to develop and enhance different sectors of the rural economy and rural society on a cross-border basis, in particular under a rural regeneration measure under INTERREG III.

2.4.2

We will sustain and enhance local communities

Our voluntary and community sectors have a particular strength and vibrancy. We are committed to working with them to improve the quality of life for all our people. Strong communities are central to economic, social and cultural development.

We will take action to develop the necessary community infrastructure in the most disadvantaged areas and where it is weakest, encouraging people to take responsibility in and for their own communities, increasing community activity, broadening the volunteering base and generally reinforcing the development of sustainable and inclusive communities. We will seek to review and monitor the likely impact of decisions by Government and its agencies, and any other factors, on the integrity and viability of traditional and distinct communities and neighbourhoods, both urban and rural.

Actions

We will implement the following actions:

  • from 2001, introduce a programme of action and support to strengthen areas of weakest community infrastructure, with the objective of reducing social and economic disadvantage;
  • continue to work with regional voluntary organisations in the field of advice services to improve access particularly for those in deprived areas;
  • from 2001, encourage and support greater community participation, particularly from those groups under-represented in volunteering activities, to increase the number of active community groups and volunteers;
  • by 2001, put in place locally based partnerships to administer the Partnership Priority III of the Peace II Programme with the objective of increasing reconciliation and reducing multiple social and economic disadvantage;
  • by 2001, develop our programme of grant aid to the Housing Rights Service and the Northern Ireland Tenants' Action Programme to provide advice, support, information and training on a wide range of housing issues which will help strengthen the areas of weakest community infrastructure across Northern Ireland;
  • by April 2002, produce a strategy for the development of centres of curiosity and imagination, establishing 4 centres to provide co-ordinated, community-based progammes for maximising individual creativity;
  • by April 2002, implement a plan with the Arts Council to target support which will tackle barriers to participation in the arts by socially disadvantaged people;
  • by June 2001, establish a forum to co-ordinate and promote the cultural arts and leisure dimension to the "Cultural Quarter" concept of designated areas for locating cultural activity with a view to creating synergy and co-operation;
  • by April 2001, produce a strategy for developing community-based arts and by June 2001 work with District Councils to enable them to develop integrated local plans for culture, arts and leisure;
  • by April 2002, widen community access to information by developing the role of libraries as community information hubs; and
  • extend the interim Safe Sports Grounds scheme to improve physical infrastructure of sporting facilities.

2.5

Tackling the divisions

2.5.1

We will work to improve community relations

We will place renewed emphasis on the need for all our people to work together. We will examine the impact of existing patterns of housing and services such as education and seek to respond positively where people wish to live and learn closer together. However, there is no simple panacea for the divisions in our society. We will however be undertaking the following initiatives:

Actions

We will implement the following actions:

  • by 2003, review and put in place a cross-departmental strategy for the promotion of community relations, leading to measurable improvements in Community Relations;
  • by 2001, implement new viability criteria to help promote integrated education; and
  • promote the concept of citizenship among children and young people as part of their personal and social development through a revised school curriculum.

2.5.2

We will respect, support and celebrate cultural and linguistic diversity

People value their different identities and their cultural and linguistic diversity. Building dialogue, mutual understanding and trust among our people must be the immediate priority. By December 2001, in accordance with the Agreement, we will for example develop a policy in respect to linguistic diversity, which includes Irish, Ulster Scots, ethnic minority languages and British and Irish Sign Languages. We will also take forward the work of the North/South Language Body.

Actions

We will also implement the following actions:

  • by April 2001, make key information available in languages other than English through the development of services for Irish and Ulster Scots in support of the Charter for Regional or Minority Languages;
  • by 2001, implement new viability criteria to help promote Irish-medium education;
  • by 2001, extend the Diversity 21 initiative to promote greater respect and understanding of our cultural diversity and shared heritage, including Northern Ireland's maritime and industrial heritage through participation in cultural and leisure activities; and
  • during 2001, develop an Environment and Heritage Service Education Strategy which includes specific measures to target disadvantaged communities and groups.

The departments with the main involvement are:

    Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister
    Department for Social Development
    Department of Education
    Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure
    Department of Agriculture and Rural Development
    Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment
    Department for Regional Development
    Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment
    Department of Finance and Personnel



Contents     Preface     Consultation
Chapter 1     Chapter 2     Chapter 3     Chapter 4     Chapter 5     Chapter 6     Chapter 7
Annex A     Annex B     Annex C

 


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