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A Shared Future: A Consultation Paper on Improving Relations in Northern Ireland, by the Community Relations Unit (January 2003)

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A Shared Future


A Consultation Paper
on Improving Relations in Northern Ireland
January 2003


Community Relations Unit
Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister

A Shared Future





Community Relations Unit
Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister
Room A5.18
Castle Buildings






Policy Aims - What should our vision for Northern Ireland be?

Fundamental Principles

Implications for Action

Monitoring and Evaluation


How to respond to this document

Annex A: Equality Impact

Annex B: Origin and development of current policy

Annex C: Bibliography




Building trust and confidence between and within communities and tackling sectarianism are key priorities for the Government. Northern Ireland remains a deeply divided society, with patterns of division that have become ingrained. There are many reasons for this including fear, mistrust and, in many cases, a weary acceptance of patterns of living that have developed over many years in response to conflict. The overall effect is that, all too often, the choices that people can make are limited – choices of where to live, where to work, or what services to use. Of course, I recognise that there are people who wish to live separately from other communities, and that it is not possible to force sharing. However, I want to encourage and promote a shared society, and to ensure that those who would choose this are not bound by the shackles of the past. Dealing with this is not a simple exercise and there are no quick fixes on offer. A new thrust to significantly improve relationships within our society will require a long-term commitment from Government, with the associated investment of time, resources and effort. But Government cannot do what is necessary on its own. Communities must be empowered to address these challenges, guided by community leaders, including politicians.

I want to see the earliest possible return to devolution, so that politicians from Northern Ireland can get to grips with these issues. However, there is an important job to be done now, in generating and encouraging dialogue and debate on the future shape of community relations policy. That is why I have published this consultation document. This marks the beginning of a broadly based and inclusive consultation process involving key stakeholders such as political parties, elected representatives and public authorities, through to local community groups and individuals. Churches and other faith-based organisations will have a particularly important role to play. Above all, I am seeking views from people throughout Northern Ireland on the practical steps that need to be taken in the short, medium and long term to improve relations.

I recognise that there may be a range of ideas and proposals for how we might move forward, and I would welcome views and suggestions. Following this consultation, a new cross-Departmental strategy and framework will be introduced to promote better relationships between and within communities in Northern Ireland, and to ensure that effective and co-ordinated responses to sectarian and racial intimidation are made.

I look forward to receiving your responses.

Des Browne MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State
at the Northern Ireland Office

January 2003



1.1 Our vision for Northern Ireland is of a peaceful society in which everyone can freely and fully participate, achieve their full potential, and live free from poverty. We want a fair and effective system of government, underpinned by rights that are guaranteed for all, and responsibilities that all must share. We wish to support dialogue, and to foster mutual understanding and respect for diversity.

Policy context

1.2 In order to achieve this vision we must deal with the very deep and painful divisions in our society that have been exacerbated by more than 30 years of conflict. Some progress has been made, but there is clear evidence that deep divisions remain.

  • Violence at interfaces between communities continues to affect lives, property, businesses and public services.

  • Whilst levels of tolerance and respect for diversity within the Protestant and Catholic Communities had been improving, there is evidence that they have decreased recently.

  • Housing has become more segregated over the last 20 years. More than 70% of Housing Executive Estates are more than 90% Protestant or more than 90% Roman Catholic.

  • Around 95% of children still attend separated schools. Despite evidence that more parents would prefer this option, there has only been a small increase in the number of children attending integrated schools.

  • There are high levels of racial prejudice in Northern Ireland and the situation has recently become worse. The rate of racial incidents here is estimated at 16.4 per 1000 non-white population, compared to 12.65 per 1000 in England and Wales.

  • There is little change in the extent of inter-community friendship patterns.

  • In some urban areas further divisions are emerging within local communities. This is linked to paramilitary influence, especially at interfaces.

  • People’s lives continue to be shaped by community division. Research suggests that, in some areas, community division plays a large part in the choices that people make about where they work, and how they use leisure facilities and public services.

1.3 In summary, Northern Ireland remains a deeply segregated society with little indication of progress towards becoming more tolerant or inclusive.

1.4 There are many reasons for this, including the legacy of conflict and the fear of renewed violence, mistrust, a concern to maintain cultural identity, and an acceptance of patterns of division that have built up over time and which are difficult to change. We recognise that there may be significant numbers of people both Protestant and Roman Catholic, who, whilst bearing no ill-will, would not yet be comfortable with greater integration of communities.

The Government’s response

1.5 After decades of conflict, there are deep divisions in Northern Ireland. There are many communities in which people have been unable to lift themselves out of the spiral of economic, social and environmental decline and in which day-to-day existence is marked out by poverty, unemployment, depression and division. There are no quick fixes to this problem – a new thrust to improve relationships within society here will require a long term commitment from Government, with the associated investment of time, resources and effort.

1.6 This is a commitment the Government is ready to give. It is determined to prioritise the development of a new policy and strategy to promote good relations and tackle sectarianism. In addition, it will focus on the development of a co-ordinated plan of short-term action across government and key agencies to address the most pressing problems, including action to support the capacity of local communities to improve the environment in which they live and specifically to tackle the manifestations of sectarianism that disfigure so many areas.

1.7 In setting out our priorities and plans for 2003 to 2006, we have restated the earlier commitment made by the Northern Ireland Executive, to put in place by December 2003 a new policy and strategy to promote good relations and tackle sectarianism.

We believe that in moving forward, we should aim for:

  • a shared society in which people are encouraged to make choices in their lives that are not bound by historical divisions and are free to do so; and

  • a pluralist society, with respect and tolerance for cultural diversity, where people are free to assert their identity.

    No one is arguing for an artificially homogeneous Northern Ireland, and no one will be asked to give up or suppress their chosen identity. We recognise the views of those who do not wish to have closer integration of communities. However, we believe that a shared and pluralist society should be encouraged, and people who want to live in such a society should have that choice – a choice that is currently limited.

1.8 As a first step, Northern Ireland Executive Ministers asked Dr Jeremy Harbison to review current community relations policies and to assess their impacts and achievements.

1.9 The Policy Review considered the effectiveness and impact of these policies, including the Community Relations Council, the District Council Community Relations Programme, the work of the Central Community Relations Unit and initiatives in education and other areas.

1.10 The review found that much valuable work had been done, with many people investing significant energy and effort. However, current policies have had relatively limited effect on broader divisions in society or levels of tolerance. The review concluded that, in the light of the changed political and wider environment, there was a need fundamentally to reconsider current policies and programmes.


1.11 We have considered Dr Harbison’s review and concluded that our policy aims and the mechanisms used to achieve them need to change. We need a new policy that reflects the political, economic and social environment that is envisaged in the Belfast Agreement. We must be clear about what we are trying to achieve, how we will go about it, and how we will measure progress. Our new policy must be long-term and strategic, based on a clear vision, values, principles and objectives. Above all, it must tackle the fundamental divisions in our society directly.

1.12 This consultation paper aims to do two things. First and foremost, we want to stimulate the widest possible debate on what the fundamental aims and objectives for our policy should be, and the principles that should underpin that policy. These issues are addressed in chapters 2 and 3. Most importantly, we need to hear the views of the people of Northern Ireland about the type of society that people wish to live in.

1.13 Secondly, we are also seeking views on our proposals for measures and actions that we should take to achieve these aims and objectives. This is covered in chapter 4. Clearly, this will depend on the conclusions reached about policy aims, objectives and principles.

1.14 We recognise that there may be other ideas and proposals for how we might move forward. We would welcome views or suggestions for alternative approaches. In the next stage, following consultation, a new cross-Departmental strategy and framework will be introduced to promote better relationships in Northern Ireland, and to ensure that effective and co-ordinated responses to sectarian and racial intimidation are made.

1.15 We hope that devolution will be restored, and that the new strategy and framework will be taken forward by Northern Ireland politicians, taking account of the outcome of this consultation. We regard it as important to get discussion and debate underway now, as part of the process of building trust and confidence.

1.16 This consultation process will be broadly based and inclusive, involving key stakeholders such as political parties, elected representatives, public authorities, and local community groups. Churches and other faith-based organisations will have a particularly important role to play.



2.1 The aims of policy must be clear, unambiguous and specific. We believe a fundamental decision must be taken as to the overall aim for good relations policy in Northern Ireland. We must ask ourselves the question: what should our vision for Northern Ireland be?

2.2 We could accept that the existing pattern of segregation and division is likely to remain for some time, and focus our efforts on stabilising and managing the worst consequences of division, both between and within the two main communities.

2.3 Alternatively, we could try to promote more rapid progress towards a more integrated and shared society.

2.4 Our strong belief is that Northern Ireland must become a society where there is equality, respect for diversity and a recognition that we are interdependent on each other. We believe the aim of policy must, therefore, be to develop a more shared and pluralist society.

Have your say?

Do you agree that the overall aim for policy must be for a more shared but pluralist society?

Specific Policy Aims

2.5 We are also proposing a number of more specific aims or outcomes for policy to promote better relations:

  • to support the development of integrated/shared communities where people wish to learn, live, work and play together;

  • to encourage communication, tolerance and trust in areas where communities are living apart;

  • to promote respect, encouragement and celebration of different cultures, faiths and traditions;

  • to eliminate sectarianism and racism and to enable individuals to live and work without fear or intimidation;

  • to reduce tension and conflict at interface areas; and

  • to shape policies, practices and institutions to enable trust and good relations to grow.

Have your say:

What do you think should be the main policy aims and outcomes which should drive the new approach to promoting good relations in society?



3.1 We need to consider a number of fundamental principles which we believe should underpin any policies, strategies or actions undertaken.

3.2 Acknowledgement of the Problem. There must be an acceptance that the issue of the division between and within communities, whilst not unique to Northern Ireland, is a major and continuing problem. These divisions are the manifestations of deeply rooted mistrust and suspicion that extends into almost every facet of our daily lives.

3.3 Leadership. Leadership is fundamental to change. Action to promote good relations will require leadership from Government, elected and community representatives.

3.4 The need for long-term, cross-Government and co-ordinated action. A new thrust to significantly improve relationships within our society will require a long-term commitment from Government, with the associated investment of time, resources and effort. Policies and decisions must be developed and delivered on a cross-Government, co-ordinated and joined-up basis.

3.5 Widespread ownership and engagement. A new strategy must engage and be owned by all sectors of Northern Ireland society. Key stakeholders such as elected representatives, the private sector, public authorities, local community groups, trades unions, churches and other faith-based organisations will have an important role to play.

3.6 The importance of local action. Government action alone will not heal divisions. Individuals and communities must recognise and accept responsibility for action and change. This is especially the case in those areas that have experienced the most serious effects of conflict and deprivation. It is not good enough to expect these communities – in some cases the weakest in our society – to sort out our most difficult problems alone. Therefore, Government must act in partnership with local communities.

3.7 Targeting. Specific action at local and community level should:

  • focus on areas with a high incidence or history of poor relations and conflict and deprivation, especially at interfaces between communities;

  • include action focused on children and young people; and

  • support communities that have developed and maintained good relations, and support and encourage good practice.

3.8 However, this must be balanced by a recognition that division exists throughout Northern Ireland. Targeted action should be complemented by action to promote good relations in society as a whole.

3.9 The broader perspective. The Belfast Agreement recognises and values the work being done by many organisations to develop reconciliation and mutual understanding and respect between and within communities and traditions, in Northern Ireland, and between North and South. Community relationships in Northern Ireland do not exist in isolation; they are part of a broader complex of relationships, cross-border, North-South and East-West. The development of a strategic framework to promote good relations in Northern Ireland should take full account of these relationships, and support the work of organisations working for reconciliation within this complex of relationships.

Have your say:

What do you think ought to be the principles upon which a new approach to promoting good relations in Northern Ireland should be based?



4.1 If we accept the aims and principles outlined in this document, there will be a clear need for action. There must be short, medium and long-term actions to tackle the outward symptoms of division, as well as the underlying lack of trust and sectarian attitudes.

4.2 Some of the action that we take will focus directly on tackling poor relations between and within communities, especially where trust and confidence has broken down. For example, local communities must be supported and assisted to find local solutions and local accommodations. To achieve this, communities need the capacity and the confidence to work in partnership with other communities and agencies. Therefore, priority will be given to building and maintaining capacity and developing positive leadership within communities, and to encouraging dialogue between communities.

4.3 Other action will be indirect. Effective action in areas such as neighbourhood renewal/regeneration and promoting social inclusion can make a major contribution to improving relations.

4.4 We propose that action is required at local level, at regional level, and within Government. These issues are considered in more detail below. We recognise that there may be other models and proposals on how we might move forward, and we would welcome views.

Action by the Equality Commission

4.5 In addition, the Equality Commission, which has responsibilities on good relations, will have an important role to play. The Commission has a duty to offer advice to public authorities and others in connection with the statutory equality and good relations duties under section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (the Act). It is also required to keep under review the effectiveness of these duties. The Commission also has a statutory duty under the Race Relations Order 1997 to promote good relations between persons of different racial groups.

4.6 The Equality Commission has issued a guide to the implementation of the section 75 statutory duties, and is committed to reviewing and updating this guide. In this context, the Commission should consider, in consultation with public authorities and others, what further advice and guidance it might issue on the statutory duty concerning good relations under section 75(2) of the Act.

Local action

4.7 Local government should play the central role in developing and co-ordinating action at local level to promote better relations and to manage conflict and community division.

4.8 Successive evaluations of the District Council Community Relations Programme have highlighted the value of action at district council level, and the excellent work done by Community Relations Officers. However, the evaluations also suggest that the current programme, which is renewable every three years, needs to be replaced by an enhanced, permanent new programme, with additional funding and high level support. We suggest that, under the new arrangements, District Councils should develop and deliver co-ordinated programmes to promote better relations across their areas. These programmes should be linked to the development of their Community Support Plans, local integrated strategies and to the work of the Local Strategy Partnerships.

4.9 Funding for the new arrangements should be targeted in two ways. Firstly, those areas and communities that have experienced the greatest effects of conflict and deprivation, should receive particular attention and support. Secondly, funding should be used to support communities that have been successful in developing and maintaining good relations, as well as to maintain good practice and encourage its development.

4.10 There is a continuing need to build the capacity of local communities to enable them to identify and express their needs, to build partnerships between and within communities, and to engage in the ownership, development and implementation of programmes to meet these needs. This is particularly the case at interface areas where conflict and tension between communities is most marked.

Have your say:

What action needs to be taken at local Government and community level to underpin the development of good relations between and within communities?

Action at regional level

4.11 This section considers what additional measures are required at regional level to support action across the wider community on developing and promoting better relationships; to support new initiatives of regional significance, but lacking a specific local base; and to hold district councils to account for their responsibilities.

4.12 We propose that there are a number of key functions that need to be carried out at a regional level. These include:

  • effective oversight of, and action to support local councils;

  • providing a challenge function to Government, and district councils;

  • monitoring the implementation of community relations policies and strategies;

  • providing training and development, support, advice, guidance and a source of specialist expertise to district councils;

  • developing and producing good practice guidance;

  • increasing public awareness of, and encouraging debate on, community relations matters;

  • commissioning and carrying out research;

  • funding community and voluntary organisations to provide core community relations capacity and targeted innovative programmes.

4.13 At present, some of these functions are well developed, but others are less so. Some are the responsibility of the Community Relations Council, which is an independent organisation. Others are the responsibility of the Community Relations Unit, which is part of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM). We think it would be preferable to bring these regional functions together in one place. We would welcome views on how this might be done and, in particular, whether the functions should be located within Government or at arm’s length from Government, for example, in an independent body. In either case, new legislation would probably be required to ensure that the functions could be discharged thoroughly and effectively.

Centralise functions within Government

4.14 This could be achieved by bringing all of the functions together within Government. Those responsible for delivering the functions would be civil servants, directly accountable to Ministers and the Assembly. These arrangements could provide a very powerful challenge function to government departments, district councils and other public authorities.

4.15 This option would require Government to take on a range of functions that it does not currently carry out, and for which most of the expertise is currently outside Government. This option would also mean less day-to-day operational independence, and less scope for innovation and risk taking than would be the case for an independent body.

An independent body

4.16 As an alternative, the functions could be brought together in an independent body such as the Community Relations Council, or a new statutory authority. The key features of this option would be the mirror image of the previous option. Such a body, operating at arm’s length from government would have less direct accountability to Ministers and the Assembly than a Government Department. An independent body could exercise a powerful challenge function, but may have less direct influence on government policy than a Government Department.

4.17 Independent status could mean more flexibility for innovation and risk taking and day-to-day operational independence.

Have your say:

What functions do you think should be carried out at regional level?

Should these functions be delivered within Government or by an independent body, such as the Community Relations Council or a new statutory authority?

Central government

4.18 Irrespective of whether the regional functions described above are located within Government or outside Government, there are other actions that Government should take in order to improve relations. Section 75(2) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 places a duty on Government Departments and other public authorities to have regard to the desirability of promoting good relations. Many different Government policies can contribute to improving relations. Specific actions will be taken in areas such as housing, education and community development. In addition, policy decisions in other areas such as planning and land use, transport, training, and investment and support for the economy can have a direct bearing on relationships between communities. Therefore, it is important that the effect on relations is taken into account as a key factor in all such decisions.

4.19 Government will look for ways to improve the targeting of existing expenditure on community relations and community development, and will examine the scope for providing additional resources to support the implementation of the new policy framework.

4.20 We are proposing a number of recommendations for action within Government.

4.21 A cross-Departmental Group has already been established to lead on action to promote better relations. The Group is chaired at Ministerial level and includes senior officials from key departments, representatives form local government, the Housing Executive, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and the Community Relations Council.

4.22 This Group should lead the development of an over-arching Strategic Plan for the Executive with associated actions and targets to promote good relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion or race. The plan would focus on the key strategic aims identified in Chapter 2 and harness the efforts of a wide range of partners across the statutory, voluntary and community and private sectors in the delivery of actions.

4.23 The Group should be supported by strengthened resources within OFMDFM which, working with all Departments, would:

  • develop the Strategic Plan with associated actions and targets engaging all Departments as appropriate;

  • ensure that actions are aligned within and across Departments; facilitate the development of new policy initiatives to promote good relations;

  • support local level initiatives;

  • develop in association with the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) a framework for monitoring and evaluating the impact of the strategy and associated actions;

  • monitor and review the development of the strategy and its impacts; and

  • challenge Departments and other public authorities where appropriate, especially regarding any policies or decisions coming to the Executive which might influence the development of good relations.

4.24 All Departments should contribute to the new Strategic Plan on actions within their respective areas of responsibility to promote better relations, in particular the following:

4.25 The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) should assume explicit responsibility for leading actions to develop an appreciation of and respect for the cultural diversity which so enriches society in Northern Ireland. This could include:

  • ‘mainstreaming’ cultural diversity into all policies;

  • building support for cultural diversity into grant schemes and training programmes.

4.26 The Department of Education should lead on coordinated action involving schools, teacher training, curricular development and the Youth Service to promote better relations among children and young people, including:

  • placing the good relations dimension of citizenship at the core of the new school curriculum;

  • encouraging and facilitating integrated education, and promoting a culture of tolerance and reconciliation across the whole education system;

  • enhancing the contribution of teacher education to the promotion of tolerance and reconciliation; and

  • developing a strategy for the education service’s response to the impact of civil unrest.

4.27 The Department for Social Development (DSD) should lead on action to support and facilitate greater sharing in housing and through the Voluntary and Community Unit should promote the development of communities particularly geared to areas of weak community infrastructure and lack of social capital. This could include:

  • increasing support for communities living in integrated housing;

  • making the promotion of good relations a prime objective of the Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy;

  • Prioritising the development of shared spaces and facilities in town centres.

4.28 To facilitate developments at local level, Government should seek to achieve a more integrated approach between its community development and good relations responsibilities, with a strengthening of the formal links between the work of the Voluntary and Community Unit (DSD) and the Community Relations Unit of OFMDFM.

4.29 The taskforce being established by the Department for Social Development should consider the importance of good relations work when identifying mechanisms to promote the sustainability of the sector.

4.30 The Department for Regional Development (DRD), through the implementation of the Regional Development Strategy, will seek to foster development which contributes to better community relations, recognises cultural diversity and reduces socio-economic differentials within Northern Ireland (Regional Development Strategy, September 2001, Strategic Planning Guidelines SPG-SRC 3).

4.31 In addition, in implementing the Regional Transportation Strategy, the Department will contribute to the promotion of equality of opportunity, to tackling factors leading to social need and social exclusion and to promoting good relations between the communities in Northern Ireland (Regional Transportation Strategy, July 2002, page 144).

4.32 The Department of the Environment undertakes all its designated functions within the framework of economic, environmental, social and community sustainability. Through the preparation of planning policy and development plans by the Planning Service, the Department seeks to facilitate development that promotes good community relations and social inclusion and contributes to the promotion of equality of opportunity.

4.33 The Northern Ireland Office, with its responsibilities for community safety and combating sectarian crime, should contribute to the cross-Departmental action.

Have your say?

What action do you think central government should take to improve relations?



5.1 Assessing the impact and effectiveness of actions and interventions to improve community relations presents serious practical and methodological difficulties. However, not enough has been done up to now. Monitoring, evaluation and review of the impact of the new strategy must be an integral part of the strategy itself.

5.2 A basic monitoring framework should be developed by NISRA in consultation with relevant bodies as an integral part of the strategic plan. Taking this framework and independent evaluation into account, formal evaluation of the programme should be the responsibility of those charged with maintaining the objectives of the plan. Evaluation and monitoring should form the background to regular public review.

Have your say:

How do you think that a new strategy for improving community relations ought to be monitored?



6.1 We still face major difficulties, especially the extent of divisions and conflict remaining within our society and its associated sectarianism and racism. These are a major barrier preventing us becoming the tolerant, inclusive and effective society to which we all aspire.

6.2 The present proposals are designed to recognise, identify and challenge these barriers. This will help us to achieve a more cohesive and mature society, recognising our inter-dependence and working together for a better future. We welcome and look forward to your views on these proposals.



7.1 This consultation paper seeks your views on the key principles upon which a new strategy to promote good relations will be based and the desired vision for our society with its associated policy aims and objectives.

7.2 We also want views on a series of actions proposed at central government,at regional and at local and community level which are designed to improve relations in our society.

7.3 Views on the equality impact of our proposals are also sought (see Annex A).

7.4 The consultation period will last until 31 July 2003.

7.5 To respond to this consultation paper, please send your comments in writing to:

Stephen Hill
Room A 5.10
Castle Buildings
or e-mail to:

This paper is being sent to MPs, MLAs, key statutory agencies and a wide range of voluntary and community organisations. If you require additional copies of the consultation paper, please contact the above address or telephone Freephone 0800 7837210. The paper is also available on our website:

7.6 Alternative formats of the consultation paper, including large type, audiotape or sign language video, will be made available on request by contacting the above address or telephone numbers.

7.7 It will be important for everyone in Northern Ireland to have a chance to contribute to the new strategy and framework, and for all communities in Northern Ireland to have a sense of ownership of the proposals. We will hold a series of workshops with political parties, churches, community organisations and other key stakeholders during the consultation period to seek active participation in the development of these proposals.

7.8 The closing date for comments is 31 July 2003. All comments will be treated as confidential unless otherwise indicated in your response. All comments received will be considered when developing this strategy and a summary of responses will be issued to all those who reply to this consultation. The summary will also be placed on our website.

7.9 Thank you for your interest in this consultation paper. We look forward to receiving your comments.

Equality Impact

7.10 We have included, at Annex A, an initial assessment of the equality impact of our proposals. We regard equality of opportunity and good relations as complementary and believe that good relations cannot be based on inequality between different communities or ethnic groups. We believe that our proposals, which aim to promote improved relationships, will also promote greater social cohesion and equality of opportunity for everyone in Northern Ireland.

7.11 Through the consultation process on the proposals in this paper, we also want to consult on their equality impact. Taking account of views expressed during this public consultation, an Equality Impact Assessment will be completed. This will be taken into account and inform final decisions on the new policy and framework.





1. Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which came into force on 1 February 2000, states:

(1) "A public authority shall in carrying out is functions relating to Northern Ireland, have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity;

(a) between persons of different religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, marital status or sexual orientation;

(b) between men and women generally;

(c) between persons with a disability and persons without and

(d) between persons with dependants and persons without.

(2) Without prejudice to its obligations above, a public authority shall in carrying out its functions relating to Northern Ireland, have regard to the desirability of promoting good relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group."

2. In line with commitments in its approved Equality Scheme, the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister is committed to adhering to the principles of Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 when reviewing and developing policy.

Consideration of available data and research

3. Accurate and current statistics on issues relevant to community relations policy are not easy to obtain. Evidence and research considered in the assessment of the extent and nature of community divisions in Northern Ireland (see chapter 1.2 and Annex B) is of value in considering whether such community divisions do impact differentially on groups covered by Section 75.

4. In the Policy Review upon which this consultation paper is developed, extensive preliminary consultation took place with:-

  • Academic researchers working in the area;

  • key statutory bodies (including the Equality Commission, the Community Relations Council, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the NI Housing Executive, the police as well as all Government Departments);

  • voluntary and community groups working in the area of community relations both at regional level and in local areas;

  • ethnic minority representatives;

  • church and faith groups;

  • district council elected representatives and officials;

  • a number of MLAs;

  • the Committee of the Centre.

5. Following these discussions and meetings, almost 90 written submissions were made to the Review Team, including a number of research studies.

Assessments of impact

6. On the basis of an analysis of research findings and our preliminary consultations, there is evidence that the negative effects of current divisions in the community impact differentially on a number of groups covered in Section 75 (see chapter 1.2 in this paper), and in particular on persons of different religious belief, political opinion and racial group.

7. Our view is that the policy proposals contained in this paper should not have any negative impact on equality of opportunity for any of the groups, and as these recommendations are built on Section 75(2) should positively promote good relations between people of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group. In addition, we believe that an improvement in relationships, between and within communities, which is the main policy aim of our proposals, should promote greater social cohesion and equality of opportunity for everyone in Northern Ireland.

Consideration of mitigating measures or alternative policies

8. Since we believe that there should not be any adverse impact, we have not considered mitigation measures and we are of the view that at this time these proposals are the most effective way of promoting equality of opportunity and good relations in the policy area.


9. To enable us to complete an Equality Impact Assessment of our proposals, we are seeking views on their equality impact through this consultation process.

Decision and publication

10. Taking account of this public consultation, the Equality Impact Assessment will be completed and taken into account prior to final decisions by the Executive.

11. A report on the Equality Impact Assessment will be published following final

consideration of the policy proposals by the Executive.

Have your say?

  • are there any other data or information which might be drawn upon to assess equality impact of the proposals in this report?

  • do you consider:

    - that the proposals have any positive or negative equality impacts on any of the groups included within Section 75(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and if so how?

    - that, taking account of existing legislation, there are alternative approaches to the promotion of equality of opportunity in this policy area, and, if so, what are they?

  • Do you have any other comments on the equality impact of these proposals?




1. The term ‘community relations’ originated in the early 1960s in the United Kingdom as a response to the rise of immigration and subsequent pressures on British society. The approach moved from a concentration on integrating newcomers into British culture as rapidly as possible, towards an appreciation of the importance of promoting equality of treatment, human rights and highlighting the distinction between different cultural and national groups.

2. Government policy in Northern Ireland tended to reflect developments in Great Britain and in 1971 a Minister for Community Relations was appointed and a Community Relations Commission established. The Ministry was responsible for advocating policies that would improve community relations and direct resources to areas of social and economic deprivation. After the establishment of the power-sharing Executive in 1974, the Community Relations Commission was disbanded on the basis that the new Executive would fulfil the responsibilities previously undertaken by the Commission. Following the introduction of Direct Rule, responsibility for community relations issues fell to the Department of Education, local government and community and voluntary organisations.

Development of existing policy

3. In the mid-1980s, community relations re-emerged as a priority area for government policy and led to a radical realignment of the structures for taking forward community relations policy and practice.

4. In 1987 a Central Community Relations Unit (CCRU) was established at the centre of government, reporting directly to the Secretary of State. The Unit was given three broad objectives:

  • to ensure that there was equality of opportunity and equity of treatment for everyone in Northern Ireland;

  • to encourage greater contact between different communities in Northern Ireland; and

  • to encourage greater mutual understanding and respect for cultural diversity.

5. A series of policy initiatives followed the formal identification of community relations as a key area for action. These included:

  • in 1987 the establishment of a schools cross-community contact scheme to provide funding to support better contact between Catholic and Protestant young people and to support contact programmes for youth, community and sports groups;

  • in 1989 the Education Reform Order introduced Education for Mutual Understanding (EMU) and Cultural Heritage (CH) to the statutory curriculum and included measures to support the development of integrated education;

  • in 1989 the District Council Community Relations Programme was initiated to develop community relations activity at local level; and

  • in 1990 the Community Relations Council was established as an independent limited company with charitable status, with the aim of helping the people of Northern Ireland recognise and counter the effects of community divisions.

6. These policies reflected a particular time in the history of Northern Ireland when conflict was at its height and political progress was very limited. They were largely short term, and were not based on an overall strategy, vision or values. They lacked a clear statement of what was meant by ‘community relations’ or of what the policies were trying to achieve. Policies were largely ‘indirect’ that is they aimed to improve relations by, for example, increasing cross-community contact, rather than by tackling issues such as segregated housing or education directly.




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Fay, A. J., Morrissey, M. & Smyth, M. (1999) Northern Ireland’s Troubles: the Human Cost. London: Pluto.

Hargie, D. & Dickson, D. (eds) (in press 2002) Researching the troubles: Social Science Perspectives on the Northern Ireland Conflict.

Edinburgh: Mainstream.

Hughes, Joanne & Donnelly, C. (2001) Integrate or Segregate? Ten years of Social Attitudes to Community Relations in Northern Ireland. Research Update 9. Belfast: NI Life and Times Survey.

Jarman, N. (2002) Analysis of Racist Incidents Recorded in NI by the RUC: 1996-1999. OFMDFM Research Branch Report.

Jarman, N. (2002) Managing Disorder – Responding to Interface Violence in North Belfast. OFMDFM Research Branch Report.

McCartney, C. (2002) Comparative Review of Public Policies Towards Improving Inter-Group Relations. OFMDFM Research Branch Report.

N.I. Housing Executive (1999). Towards a Community Relations Strategy – a Consultation Paper. Belfast.

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Shirlow, P. (2002) Fear and Ethnic Division. Peace Studies, Vol. 13(1).

Wagfall–Williams, W. and Robinson, G. (2002) A World Apart: Mixed Marriages in NI. Research Update 8. Belfast: NI Life and Times Survey.


CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.

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