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Reflections on the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration Policy Document The new strategy for cohesion, sharing and

integration isnƞt all bad, contrary to some of the feedback received so far during its extensive consultation process. It has generated interest, advanced the debate and contains many interesting concepts that will help take forward the sharing agenda. It does contain things to commend. Assuming the strategy doesnƞt go in to long term hibernation after this consultation process, there are, however, at least four essential ingredients that need some further work done. 1 There needs to be an adequate and properly resourced implementation structure. It is a little strange the implementation structure comes at the very end of the CSI document. The focus of those delivery options needs some further reflection. There is a significant need for a body that drives forward cohesion and sharing, and the body needs to be independent of government. It also needs adequately resourced and appropriatel y positioned to have a real impact on joined up thinking and cross sectoral and cross Departmental collabora tion. The position of a body like the CRC needs strengthened ƛ and the CRCƞs contribution to Northern Ireland over its lifetime should be properly acknowledged and credited. There also needs to be a real commitment to what can be delivered locally, where real change can be effected. The lack of detail on how local authorities do, and can further contribute to moving the agenda forward is disappointing. 2 The document needs to sharpen, strengthen and rationalise its short, medium and long term goals and the overall vision. When a short term goal is to develop shared space while long term goals include encouraging shared neighbourhoods and dealing wit h issues such as flags, there is clearly more work to be done. More importantly even than that, while the strategy does recognise the importance of leadership, it could say more about how political parties and elected representatives play a critical role locally and regionally in providing leadership. One of the most common comments at a community level is about how people can be expected to respect each other on-the-ground when leaders donƞt seem to respect each other in various representative chambers. 3 The document needs to commit further to making cross sectoral and cross Departmental collaboration real. The document refers to other policies and how the CSI strategy will touch on them. However, there needs to be a strong legal obligation placed throu ghout government to participate, similar to what would be required to a make a community planning process work. While a Ministerial Panel may make a contribution to aiding cross-Departmental co-operation, it will not in itself make it happen.
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The need, therefore, for the various recommendations to have more definite outcomes and refer to the necessary cross policy and Departmental linkage is necessary. For example, the CSI document emphasises the need for community renewal, building community capacity and building relationships between young people and the community, all of which are key outcomes for ongoing programmes such as Neighbourhood Renewal. Yet improving cohesion and sharing are not key outcomes for Neighbourhood Renewal.

There are many good id eas and programmes in the CSI document but to advance the agenda it needs to get the implementation structures and leadership right, and to make cross sectoral and inter-Department collaboration real. Visioning and driving cohesion and sharing are not prerogatives only for political leaders because politics and politicians are not the only cause of division, nor the only contributors to the answers to division. That is why the agenda should be led and driven by civic society not just a Ministerial Panel. An independent and politically impartial body drawn from civic society is a critical requirement for driving forward the cohesion, integration and sharing agenda. Peter Osborne

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