We, the undersigned, are writing this open letter to the First and deputy First Ministers to strongly recommend changes to OFMdFM’s Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration.

The consultation for this strategy closes at the end of this week and we have submitted responses outlining our suggestions to significantly improve the strategy to deliver a truly shared and safer community for us all.

The Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration is supposed to be the strategy from our devolved government that addresses issues of marginalisation and isolation within and throughout Northern Ireland. This document falls short of what is needed. In an environment of excessive cuts to government spending it is imperative that the most vulnerable in our society are protected and measures put in place that delivers for isolated groups.

We believe that a robust strategy is required for the government to deliver on its commitment to break down divisions, foster understanding and deliver reconciliation for us all.

While we fully endorse the need to address sectarianism and racism, it should not be done in isolation from the other significant and equally damaging prejudices that exist in society.

If OFMdFM is to live up to its equality obligations and look for ways of delivering more efficiently, this strategy needs to be extended to include all marginalised groups.

The Programme fails to recognise the ongoing role of women in peace building and conflict resolution. The document denies the need to address issues of homophobia and transphobia in society and the isolation still faced by members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans community in NI. Further to this there is no reference to, or acknowledgement of, people in our society who are living with disabilities.

Overall this strategy needs to have a focus, dedication and vision, recognising the needs and rights of a number of marginalised and isolated groups. With this in mind, we are calling on our MLA’s to support significant amendments to the strategy which would ensure the recognition of issues affecting all marginalised and isolated groups.

If OFMdFM push this strategy through as it stands, it will represent a missed opportunity and creates a hierarchy of minority. While it may adhere to the simple letter of Section 75 part II, it is contrary to the spirit of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement and does not represent an approach that will deliver for all in society, regardless of race, colour, political or religious opinion, age, gender, disability or sexual orientation.

We strongly recommend OFMdFM revisit this strategy and make it an inclusive, comprehensive and workable framework for a truly shared future.

SIGNED:

John O’Doherty

Director

THE RAINBOW PROJECT

http://www.rainbow-project.org/

Annie Campbell

Director

WOMEN’S AID FEDERATION NI

http://www.womensaidni.org/

Etain O’Kane

Director

LESBIAN ADVOCACY SERVICES INITIATIVE

http://www.lasionline.org/

Monica Wilson

Chief Executive

DISABILITY ACTION NI

http://www.disabilityaction.org/

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