Ministers launch consultation over anti-sectarian plans

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The NI first and deputy first ministers have published their proposals for tackling sectarianism, racism and hate.

Progress on the so-called shared future strategy was a key demand from the Alliance Party before its leader, David Ford, agreed to take the job of Justice Minister.

The public is now being asked to consult on the document over the next three months.

The consultation period will run until 29 October 2010.

The document has been delayed for around two years due to disagreements between the DUP and Sinn Fein about how to proceed.

Public meetings on the Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration are also set to take place during September.

The Stormont Executive pledges to urgently address the "physical and community division created by interfaces" as a key goal of the draft strategy published on Tuesday.

Ministers will also be committed to tackling "the visible manifestations of racism, sectarianism, intolerance and other forms of prejudice".

They will also adopt a "zero tolerance" approach to incidences of, and reasons for, attacks motivated by sectarian, religious, racist or hate prejudice.

These include those on symbolic premises, cultural premises and monuments. Another goal is take action which will address sectarian behaviour at spectator sports events.

Stormont

Stormont politicians were criticised for putting the strategy on "the back burner" by Sir Hugh Orde before he stepped down as PSNI Chief Constable last year.

Meanwhile, SDLP assembly member Dolores Kelly said the strategy published for consultation "lacks vision and conviction".

Mrs Kelly said the document "fails to provide clear methods to tackle sectarianism".

Alliance Party assembly member Stephen Farry welcomed the consultation decision.

Mr Farry said: "While doing so, we also recognise that it remains deficient and flawed in a number of respects.

"These include the clarity of the vision and direction for Northern Ireland, the economic and financial dimensions, resourcing and delivery mechanisms, targets and timetables."

Sinn Fein assembly member Martina Anderson said that "there is a need to develop a coherent strategy to tackle sectarianism, racism, homophobia and other forms of hate in our society".

Ms Anderson added: "Equality is the foundation of good relations. We welcome that the document reflects this."

Ulster Unionist assembly member Danny Kennedy said: "I welcome the fact that the first and deputy first minister have finally published their Cohesion Sharing and Integration Strategy after such a long period of stand-off.

"However, I am afraid that many people will be disappointed by the document's content."

Launching the plans, First Minister Peter Robinson said: "We have all come a long way in the past decade and it is important that we now build on the good work that has already been achieved in shaping a better future for everyone.

"We want to build a society where everyone shares in and enjoys the benefits of peace and stability."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: "The draft programme provides the framework for co-ordination across government departments for action against sectarianism, racism and all forms of hate.

"Working together, we will build a shared and better future for all based on fairness, equality, rights, responsibilities and respect."

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