Northern Ireland

Chipping away at bigotry

Electric golf trolleys

So Jonathan Bell has apologised for his "sloppy use of language" in relation to golf club sectarianism.

The speed with which the junior minister performed his U-turn reflected the embarrassment of the DUP over remarks which picked out golf just weeks ahead of the prestigious Irish Open.

Sinn Fein's Martina Anderson hasn't followed suit as yet - a party spokesperson told the BBC's Nolan show that "people shouldn't lose sight" of what the junior ministers were saying.

"They were highlighting the fact that sectarianism exists throughout society in the north," the spokesperson said.

"For too long the finger has been pointed at working class communities and especially, at times, those who live in interface areas.

"This is a debate that we all need to have in order to deal with and overcome sectarianism."

I'm not a golfing enthusiast - the high point of my career to date is once winning a golden coin on the final hole at the Dundonald crazy golf. Yet pinpointing this sport at this particular time appeared strange.

I'm not aware of our children being divided into schools that only offer golf, as opposed to schools that only offer table tennis. However as any parent knows we do have predominantly rugby-playing schools, soccer-playing schools and gaelic-playing schools all of which may have developed their traditions for perfectly valid reasons, but which may have the undesirable side effect of separating our youngsters along either class or religious lines.

On which theme, it seems only fair that having highlighted the ministers' controversial comments at Monday's community relations conference, I should put on record the contribution made by Short Strand community worker Paul McCrory.

'Coocher'

Mr McCrory won a prize for his efforts to ease tensions on the east Belfast interface, work which he carried out just a week after donating a kidney to his young son.

According to the Belfast Mayor Niall Ó Donnghaile, Paul is known locally as "Coocher".

In his acceptance speech Mr McCrory argued forcefully that "we are not going to move forward until we get our children into the same classroom, I don't care what anyone else says".

"The biggest jigsaw in our society is teaching people to live together, and the question I continuously ask is 'How can we hate someone, that we don't know?'", he said.

"We don't know each other. We need to start building a society where we go to school together, we work together and we live together."

Whilst this is a noble aspiration, the Executive parties remain deadlocked about producing a final community relations strategy which it's hoped might chart a way forward.

Indeed Alliance has been drawn into a war of words with the DUP and Sinn Fein over which party is serious about the process and who is responsible for the document's delay.

It's five years since the work on a strategy to replace the direct rule "Shared Future" policy began and two years since the Executive published a much maligned draft.

In his speech to the Community Relations conference David Ford listed Alliance's "minimum requirements" including a "legal acknowledgement that all space is shared space with, no compromise on territorialisation, including a strong protocol on flags" "a landmark Review of Equality and Sharing in public housing" "serious investment in integration in teaching, including shared education and teacher training" and "an independent delivery system for community relations, with enough clout to challenge government when it isn't doing enough."

A strategy

That last point is a reference to the debate about the future role of the Community Relations Council, which I hope to report more on later this week.

Finally I can reveal that not only are our politicians unable to agree a strategy, they are even having difficulty coming up with a title for the policy.

During a previous consultation the "Cohesion, Sharing and Integration" label was criticised as unwieldy.

Now a long list of possible new titles is being mulled over, and here it is:

  • A Fair, Shared, and Better Future for All
  • Our Community, Our Future, Our Right
  • A Future Together
  • Our Future Matters
  • One Community, One Future
  • Our Future, Better as One
  • Fair, Better, Together
  • Our Future Together
  • (Moving) Forward Together
  • Towards a Better Future
  • Towards a United Community
  • Foundations for a Better Future
  • Shaping a Better Future
  • Shaping a Future for All
  • A (better) Future for All
  • Building an Enduring Peace
  • Enabling a Better Future
  • A Stronger Foundation
  • Stronger Foundations
  • Sustaining the Peace
  • Embedding the Peace

Do any of those take your fancy? If not, in the light of recent events, I have a couple of ideas of my own.

How about "Out of the Bunker of Prejudice",

"Reducing Our Collective Handicap",

"Chipping Away (At Bigotry)" or

"Towards An Open Society"?

All other suggestions gratefully accepted.