Paterson says lack of NI community relations paper is 'disappointing'

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The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson, has criticised the Stormont Executive over the delay in the publication of a community relations strategy.

Owen Paterson Owen Paterson was speaking to an think tank in Dublin

In a speech in Dublin, Mr Paterson said: "It is profoundly disappointing that we are still awaiting publication of the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI) strategy from the Executive".

His comments came after the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) said it is to leave the group examining this issue.

The CSI strategy is aimed at promoting better community relations and greater integration in Northern Ireland.

On Wednesday, First and Deputy First Ministers, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, issued a joint statement saying that agreements had been reached on a number of policy areas.

'Changed'

The UUP claimed the announcement "demonstrates clearly the contempt they hold for the political process".

Mr Paterson made his comments in a wide ranging speech to members of the International Institute of European Affairs, a think tank which is based in Dublin.

On a theme of "British-Irish Relations in the 21st Century", the cabinet minister also spoke about last years Queen's visit to the Irish Republic and discussed how Anglo-Irish contacts and north-south links have changed in recent years.

He said that "relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have never been better".

Mr Paterson added that "the great constitutional issues that divided us for so long are now clearly settled on the basis of consent".

To an invited audience of around 80 people, the secretary of state then turned his attention to political affairs north of the border.

He said "politics in Northern Ireland is more stable than at any time in over a generation".

'Carved up'

He later added that more needs to be done regarding a shared future, saying that "for all the progress in recent years, Northern Ireland remains at many levels a deeply divided society".

He said difficult decisions lay ahead and added: "We cannot have a Northern Ireland in which everything is carved up on sectarian grounds."

The secretary of state also said he would bring forward details on how the political institutions at Stormont might evolve in the years ahead.

He said: "I hope to shortly to publish a consultation paper covering a number of areas which might be covered by legislation in the current parliament."

He said this would include "the size of the Assembly, the length of Assembly terms and ending dual mandates."

He said that consultation should include questions over whether "it is desirable in principle for the institutions to move to a more normal system of government and opposition and, if so, how this might be achieved".

Mr Paterson said such changes could happen over time but must have "widespread support across the community".

He said such moves should be consistent with inclusive government and in line with the Good Friday Agreement.

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