Alliance shared future plans ambitious

Stephen Farry and David Ford of Alliance Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Stephen Farry and David Ford of Alliance launch their shared future plan

The publication of the Alliance document "For Everyone" comes a few days after the BBC obtained a leaked copy of a draft report prepared by Stormont's cross-party working group on community relations.

Alliance's proposals on education are more radical than those contained in the Cohesion Sharing and Integration (CSI) draft report.

Whilst the cross-party report suggested a "buddy scheme" for nursery and primary school children and anti-sectarianism classes, Alliance is pushing for a tripling of the number of children attending integrated schools.

The Alliance proposal that all new-build schools should be integrated, except in exceptional cases, doesn't quite amount to the "End Catholic Education" headlined by the Irish News.

However, it has prompted criticism from the DUP and Sinn Fein, as well as the SDLP assembly member and former teacher Sean Rogers who claims Alliance seems prepared to "eliminate parental choice entirely".

On flags, "For Everyone" says the designated days policy recently adopted by Belfast City Council should be applied to all public and civic buildings.

It says a common policy on flag flying should be applied to all the 11 new councils due to be created under the Review of Public Administration.

Although the document doesn't explicitly state it, Alliance officials confirm that their preferred policy for all council buildings is to fly the union flag on designated days, which, if adopted, could create a stir in those western districts, which don't currently fly flags.

Alliance also wants to restrict flag flying on the public highway.

"For Everyone" says there should be zero tolerance for paramilitary flags.

It suggests that those who want to display legal flags on street furniture such as lampposts might be licensed to do so for a fortnight around a particular celebration, after which they would have to take them down.

The Stormont working party group draft report refers to the development of proposals for flying flags - but it's evident from the square brackets and typefaces used that this suggestion remains disputed.

Moreover earlier this month Peter Robinson told me the DUP would reject any Parades Commission style body to regulate flag flying on the streets.

On how to take community relations work forward, Alliance proposes a revamped, more powerful, Community Relations Council to be known as the "Shared Future Council".

By contrast the Stormont working group paper appears to either abolish or relegate the Community Relations Council to the sidelines, instead choosing to expand the current Equality Commission, under the title of "Equality and Good Relations Commission".

The Alliance document is more than 70 pages long, whilst the Stormont CSI draft is over 100 pages in length.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption The party says there should be zero tolerance of paramilitary flags

So a comprehensive "compare and contrast" would tax most readers' patience.

But there is one interesting area in which Alliance appears less ambitious than the other parties' draft report.

This is in relation to peacelines, where the Alliance target of removing 20% of interface barriers by 2023 is far more cautious than the CSI draft report target of eliminating all peace walls by 2022.

Questioned about this disparity on Good Morning Ulster, the Alliance leader David Ford said his party's proposal was "more realistic" than what he called the "grand-standing" approach taken by the others.

However the 2022 target date for the "elimination of all divisive structures" which I reported last week was not a new idea hatched by the other Stormont parties after Alliance quit the Cohesion Sharing and Integration working group.

In fact the 2022 target can be found in an earlier document drafted in May last year, before Alliance withdrew their representative from the CSI group.