Northern Ireland

First minister says restored executive offers chance to tackle sectarianism

Sinn Féin policy document advocates the creation of ‘shared communities’ and an island-wide national reconciliation day

Sinn Féin’s launch of reconciliation policy document at St Comgalls on the  Falls Road on Wednesday.
First Minister Michelle O’Neill speaking at the launch of her party's anti-sectarianism policy document. PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN

The restored Stormont institutions provide an opportunity to fulfil a series of Sinn Féin proposals aimed at combatting sectarianism, Michelle O’Neill has said.

The first minister was speaking in Belfast on Wednesday as her party launched its ‘A New Ireland for All – Ending Sectarian Segregation’ policy document.

The paper argues that ending sectarianism will involve an all-Ireland strategy and “positively supporting integrated education”.

It says “anti-sectarianism should be put at the centre of all public policy development”.

The document advocates the creation of “shared communities”, engagement with identity issues, such as flags and emblems, and under the heading ‘Dealing with the Past’, calls for the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement, an “initiative of common acknowledgement” of historical injustices, and an island-wide national reconciliation day.

Sinn Féin’s launch of reconciliation policy document at St Comgalls on the  Falls Road on Wednesday.
Former Impartial Reporter editor Denzil McDaniel. PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN

Ms O’Neill said the policy document was Sinn Féin’s “contribution to the debate”.

She said she would seek its implementation “in whatever forum is appropriate, whether that’s the assembly or the executive”.

“I think with a restored executive and assembly there’s an opportunity to actually fulfil some of these things, because I think they are shared objectives across many of the parties,” she said.

She said she regarded ending sectarianism and segregation as a “priority” and would be advocating to bring forward the document’s proposed measures at the executive.

The first minster said political leaders needed to “focus on the opportunities that a restoration of the executive and assembly provides”.

“We need to see now, a real step change in confronting and tackling sectarian attitudes and structures,” she said.

“People need to meet each other halfway – we need to accept that there are different perspectives and try to understand each other.”

The launch, which was attended by party representatives and members, alongside guests from civil society, included a contribution from Denzil McDaniel, a Protestant and former editor of the Impartial Reporter.

Mr McDaniel praised Ms O’Neill for her “role so far as first minister”.

“I think both herself and the deputy first minister have already shown a great example, and have given us hope about some way that we might find some accommodation for both traditions and moving forward, which very much again, feeds into the the idea of reconciliation,” he said.

The former newspaper editor said the Sinn Féin document would make an important contribution towards convincing unionists that they would play a “valued and important role” in a new Ireland.

He said ending sectarianism and segregation was vital to building a better society.

“Small conversations about the kind of a shared society we want to live in and pass on to our children and grandchildren are important,” he said.

“Conversations about breaking down barriers, building trust, building relationships – everything like that is crucial.”