Northern Ireland news

Time for British and Irish governments to rediscover `visionary approach of the past'

Community Relations Council chairman Peter Osborne. Picture by Elaine Hill

THE British and Irish governments need to "rediscover their visionary approach of the past" to ensure 2018 is a seminal year for the peace process, a leading community relations figure has warned.

Peter Osborne, chair of the Community Relations Council (CRC), said the next 12 months could see the current crisis create an opportunity for the peace process "to strengthen and make step change".

"There is no inevitable forward flow to the peace process," he said in a New Year message where he described Northern Ireland as "20 years into a 50-year plus peace process".

"But there are times when a critical point is reached; times for big decisions and step change. 2018 may be the year to push on or run the risk of a withering impact."

Mr Osborne said positive change "needs leadership, will and imagination" and while it can be delivered by civil society there must be support from a "functioning and motivated political sector".

"Input from the two governments has always been critical. It is in all our interests that they rediscover their concerted and often visionary approach of the past."

The former Parades Commission chairman described it as "the most testing period in a generation", with "still segregated housing and education, walls still dividing communities, legacies issues left unaddressed, continued high tolerance of illegality, paramilitary attacks, a resourcing crisis in community relations, high levels of hate crime".

However, he identified the biggest issue as "the UK moving towards its exit from the European Union".

Mr Osborne said there is cause for hope in positive work being done in communities, including the peace-building `Buddy Up' programme co-ordinated by Community Relations in Schools (CRIS) - the first group from Northern Ireland to receive an Intercultural Innovation Award, which it collected in New York, chosen from almost 1,400 applications submitted from 130 countries.

A project involving Edenderry Nursery School and Holy Cross Nursery School in north Belfast helps children, parents and families "build meaningful relationships and friendships while learning and achieving together".

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