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Monday, 29 August 2011 18:29

Politics 'Cohesion, Sharing and Integration'

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Politics: Sixth Form students tackle ´Cohesion, Sharing and Integration´ as MP's, MLA's, Councillors and the BBC visit to discuss the consultation at Drumragh IC>>

Drumragh IC students respond to the ‘Cohesion, Sharing and Integration’ consultation document and politics convention after discussion with local MP’s, MLA’s and Councillors.

During our politics convention on Wednesday 20th October 2010, we discussed each of the different aspects of the document with our local MP’s, MLA’s and Councillors. We found that whilst we all had the same idea of how things should be, we found it difficult to find workable solutions to the problems. We have come up with a number of suggestions for what should be included in the pending ‘Cohesion, Sharing and Integration’ Document.

We all saw a need for more youth facilities, where members of both communities can come together in safety. We felt that whilst there were a number of facilities available locally for younger children and for those over eighteen, there was nothing for youth aged fourteen to eighteen. We felt that a number of youth clubs should be established in neutral areas of the community so as not to favour one side. We also felt that another way of bringing together youths in the community would be through cross community projects, such as concerts and drama productions. We felt that an excellent idea would be to endorse a youth drama production group, with young people from all parts of the community coming together to organise everything from lighting and sound to stage design. We felt that this would be an opportunity for young people to meet people and feel like they live in a community not a divided society.

It was also clear that we would all like politicians to work at reducing territorialism, by taking slogans off public buildings and finding common areas for meetings. It was agreed by all students that there should be a limited time that flags should be allowed to be flown for, for example, two weeks before marches or GAA games and two weeks after. We felt that this would reduce the amount of tension and aggression within our community.

It was also felt that it is important that there be more mixed housing. We all felt that those who live in mixed areas are less aware of a person’s religion than those who live in secluded housing estates for one side of the community. We decided that it was essential that council houses be allocated on a basis of first come first serve not on a basis of religion.

We felt that the issue of exclusion within our community stretched farther than Catholic and Protestant; we felt that more needed to be done to welcome foreign nationals into our community. It was felt that this could be achieved through more funding for local ethnic minority groups that work to integrate foreign nationals into employment as well as into the community. It was proposed that there should be more emphasis on English language classes in our local college to improve communication with these groups of people.

A major point of our discussion was the relationship between the PSNI and our local community. It seemed clear that many students felt that the PSNI were not integrating into our community enough. We found that a lot of the negativity surrounding the PSNI came not from hatred but from uncertainty as to what they do locally. We recently attended a local road safety show, at which local policemen spoke about their own personal experiences. Many students expressed that they felt the show was a brilliant way of showing the noble side of the PSNI. We felt that there should be more community workshops and visits from the police in order to improve relations with the community and to further emphasise that they are there to protect us.

The lack of integrated education offered locally was also discussed at our conference; we concluded that although there is no more funding for integrated schools in , more should be done to encourage mixed education. We discussed when integrated education was most beneficial and we found that those of us who had been integrated from a young age found it a lot easier to mix with others. We decided that if more young people were educated in integrated schools from primary level that there would be fewer pupils choosing to attend segregated secondary schools. Another issue that arose for us was how the government were spending their money. Many of us felt that a lot of money had been wasted on projects such as the Maze and that politicians needed to be held more accountable with respect to financial decisions they make. Many students expressed the concern that politicians who appear to be incompetent are allowed to stay on for too long; we felt that if a politician is found to have made the wrong decision, they should be held accountable. We felt that when a proposal is brought forward that involves a huge amount of the tax payer’s money being spent, the people of should be consulted.

It was felt that not enough of us knew who our local politicians were; we felt that it is the politicians who need to take the big steps, publicly, so as to encourage us to follow. We felt that more needed to be done to make local politicians familiar faces, perhaps by having more visits from local politicians to schools and hospitals etc.

When it came to discussing how to empower youth, many of us came up with excellent ideas as to how to get our voices heard. We came up with the idea of a youth politics page in the local press, giving young people the chance to voice their opinion on current affairs. We also felt that the youth should be included in politics a lot more; it was proposed that a Youth Council at Stormont be created. This Youth Council could be made up of applicants chosen from each of the eighteen constituencies. The Council could meet with the Executive every couple of months to propose new ideas and discuss new legislation. We felt that this would be an excellent way to have the voices of youth heard; after all we are the future.

 

India Fahy

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US President Barack Obama once said “we stand at a moment of great challenge and great opportunity”. I believe this best sums up my interpretation of the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI) consultation process which occurred in Drumragh Integrated College on the 20th of October 2010.

Our consultation process involved sixth form students along with local political representatives from across the political spectrum. We felt a great deal of pride as we all believed this would be a defining moment for a generation shaping our troubled country’s future, in a society dominated by people looking into the past. Although products of integrated education, our students do not have a romantic idealistic view on what integrating society means. In scrutinising the document we came to the conclusion CSI sounds like a positive step, yet this is as far as it goes. In discussing how we could meet the aims of the document, difficulties emerged in the practicalities. Our discussions raised a number of issues, the biggest of which were, how to change the mindsets of the people in , especially older generations and how do we integrate people without compromising on their cultural identities? I strongly believe our response has gone a significant way in doing this and I would appreciate it if you would consider our thoughts when drafting the new document.

In all seven sections of the document we have seen a significant amount of cross over. The most common of these was the need for more integrated education. I believe the fear of the unknown can lead to intolerance in our community; by challenging this at an early age through education, future generations will grow up to be more tolerant. We feel that an increase in integrated primary education is the way forward. We understand and respect people’s choices to be educated in a faith school; however we are proposing that integrated education should be encouraged at primary school level. Afterwards they can make a choice to go to a faith school, and this ensures everyone would have an integrated experience.

To this effect, we flagged up the issue that more integrated education is needed in rural areas; we have students in our school travelling 20 miles every day. This is a significant strain on public transport with no economic benefit. In small rural communities it would be much more cost effective to have integrated schools in order to share resources.

Outside of school as an integrated college we feel the need to integrate with other schools. Sports are a great way of integration in the wider community. I am proposing more events are in place where different communities teach each other their traditional sport. However this can be problematic as not everyone is interested in sports. I am proposing the encouragement of the use of drama and the arts. For example annual cross community drama projects could be held incorporating all young people in a community. Thus not only integrated young people, but parents from different sides of the community would come together in support of their children.

We would also like to see schools and youth groups working together. For example joining up school trips is a fantastic way of bringing the community together. This may involve the sharing of buses. We would also like to see youth groups becoming integrated. This would build tolerance but also save money by sharing resources.

But by integrating, how do we prevent compromising on cultures? We recognise people’s rights to express their cultures, yet how can we do this without offending others. I propose a time limit for flags to be displayed; this would be for events such as the 12th of July and GAA finals. This time limit would be for four weeks (two weeks before and after the event). In terms of the 12th July no flags regarding loyalist paramilitary flags should be flown as they have nothing to do with God or the Crown. These flags have the ability to offend nationalists and not all unionists would want to have that image.

In our consultation process we discovered one of the biggest issues in Northern Ireland is no longer integrated nationalist and unionist communities, however this is still important , but integrating foreign nationals in our society. I believe the fact we have such an influx of immigrants shows how normal is becoming, that people would want to come here. In order to incorporate these people into our communities we have proposed a number of ideas. Section E of CSI refers to a zero tolerance policy towards all forms of hate crimes; these have become increasingly common against ethnic minorities and we fully support a zero tolerance policy. However in order to prevent this I am proposing better education of the new cultures in our society. This would be in schools in the form of citizenship being taught in primary school so younger children are given a better understanding of other cultures. We should also teach other religions apart from Christianity in our schools. I strongly believe languages in schools should be promoted as a way of us being able to communicate with immigrants. I also propose English Language classes should be provided by local colleges as a way of integrating immigrants into our society.

In terms of older generations, we can educate them to tolerate different cultures by organising events in the community where these ethnic minorities educate us in what their cultures are about, for example food festivals. I believe ethnic minority groups contribute significantly in doing this yet more funding is needed so they can keep up their work.

We also discussed the issue of police presence in the community. For a majority of people, the PSNI seems to be a controversial area. I believe people should feel that the police are there to protect them and not a threat. In order to change the mindsets of the people of I propose community events should be held to show people what the police actually do. For example our students attended a road safety event in which the police discussed the work they did. Everyone gained an understanding into the work of the PSNI and made us empathise with them.

We believe that police should have a greater presence in the local communities in order to familiarise the entire community with the local police. This would lead all members of the communities feeling like they can go to their local police with their problems. We need to educate people in what they can go to the police about, not just in the case of an emergency.

However, our students feel it is politicians who can make a great influence in changing our mindsets and ensuring the proposals of CSI effectively come into effect. As well as police, politicians need to become a familiar face in our towns in order for people to believe their voices will be heard in their local communities. Civic leaders should influence the public to change their mindsets by setting examples of being more proactive in cross community events. In the case of MP’s, as there is only one per constituency, this is usually a nationalist or a unionist. I believe this can lead to certain members of communities becoming marginalised as they may think their MP has different interests than them, therefore they will not help them. I believe politicians should make their constituents feel more included, they should feel regardless of their background their grievances should be respectfully addressed. We are not all leaders in this world; if politicians set a good example of tolerance then perhaps the rest of their communities will follow. To this effect I believe there should be more accountability for politicians with respect to the financial decisions they make, particularly if money is wasted at the expense of things like education. In order for this to become a thing of the past I would like to see more consultation programmes before money is wasted such as in the case of the failed Maze project.

Through our consultation workshops two sections of the CSI document struck a chord with me. These are section B ‘Empowering the next generation’ and section G ‘Looking outward’.

‘Empowering the next generation’ was so important to me because simply I am the next generation of Northern Irish people and I am determined to live in a peaceful, prosperous society. We often hear of the brain drain of young people from and CSI if implemented properly can go a significant way in defeating the brain drain. Young people feel they want to have more open and direct contact with government ministers in Stormont, an almost DIY approach to politics. For example, we feel that we should discuss university tuition fees with the minister of employment and learning, as this rise is going to affect us and the amount of skilled workers will have in the future. We would like to see this in the form of a ‘Stormont Youth Council’ in which a certain number of students interested in politics from each constituency got together in Stormont and had direct communication with ministers over policy. This perhaps is something which would mirror the open access aspect of the legislative process. In order to promote shared values I propose encouragement and funding for cross community youth forums such as the Millennium Volunteers projects which unite young people from all schools in an area to work together for the benefit of their entire community. In addition to this I would also suggest something like a current affairs section in a local newspaper involving different opinions from politically-conscious young people from all schools in the area discussing issues such as the rise in tuition fees or the budget cuts.

I was drawn to the ‘Looking outward’ section of the document as I am well aware that can no longer afford to live in its own bubble and we have to become a prominent country for all the right reasons. In my workshop on this particular subject we raised a number of issues. One being the need for the North South ministerial council to have a bigger role, this is because we need to build better relations with the South of Ireland and also bring certain economic benefits. In a time of economic hardship it would make sense for us to share resources with the republic of Ireland and perhaps build links with them in order to heighten our private sector so we don’t have to depend on just our dwindling block grant. I interpreted the East West issue in perhaps a different way than it was being addressed in CSI. I believed this to be in reference to our own East West divide we have in . Living west of the Bann I feel like we are isolated from the East, I also feel that job opportunities and higher education are more prominent in the East of the Bann. This in itself is a brain drain of the West. More funding is needed for local amenities and colleges west of the Bann along with better job opportunities before we even begin considering looking outwards.

In terms of our relationship with Europe perhaps we need to look at what our MEP’s are doing for us and perhaps they should play a more dominant role in our society as they are the ones representing Northern Ireland on the biggest political platform in Europe.

I hope our response has helped you gain a greater insight into what the future of this country would like to be in place so in years to come, they have a platform in which to build an even better .

Sonia Benhassine

 

 

 

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