12 March 2005


Segregation costs North £1bn a year

12/03/2005 - 14:16:19

Sectarian division in the North is costing more than £1bn (€1.4bn) a year, it was claimed today.

The Alliance Party is to call on the British government to address the problems of segregation by meeting the growing demand for integrated school and mixed workplaces and housing areas.

A conference motion put forward by Deputy Leader Eileen Bell condemned the “enormous human and financial costs” of segregation and communal strife.

Mrs Bell said: “As a result of the policy failures of the past, people across whole swathes of Northern Ireland live in fear of violence in their own communities but don’t yet feel able to live in mixed areas, let alone areas dominated by the so-called other side.”

Mrs Bell said there was great anger in the community at loyalist paramilitaries seeking a £70m (€100m) pay-off from the Government as a result of ending their illegal activities.

“Alliance estimates that over £1bn (€1.4bn) of taxpayers money is eaten up every year in dealing with the consequences of a divided and segregated society.

“We must make it clear to all that it is rank stupidity to pour scarce public resources into the provision of facilities on a sectarian basis.”

In a separate motion, the British government’s controversial plan to introduce water charges was condemned.

Proposer Sean Neeson said people in Northern Ireland were being asked to pay for decades of under-investment in infrastructure.

“The present proposals for water charges are completely unfair and must be resisted at every level of society here.”

Noting that average incomes in the North were 19% below the UK average, the motion called on any water charges to reflect relative usage and ability to pay.

In a motion on International Development, the conference called for 100% cancellation of debt for the poorest Third World countries and for the Government to commit 0.7% of GDP to development aid.

The motion also called on the EU and others to lower trade barriers to goods from the developing world.

Proposer Naomi Long said: “If we are to resolve the issue of poverty on a global scale then it will require not just short term aid based interventions but longer term strategic solutions.”

She said Chancellor Gordon Brown’s promise of reaching the goal of spending 0.7% of national income on aid by 2013 would be too little too late for many in the Third World.

The conference also debated the rights of older people, calling for an immediate improvement in the basic state pension, with future increases based on national average earnings.

Strangford MLA Kieran McCarthy said older people in Northern Ireland experienced social exclusion.

“The latest intervention by the Labour government is the Pension Credit Scheme. My experience has been one of crisis ever since its inception.

“Indeed we are told frequently that many, many senior citizens simply do not get what they are entitled to, either by lack of knowledge or by having to fill in horrendously complicated forms,” he added.

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