FIRST Minister Peter Robinson and deputy first minister Martin McGuinness have announced plans on how they intend to progress building a shared future in Northern Ireland.
First Minister Peter Robinson said the proposals, called ‘Together Building a United Community’, are the most ambitious ever brought forward on the issue.
The DUP leader and east Belfast MLA added: “Difference does not have to mean division.”
He said they would bring in a new era in trying to establish a united society in Northern Ireland.
Among them is the target of bringing down all of Northern Ireland’s peace walls by 2023.
Mr Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said this could only happen in tandem with the communities affected.
Another planned project is to establish a ‘united youth programme’, in which 10,000 people aged between 16 and 24 who are not in education, employment or training, would be given a one-year placement with a stipend.
The three components of the programme would be good relations, good citizenship and steps into work.
Mr Robinson said it was “an enormously important day, a significant day on the road to a shared future for our society”.
The first minister said there were a range of issues it was possible to make progress on; other more contentious issues such as flags and parading would need further discussions.
He said they planned to set up an all-party group to discuss these and would set this up in the next few weeks. The talks would have an independent chairperson.
Both men said their proposals particularly centred on young people.
Other proposals include:
• One hundred shared summer schools/camps
• A cross-community youth sports programme
• A project to create four urban villages
• Work on 10 shared education campuses to begin
• Department for Social Development Minister told to bring forward proposals on 10 shared housing neighbourhoods.
Mr McGuinness said both he and Mr Robinson were “totally and absolutely committed to finding solutions”.
“This is a very decisive step forward and very clear evidence of our ability to work together,” he added.
However, SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said the DUP and Sinn Fein plans were a “rehash” had come in short of what was needed to build reconciliation and prosperity in Northern Ireland.
“Any initiative which addresses some of the symptoms of division in Northern Ireland is to be acknowledged but what we need from those of us in positions of leadership is a lot more than just a commitment to address the symptoms of our division,” he said.
“It is clear the DUP and Sinn Fein don’t have a strategy for a shared future. Today’s initiative includes much of what has already been agreed by parties.”
Thursday’s announcement follows statements from both the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers and the Prime Minister David Cameron urging local politicians to go further on building a shared future.
However, Mr Robinson said their proposals had nothing to do with any pressure from British government and were not linked to talks between police and politicians to be held in Wales.
Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness first published proposals in 2010.
The document was known as the programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI).
Since then the plans that outlined how the executive aimed to tackle sectarianism, racism and hate have stalled because of disagreements between the DUP and Sinn Fein about how to proceed.
A cross-party Stormont working group on building a shared future ran into trouble with both the Alliance and Ulster Unionist representatives pulling out as they believed a proposed community relations strategy was not ambitious enough.