Back in the mid-1990s, long before politicians were elected to the Assembly, a broad-based group of people nominated by 10 different political groupings worked long and hard to start the negotiations which eventually led to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. Pledges were made that each and every one of its many important provisions would be implemented. And many of them have been.
What we have not seen is the same effort given to the establishment and maintenance of the consultative Civic Forum. The inclusion of a Civic Forum on page 9 of the Belfast Agreement is not a ‘maybe’ or a ‘might’; it is a ‘will’.
This consultative body was designed to be an important ‘sounding board’ between the people and the politicians: the place where strongly held opinions from across our many divides could be aired and shared, and where contentious issues around identity, cultural expression, sectarianism, diversity, social justice, social policy and building of community could be discussed.
It would be a place where people could hear each other’s ‘bottom lines’, particularly on the most contentious issues -- such as policing, parades and flags – in the hope that through such sharing the politicians might learn to take account of those ‘bottom lines’ when formulating policy. It was an effort to inject some consensus politics into a society ridden with divisive identity politics.
To read the rest of this article by Anne Carr, visit 15 Years On.