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22 September 2016

Northern Ireland Programme for Government

Northern Ireland Programme for Government

New plans to create a more equal society in Northern Ireland are being laid out by the Assembly, following the elections in May.

The executive office (TEO) issued the new goals, which look to make the nation more cariing to those in need, in their draft Programme for Government (PfG).

The document is the result of a consultation period, which ran through to July.

In the PfG, TEO set out 14 outcomes that they wish to accomplish for the people of Northern Ireland.

As the end of the last Assembly mandate approached, Evangelical Alliance in Northern Ireland published People and Place[1], asking this simple question of our culture and the Church: what kind of people and place do we aspire to be?

The aim of People and Place (PP) was to help shape public discussions as the draft PfG was being written and to provide our own organisation locally with a strategic and overreaching framework for our advocacy work in the coming years.

Using PP as our reference point, we responded to TEO's consultation on the PfG. Below is a very brief summary of the points we made in our response.

Ambition: we welcomed the ambitious and aspirational nature of the document. We welcomed the focus on the real day to day impact of people' lives rather than the focus being on the structures, processes and actions of government.

- Long term: we welcomed the long-term vision and outcomes proposed in the draft PfG framework, "which are designed to stay in place for a generation rather than a single Assembly term". In PP we noted:

"A society will plan years in advance to provide for transport infrastructure and energy requirements. This is wise. We propose that when it comes to setting broad policy direction, it would be wise to look to mutual values, to foundations which benefit everyone even in uncertain times."

Setting long term direction, vision and perspective is even more vital in the current post-Brexit climate.

Values-based approach: similar to our approach in PP we welcomed the executive's purpose for this PfG - "Improving wellbeing for all – by tackling disadvantage and driving economic growth." We believe that the wellbeing of people and place should be a central consideration in the formation of any government policy. This aligns very closely to the language and vision of flourishing and wellbeing used in PP.

Collaborative: in its introductory text, the draft PfG framework is described as one "in which many more people and groups can play a part". We welcomed this, but noted that churches and faith communities don't appear in this PfG. It may be intended that churches and faith communities be included in the words 'groups' or 'communities', but we believe that they play a role worthy of particular mention. On average 41 per cent of the population in Northern Ireland attend church at least once a month and within that figure, 27 per cent attend church at least once a week.[2] A Cinnamon Faith Action Audit found that in Northern Ireland, on average, a church or faith group delivers 10 social action projects and offers 10,515 volunteer hours per year.[3] In addition to this, in 2014 more than 60 per cent of registered youth facilities in Northern Ireland were church-based.[4] Churches are deeply rooted in local communities, they hold a vision of the common good and provide many spiritual and practical benefits and are increasingly involved in the delivery of many services.

Some of the desired outcomes include:

We prosper through a strong, competitive regionally balanced economy.

The Alliance stated in PP: "A culture of consumerism is driving us to use money we don't have to buy things we don't need made from resources we don't own. It is hollow and harmful." Our concern is that if not properly balanced, sustainable and responsible, a good desire to prosper could easily result in decreased wellbeing and increased economic inequality. Trade, employment and a healthy economy are vital to a flourishing society, we simply ask that balance is sought in the pursuit of this amidst other priorities.

We live and work sustainably – protecting the environment.

This entire outcome aligns very closely with our priority of creation care in P&P. The Allianccce stated: "An economy built on creating ever-increasing demand and consumption, far beyond need, is not sustainable or healthy…We advocate solutions which promote wise stewardship of this place for generations to come – our seas and forests, farmland and food."

This will cost us something because it is of great worth and will require a change of life-style, values and even cultural norms in the present for many people.

We care for others and we help those in need.

This outcome is so simple yet so foundational as it acknowledges the human dignity of the most vulnerable in our society.

We are a shared society that respects diversity.

In building a shared society, we encouraged the executive to lead by example and we called on the Church to continue to contribute vision, language, spaces and practical opportunities for hope and healing in community relationships.

We give our children and young people the best start in life.

We welcome the executive's commitment to give our children and young people the best start in life. We believe that children receive the best start in life when their humanity is recognised and protected from before birth. In PP the Alliance stated: "We celebrate that law and policy in Northern Ireland remains protective of human life. We contend that the robust public protection of human life is key to the flourishing of any society. We see a community where human life is protected from beginning to end."

We welcome the acknowledgment of the significant role of parents and families when it comes to the wellbeing of our children and young people. Nurturing healthy relationships within the family is fundamental to building a flourishing society.

The Executive Office have just published their report into the responses received. It is anticipated that the final PfG will be published and adopted this autumn. We look forward to receiving it and to continuing to shape the public square through the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is good news for everyone in Northern Ireland.

  1. A PDF version of this document is available at http://www.eauk.org/northern-ireland/people-and-place.cfm
  2. [RTÉ BBC NI Cross Border Survey (2015) Pg 624, Table 116 accessed at http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/tv/nolanshow/RTE_BBC_NI_Cross_Border_Survey.pdf
  3. Cinnamon Network Cinnamon Faith Action Audit Northern Ireland (2015) 10
  4. The Youth Service Northern Ireland A Statistical and Geographic Report of the Registered Youth Service in Northern Ireland (2014) 6