NI ASSEMBLY COMMISSION
The promotion of Good Relations is a statutory duty placed upon all public authorities in Northern Ireland. Section 75 (2) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 requires the Assembly Commission 1 (the Commission) to “…have regard to the desirability of promoting good relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group.” 2
The Commission’s approach to the promotion of good relations is underpinned by its commitment to equality of opportunity.
This Good Relations Action Plan sets out a framework for responding to challenges and improving service delivery over the next year. Through this the Commission’s aim is to implement a programme of work which will inform the development of a Good Relations Strategy.
2. THE ASSEMBLY COMMISSION AND GOOD RELATIONS
In March 2005, the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) published ‘A Shared Future’: The policy and strategic framework for good relations in Northern Ireland’. The overall aim of this policy is:
“The establishment over time of a normal, civic society, in which all individuals are considered equals, where differences are resolved through dialogue in the public sphere, and where all people are treated impartially. A society where there is equity, respect for diversity and a recognition of our interdependence.” 3 The Commission support this aim and wish, through this Plan, to do its part in supporting the achievement of a shared future for the benefit of all the internal and external users of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
In order to take forward this area of work the Assembly Commission approved a Good Relations Action Plan for consultation at its meeting of 21 January 2010. This plan also contributes to the corporate objective ‘to promote good relations’ as stated in the Commission’s 2008-2011 (Revised 2009) Secretariat Corporate Plan. 4
3. THE GOOD RELATIONS VISION FOR THE ASSEMBLY COMMISSION
The Commission is committed through its Equality Scheme to the principle of equality of opportunity and good relations. In this context the Commission will aim to ensure that the entire community can enjoy full and fair access to, and participate in, the operations of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Additionally, the adoption of this action plan will ultimately support the Commission’s vision of:
“An Assembly that strengthens democracy and engages the people (of Northern Ireland) in creating a better future for all”. 5
To assist in achieving its vision the Commission, at its meeting of 10 December 2009, reiterated and formalised its commitment to Good Relations, they stated:
“The Northern Ireland Assembly Commission is committed to the promotion of good relations between persons of differing religious belief, political opinion or racial group and is committed to challenging sectarianism and racism.”
The Good Relations Plan is also inextricably linked to the value-based concepts of equality, diversity and interdependence and to the objectives and priorities of A Shared Future and the Racial Equality Strategy. 6
Through this the Commission, when delivering its services and policies, will integrate these values into daily practice.
Equity is about ensuring that all sections of society have equal opportunities to participate in economic, political and social life through redressing inequalities arising independently from people’s choices.
Diversity is about acknowledging how our differences as individual human beings and as members of groups can improve the quality of our lives.
Interdependence is about recognizing that we are shaped by our relationships, and that our potential as human beings and as a society is dependent on the quality of our interactions with one another. 7
The Commission also demonstrates its commitment to Good Relations in line with public statements contained in its Corporate and Business Plans, leadership at Management level and devolving responsibility throughout the organisation by encouraging each Directorate and related business area to promote equality and good relations as part of their routine work. The action plan at Appendix 1 has captured good relations devolvement at Directorate level.
In delivering good relations the Commission will also:
5.1 Be impartial.
5.2 Respect the backgrounds and cultures of others.
5.3 Learn from others’ experiences.
5.4 Support those with whom we come into contact with in an open and tolerant manner.
5.5 Accept that we might not always share the same views as others but we are comfortable with that acceptance.
5.6 Help to build trust and understanding within and outside the organisation.
6. CURRENT POSITION/ACTION PLAN
The Commission has approved the current Good Relations Action Plan for consultation and welcomes your views and comments. It has broken the plan into Six Shared Aims. These are:
• Promotion of Good Relations: The Commission will promote equality of opportunity and good relations in all aspects of its work by ensuring that all its services are delivered impartially and effectively.
• Equal protection: The Commission will provide equal protection to its staff and service-users by tackling any incident of racial harassment or sectarianism. The recent publication of our “Dignity at Work” policy outlines how the Commission proposes to create and sustain an environment where everyone is treated with respect and dignity. Equity, Diversity and Interdependence within the workforce will be recognised with the aim of making the most of everyone’s potential.
• Equality of service provision: The Commission will ensure equality of opportunity for all people in accessing and benefiting from its services and facilities. It will shape its policies, practices and work with other organisations, individuals and groups to enable trust and good relations to grow.
• Participation: The Commission, through its Engagement Strategy, and other relevant documents, will develop partnerships with public bodies, agencies, schools and others to foster a sense of belonging to an integrated and mutually supportive society in which diversity is valued and welcomed. Parliament Buildings hosts a large number of events and visitors each year and has a significant opportunity to play a leading role in the encouragement of dialogue, shared learning and mutual respect for different faiths and cultural backgrounds.
• Dialogue: The Commission will encourage dialogue, mutual understanding and shared learning on issues related to good relations to ensure tolerance and understanding are promoted and appropriate initiatives/activities which promote equality of opportunity are fostered.
• Capacity Building: The Commission will aim to further build capacity internally and externally, with appropriate groups, to ensure suitable partnerships can be developed to address the Commission’s commitment to Section 75(1) and (2).
7. ANNUAL REVIEW
The Good Relations Action Plan will be reviewed six-monthly by the Assembly Commission and the Secretariat Management Group. A Good Relations Action Plan will be devised for each subsequent year. The Equality Unit will lead the Commission on matters relating to its commitment to promoting and improving good relations both among staff and with external stakeholders. It is also anticipated that the Good Relations Action Plan will be subject to normal internal audit scrutiny.
8. ACTION PLAN
The Good Relations Action Plan for 2010-2011 is shown at Appendix 1.