Tuesday, 10 December 2013

DUP take the tortoise and the hare too far

Today in the Northern Ireland Assembly in their final plenary session of 2013 discussed this Alliance Party motion:

That this Assembly notes that a sexual orientation strategy was subject to consultation in 2006; further notes that public commitments to publish a document by the end of 2013 were made by the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister in Together: Building a United Community; expresses its deep concern that this document does not appear to have progressed to date; and calls on the First Minister and deputy First Minister to publish a cross-departmental sexual orientation strategy as a matter of priority.

Now you'd have thought that seven years after consultation would be enough time to bring forward any strategy document. I know that when I was working in the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment my branch was responsible for the economic strategy document going forward 10 years. It was published in 1999 less than a year after devolution and was covering all the complex issues of Northern Ireland's economy going forward. One of its recommendations was to produce and Information Age Initiative, this was done in 2000 less than a year later. Both documents were critically received and although some felt they could have gone further in certain directions they were a path finder for what was arguably the most important of the devolved departments.

Now this brings us to the issue of the Sexual Orientation Strategy (SOS). As Anna Lo said when moving the motion:

A consultation took place in 2006, and a strategic action plan was drafted to identify and tackle human rights issues relating to sexual orientation.  Following devolution, it was shelved in 2007, along with the shared future and racial equality strategies.  It is not unreasonable for OFMDFM to want to take ownership of these strategies under devolution, but seven years is too long to produce our own version.  Let me explain.

In 2010, the cohesion, sharing and integration strategy consultation indicated that Ministers were fully committed to publishing a sexual orientation strategy.  At the end of that year, it was confirmed by junior Minister Newton that a strategy would be published.  In 2011, junior Minister Bell told the Assembly that the final consultation process would take place in early 2012, with a view to publishing a strategy before the end of 2012.  In October 2012, the Department outlined that a draft public consultation document was under consideration and would be published in the near future.  In February 2013, Minister Bell outlined to the Assembly that the Department remained committed to publishing a strategy and that it was currently under consideration.  The announcement of the Together: Building a United Community strategy committed OFMDFM to publishing a sexual orientation strategy once the consultation process had been completed.

However, the only speakers and in the end the only MLAs who had objections to publishing a strategy were the DUPO. First Stephen Moutray said:

It is simple:  consultation must take place before the strategy can be brought forward.

Now forgive me for being dumb but the consultation started in 2006. In both 2012 and 2013 we were promised by the Junior Minister for OFMDFM at the time from his own party that the SOS would be published by the end of the year. On both those occasions it was implied that consultation was complete and it was down to drafting. So why has the strategy not been brought forward?

He went on to say:
if the Alliance Party cared to speak with the sector, it would ascertain that that sector is broadly content with the way in which the Assembly is dealing with the matter.
 Now I wonder has Mr Moutray spoken to the LGBT sector, he certainly hasn't been at any of the LGBT consultative forum meetings that have time and time again talked about the frustration that the assembly have failed to publish a SOS. Now was he there when they discussed the lack of SOS being mentioned but in passing in the ludicrous Draft Cohesion Sharing and Integration strategy, which has also since to resurface in the light of day since 2010.

His colleague George Robinson said:

I hope that those who tabled the motion will see the benefit of supporting the current work in progress to achieve the workable solution that I see as critical to a successful outcome.  Clarity, not haste, is the essential factor in producing a workable strategy.  It is for those reasons that I cannot support the motion.

The LGBT do not want a work in progress. Nor do we want a document that has been promised take over what would have been two terms to come to the table if it not published within the next twelve months. The delay in publishing this is already longer than the period that an LGBT teenager is expected to spend in secondary school, without any consideration, nor any mention of homophobic bullying. As we heard in the debate 85% of LGBT youth in Northern Ireland contemplate suicide and 35% have attempted it.

Is it really so awkward to develop a strategy especially when documents exist in the rest of the UK already laying out best practices in the workplace, accommodation, health care and education that can be adapted to the Northern Irish situations? Or is it just awkward for the DUP to face up to their Section 75 obligations and acknowledge that something needs to be done of the LGBT people in Northern Ireland who do not feel save to outwardly express their love for a partner in public as they would do in Glasgow, London, Cardiff and even small provincial towns.

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