Speaker launches programme for Community Relations and Cultural Awareness Week

Session: Session currently unavailable

Date: 21 September 2015

Reference: SO 02/15/16

The Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Mitchel McLaughlin MLA, today spoke at the launch of the programme for Community Relations and Cultural Awareness Week which begins on 28 September.  In his remarks, the Speaker recognised the importance of the theme of “One Place, Many Peoples” and outlined his hopes for a resolution to the current political difficulties affecting the Assembly.

Mr McLaughlin said: “I am delighted to have been invited today to this launch for the programme for Community Relations and Cultural Awareness Week next week.

“I am especially pleased to be involved today given the theme of this year's programme "One Place, Many Peoples".  As you may know, I have made "respect" a central theme of my time in office.  Early on, I spoke about the need for the Assembly to respect the community it represents by reflecting all parts of it.  Our community was never only orange and green but it certainly is not now.

“We are a wonderfully diverse community of different cultures, different races, different religions, different ages, different genders, different sexual orientations…..I could go on.  As a society, we need to get better at being confident in ourselves and realising that you can respect and seek to understand the views, backgrounds and choices of others without for one moment degrading your own.

“I will be holding my own event next week, "One Assembly, Many Peoples" to particularly recognise the new communities who have joined and broadened our society in recent years.  I will speak more about that then but in my view it is critical that we should all proactively celebrate the contribution of the different parts of our community.  The value they bring should not just be something we acknowledge in response to the minority of destructive elements in our society. 

“Indeed, in the future I would like to see the membership of the Assembly being much more reflective of the diversity in our modern community.  However, like other things that I would wish to see, including improving some of our procedures, we will be more likely to achieve it when we get into better political weather.

“I recognise that as we approach Community Relations Week this year many of you may be particularly downhearted.  I am also fully aware of the frustration that exists towards the Assembly at the moment.

“I appreciate that the work which you and many organisations are trying to do on the ground in communities is not helped by the political mood and the impact it has on decision making.  Believe me, as the person responsible for trying to manage business and tensions in the Assembly chamber during this period, I understand that it does not make life easier.

“However, we sometimes need to recall where we have come from.  Indeed, today on International Peace Day is an ideal time to remember the amount of progress we have achieved.  In darker times, many would not have predicted we would be where we are, imperfect as it may be.

“Achieving the agreements that were made in the past was a huge milestone but it did not mean that the work was all done.  We remain a society with historical divisions and fundamentally different political views.

“We also need to remind ourselves that working across those divisions is not easy.  If it was, there would be no need for a Community Relations Week or a Community Relations Council.  Indeed, if it was there would be no need for the complex structures at the Assembly.

“It should be no surprise that government and politics will be particularly difficult in a society like ours which has suffered tremendous trauma and pain. 

“All of you know the long and hard work required to build up trust and relationships which will be tested through difficult times.  It is no different for the parties in the Assembly over which I preside. 

“As I said in the Assembly last week, we will only reach a resolution to the issues and concerns, which I acknowledge all parties have, through parties sitting down and working them out together.  As talks start this week, I am hopeful that the parties can do that again. 

“I know there are good grounds for criticism towards all parties and the Assembly as a whole but it is also important that those of us on the outside direct some positive support towards the talks process.  Part of that is managing expectations.  There is no society in which everyone can get everything they want.  We all have to remember that our political institutions were designed to work on that basis, encouraging a focus on reaching the best agreements and compromises available.  We all have to take account of the different views of the different parts of our community and not expect impossible outcomes. 

“So, I actually think that it is timely that Community Relations and Cultural Awareness Week Is next week.  The programme of events can play an important role in committing positive energy to demonstrating that there is support and understanding on the ground for what it takes for different cultures and traditions to work together, no matter difficult circumstances.  It is also great to know that there will be events highlighting our cultural diversity right across our local council areas.

“I hope to see some of you at the events in Parliament Buildings but I want to wish all of those involved next week the very best for each event.  This is important work.  There are always bumps in the road but they should only result in us being more determined.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

The launch of Community Relations and Cultural Awareness Week is being held by the Community Relations Council in the Crumlin Road Gaol at 9.30am on Monday 21 September.

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