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NIWC 2001 Westminster General Election Manifesto - Still on the Right Path

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Text NIWC ... Page Compiled: Martin Melaugh

Northern Ireland Women's Coalition (NIWC) 2001 Westminster General Election Manifesto
- Still on the Right Path

Our Vision
Northern Ireland is finally in the business of building bridges. The Belfast Agreement signposted the way, and we are still on the right path - we have seen more inward investment resulting in more jobs; locally elected representatives dealing with local issues, co-operating for people on health, education, the environment and economic matters. There is however much still to be done and we acknowledge that there are frustrations that the pace and scope of change is less than it might have been.

Our vision remains clear.

§ We want to build a country where diversity is celebrated, not feared, where everyone has equal rights and access to services, where people hope, dream and plan for their futures, not lead lives governed by fear, suspicion and uncertainty.

§ We want freedom and security to be guaranteed, and access to high standards of healthcare, education and working conditions to be seen as rights for all, and not privileges for a few.

§ We want to build a Northern Ireland to which all its citizens can feel allegiance, participate equally in a stable and prosperous society, underscored by social justice and human rights.

We have been working hard to see this vision realised - now is the time to build on the progress that has been made.

We're on the right path - it's time to travel even further towards prosperity and stability.

Westminster Responsibilities

After the Agreement, many powers were devolved to local politicians, but there are some powers for which Westminster MPs still have responsibility. Importantly these include policing, human rights, criminal justice issues, taxation, social security and anti-poverty issues. We believe that all parties should be clear about where they stand on these issues.

We need a well-resourced, highly motivated police service that will and can work with the community and we need it now.

We recognise that we have to get policing right, because if we do not then any changes will not be sustainable. We need real accountability and open and transparent structures. The Policing Board is one place where accountability can happen. But there are others, most notably the uniquely powerful Police Ombudsman which will have powers to pursue complaints and conduct investigations. Politicians, in any event, should not be involved in the operational side of policing. At ground level we support the quota system as being a further key mechanism to ensuring accountability. We recommend that young Nationalists and women sign up for the new service now.

We believe that
¨ The fundamental purpose of policing should be the protection and vindication of the human rights of all. Understanding of human rights should be linked to promotion in the service.

¨ The Policing Board membership should reflect a community and gender balance.

¨ A whole range of agencies should share responsibility for public order, not just the police. Communities need to be empowered to problem-solve with a range of agencies, including the police. Any such partnerships should be meaningful, and involve real access to decision making. Capacity building and training for community people should be available and resourced from the policing budget.

¨ The number of situations where the police service is routinely unarmed, for instance as is the case with some domestic violence liaison projects, should be extended to other types of operation.

¨ The 'Dunblane' Legislation on small firearms should be extended to Northern Ireland

¨ A gender quota - more women in the service would lead to a real culture change. Women need to constitute at least one third of the service if they are not to be a token of their gender or excluded because of it. Any new service cannot simply ape the old in terms of the macho culture.

¨ A policy of civilianisation where possible in the service should be pursued. A greater number of civilians will also help change the culture.

¨ The use of plastic baton rounds should be banned.

Support for Human Rights
We will campaign for a strong Bill of Rights at Westminster when the Human Rights Commission consultation is over - so that economic and social rights can be shared and enjoyed by all. We will ensure that legislation on sectarian and racial aggravation and incitement to hatred is extended to Northern Ireland.

Our proposal for a Bill of Rights include:

¨ An equality statement pertaining to women and men specifically
¨ A definition of harassment that explicitly includes intimate violence
¨ The need for positive action measures to promote the inclusion of women in public and political life
¨ The right to make an informed choice on family planning
¨ The duty of the state to modify discriminatory customs

The Bill of Rights should constitute an amendment to the current Human Rights Act, with the preamble, or interpretative clause governing the entire document. We believe also that a strong limitations clause should be complemented by a special constitutional court for Human Rights adjudication. The introduction of a Bill of Rights requires a fresh approach by a court not burdened with the procedure and conventions of a system ill equipped to adjudicate on the human rights issues that surface as the law acquires new competence and recognises new state responsibilities. The court needs to be the mechanism, upon implementing the Bill of Rights, for exploring and ensuring the intent and meaning of the provisions enumerated.

A new Criminal Justice System
New legislation is coming through on overhauling our Criminal Justice System. Both our attitude to dispensing justice and how we actually do that through the court system need to be radically changed. People find the current system inaccessible and difficult to use. The judiciary is overwhelmingly male - there are no female High Court judges and only 2 County Court judges who are women. There is inconsistency in sentencing policy, and over-reliance on a retributive system treats the effects, not the causes of offending behaviour.

We believe that:

¨ A reformed Criminal Justice system must have at its heart a human rights ethos, which should be legislatively enforceable.

¨ The court system should be accessible in every sense, to those who are using it - be that as accused or as defence or prosecution witness. There must be particular measures to deal with young people and the court system.

¨ The system of judicial appointments needs to take account of the lack of women in senior positions and address this shortcoming. The principle of merit in appointing should be followed by an independent Judicial Appointments Committee. This must be an open and transparent system. Using a different interpretation of the length of service criterion will be helpful in widening the recruitment pool.

¨ A new independent prosecution service should be established, and this body has responsibility for all prosecutions in NI and that there should be an obligation on the prosecutor to investigate fully allegations of police malpractice.

¨ A programme to ensure that the judiciary reflects both community background and gender should be implemented.

¨ Restorative justice measures should be integrated into the juvenile justice system, focusing on rehabilitating the offender and repairing fractured relationships.

¨ The age of criminal responsibility in NI - currently 10 years - should be raised. 10-13 year olds should be kept out of the juvenile custodial system, and, in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, that those under 18 are to be regarded as children, that 17 year olds should be brought under the aegis of the youth courts. Care for children should be consistent.

¨ Appropriate ratios of male and female prison officers at Maghaberry should be maintained and prison officers should be properly trained in managing female inmates.

¨ A code of practice should be written to deal with victims. It should ensure that they are informed and consulted through the process of their case, and should clarify whose responsibility -the police, the prosecution or probation - it is to keep victims informed at a particular time

¨ Victims' advocates should be introduced. Victims desperately need this service. Victim Support's pilot project, initially for the Belfast courts and now extended to others, has been successful. It is clearly a much-needed initiative that requires sustained funding. We note that NSPCC also offers specialised support to child witnesses.

¨ Criminal Justice matters should be devolved to Northern Ireland and a single Department of Justice should be established.

Opening up a number of arms dumps was an important Confidence Building Measure, but the gesture we now require is the concreting over of those dumps, demonstrating unequivocally that there is only one mandate that government Ministers are subject to, and that is the electorate. This will not happen, however, if demands for it are framed in terms of surrender - decommissioning in our view has always been a voluntary activity, and will only happen when it is allowed to be.

Other Issues

The Assembly has responsibility for matters relating to our health, our education, and the economy. Below, we outline our policies in these areas.

We believe that the Education Service can contribute to reducing division in society through promoting core values that support pluralism, human rights and full participation in society for everyone. Children, young people and students must be at the heart of any Education Service. We recognise there are other stakeholders in the service, but believe that when setting education priorities in any community we must not lose sight of the student, whatever their age may be. We place particular emphasis on the needs and best interests and the willing participation of the child. We recognise that a new wealth creation base must be developed and the education service must be orientated to anticipate that change. But we hold a key principle that human beings are not cogs in the wheels of industry and are not to be seen as 'brain fodder to be educated solely to serve the needs of the world of work. We therefore see an important place for culture, the arts and sports in developing all members of community - older and younger.

We believe that
¨ There needs to be radical change regarding the selection or '11+' system as part of a process of creating a more democratic, equitable and stable society - we support the abolition of the current transfer test.

¨ A comprehensive, co-educational, integrated or non-denominational system of education based on equality of opportunity and excellence should be introduced. This system will encourage young people to value themselves and others, tolerate and value difference, and develop their ability to contribute to a more confident, pluralist and compassionate society.

¨ All children should be guaranteed a place at their local/neighbourhood comprehensive secondary school. Parents and local communities should be given a genuine opportunity to choose between segregated or shared second level educational provision.

¨ Children and society in general benefit when a child has had the advantages of good, well-provisioned nursery education with appropriately qualified staff. Thus, nursery school provision from ages 3-6 should be extended, and primary school should be available for all children from 6 years, finishing at 11 or 12 years.

¨ A Parent, Teacher and Child Council should be set up for Northern Ireland. This Council should be consulted on education matters enabling parent's teachers and children to play an active part in debates and decision-making on education. Money to fund such a Council should be made available from the education budget.

¨ The needs of Travelling Children and children from Ethnic minorities should be incorporated into Education strategy.

¨ Children with Special Educational Needs should be prioritised within the education system.

¨ Integrated education should be promoted and supported financially.

¨ Provision for student assistance must be made for further and higher education. Tuition fees should be abolished, grant levels restored to living levels, and the threshold for loan repayment raised to £25,000.

¨ We are opposed to the use of Private Finance Initiatives for building schools

Good Health should be acknowledged as a basic right for everyone. The greatest contribution to improving health will be through reducing inequalities in income and opportunity. Health cannot be considered in isolation. Every government policy has an impact on health and well-being. We advocate health and social services policy driven by an emphasis on prevention, the provision of good primary care and high quality and accessible services. We strongly support the maintenance and development of a comprehensive, publicly funded service.

We believe the priorities for health should be

¨ Establishing a Junior Minister for Environmental Protection and Public Health. Public health cannot be separated from the effects of social welfare and economic policies. A minister with combined responsibilities for environmental protection and public health would assess the effect of all public policies on health and the environment as well as driving the public health agenda forward. Food safety, the impact of industrial development and hazardous waste disposal, and the effects of biotechnology on food crops would fall under the remit of this department.

¨ Creating a new purpose built Women-Centred Maternity Hospital for the Belfast Region

¨ Devising a Regional Maternity Strategy that takes account of the important role of midwives in the caring and delivery process.

¨ More nurse led minor injuries units need to be established, shortening waiting times in A & E departments.

¨ Greater provision for rehabilitative services following acute care, in co-operation with the PAMs [Professionals Allied to Medicine] Group and community health workers.

¨ Greater resources must be devoted to new technology and developments in telemedicine. All medical personnel, including nurses should be trained in their use.

¨ NHS Direct should be extended to Northern Ireland. People here should be given access to this successful 24-hour nurse-led telephone service.

¨ Community health initiatives should be encouraged and given greater resources.

¨ Community paediatric services should be improved, as should school health services.

¨ A more pro-active approach needs to be taken to prevent accidents.

¨ Urgent investment in the provision of child and adolescent mental health services is essential to combat the growing problems of substance abuse, suicide, mental illness and eating disorders amongst adolescents and young adults.

¨ Mixed sex accommodation in mental health units should be stopped immediately.

¨ A regional 'medium secure' prison unit and an adequately resourced, proper community based mental health Outreach service, must be established urgently in Northern Ireland. Recognition of the specific health needs of the prison population must be made and appropriate services designed.

¨ Specific programmes need to be developed to treat children with autism.

¨ Urgently address the extension of new clinically approved drugs for conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, and cease the practice of allocating 'drugs by postcode.'

¨ Increase the rate of upgrade payments to nursing homes from 3.5% to 5.07%.

¨ Nursing care should be free and available to older people requiring long term care.

¨ Screening for breast, ovarian and cervical cancers must be more widely available. There needs to be stronger promotion of screening programmes and self-help projects for women diagnosed with cancer. There should also be simultaneous provision for breast reconstruction for women undergoing mastectomies.

¨ Greater emphasis needs to be placed on screening for cancers and ill health in the male population, including coronary artery disease.

¨ An urgent campaign concerning the promotion of sexual health and the prevention of teenage pregnancies. Peer education projects should be supported in this area.

¨ The Local Health & Social Care Groups must be established to reflect not only the key professionals, but of all of those working within the service environment. The balance of representation should reflect the business services at local level. Local Health & Social Care Groups may be more effective if they contained sub-structures below Management Board level that could be established on either a geographical or task basis and would promote the involvement of the primary care professionals.

¨ Recognition and promotion of the role of Complimentary Medicine is essential to ensure that complete and comprehensive treatment is provided to all within the area of primary care.

¨ Education of the general community in self-help and the holistic approach to overall well being must be encouraged in an effort to reduce the need of traditional medicine.

¨ A commitment to working for a situation where women have greater control over their lives so that fewer are faced with unwanted pregnancies. We need much more extensive, effective and comprehensive age-appropriate sex education, accessible contraception. We believe that these policies will reduce the need for abortions, but we also need to acknowledge and provide for that option for women who feel they need to pursue it.

¨ The needs of carers must be recognised and addressed. There should be a Carer's Charter

¨ State provision should be made for long term care of the elderly

The Economy
The Northern Ireland Women's Coalition contends that economic policy cannot be treated as a 'stand alone' issue. It must work hand in hand with social development, environmental protection, health care, rural and urban development, energy and transport strategy as well as education and training. In addition, the single European currency will be the biggest issue to affect the Northern Ireland economy in the years to come. We believe in the importance of the single currency for developing the Northern Irish economy.

The region must achieve a level of sustainable growth which benefits all its citizens, through the eradication of poverty as well as social and geographical inequality. Northern Ireland must also make greater use of its excellent reputation in the area of textiles and marine technology and build on its clean, green environment through a focus on tourism and the farming industry. Our wealth of young talent, many of whom are finally choosing to return home, should be encouraged to help give back to the region all that has been lost.

Specifically our priorities are:

¨ More clean, green production methods, including the use of alternative and renewable energy, energy efficiency, the polluter pays policy and incentives for waste management and recycling.

¨ Focused R&D strategies to support the development of new technology industries designed to enhance environmental protection and reduce global warming

¨ Increased focus on the recruitment and promotion of women in employment, including targeted training, workplace crèche facilities, increased access to job-share, as well as family friendly and flexible working hours.

¨ Increased aid for specialised training packages to give minority groups, such as the disabled and ethnic minorities, and vulnerable groups, such as the long-term unemployed and marginalised youth, greater access to job skills and employment

¨ Set targets and timetables for the promotion of women into senior civil service positions.

¨ A minimum living wage of £5/hour to tackle the issue of low pay

¨ Incentives to encourage 'social responsibility' in business and industry, with regard to its employment practices, its contribution to local communities and the environment, and its approach to trade with developing countries.

¨ Greater support for the social economy as a tool for promoting social inclusion, through local capacity building, community education and the not-for-profit business sector.

¨ Greater support should be given to those areas of industrial development, which contribute to the good health of society such as life/health technologies.

¨ That traditional industries, such as textiles and shipbuilding, be restructured to develop their potential as modern industries competing on the global market-place.

¨ Tax exemption for artists, craftspeople and the creative industries in Northern Ireland as a means of fostering the economic, social and cultural benefit of these activities.

¨ Increased support for innovation, design, marketing and export in all areas of production as a means of adding value to local industry

¨ A strategic approach to the generation and distribution of energy on the island of Ireland and within the British Isles with regular meetings of Energy Ministers to provide for increased co-operation

¨ Setting ambitious targets for generating new and renewable energy supplies and the use of non-fossil fuel on an island-wide basis and the promotion of innovative ways of producing energy.

¨ A massive injection of funding in transport infrastructure, particularly railways, in Northern Ireland to bring it into line with the needs of a modern world class economy

European issues
Europe is becoming increasingly relevant to all of our lives. We are supportive of greater European integration, and the main priorities for us in this context are:

¨ A detailed study of the impact on Northern Ireland business of the arrival of the Single Currency in the Republic, including recommendations to help local traders overcome any detrimental effects arising from their proximity to, and location outside, the Euro-zone.

¨ Promoting ever stronger links with continental Europe, through the new Brussels office, with particular focus on accessing the emerging markets of Eastern and Central Europe in preparation for EU enlargement

¨ Greater accountability in EU Funding and guarantees of additionality to ensure support is not being used to fill gaps caused to core funding. We will monitor closely the commitment to ensure EU funds are, first and foremost, used to cement peace and reconciliation in the region.

The Environment
People should have a right to live in a safe and healthy environment with adequate, appropriate and affordable social housing. Good housing, clean air, clean water, effective and efficient waste management policies and cheap and efficient public transport are crucial to a healthy environment. Measures to encourage greater energy efficiency, to combat fuel poverty and increase the use of new and renewable energy sources should be introduced.

Waste Management
As we consume more, so we (and our pets!) produce more waste. We know that there are providers ready to provide recycling bins, and the information as to how best to use them. We need an alternative to landfill waste disposal.

We propose
¨ New ways of managing and treating our waste. For example, growing natural reed beds can be a very effective and ecologically sound way of processing sewage
¨ More information and education about the positive impact that recycling can have
¨ More accessible and convenient recycling facilities
¨ Kerbside recycling facilities for household waste
¨ Conduct research into renewable energy sources, be courageous in piloting innovative schemes
¨ A comprehensive recycling scheme that will bring economic advantage by creating new jobs and increased tourism revenue

As our cities and towns expand, the methods by which we grow are of concern to many people. Old houses are being redeveloped into apartment complexes; local shops are losing trade to big supermarkets, and house prices are rising at a pace so fast that many families and communities find it difficult to sustain local links. We need to preserve existing green spaces, and ensure that new development happens on brownfield sites - in effect, a recycling of the land. New development changes the nature of the residents and new problems can arise, like noise and greater numbers of cars parking on already crowded streets. This can also limit children's safety and space to play on the streets.

We therefore propose to
¨ Adopt an overall plan aimed for 70% brownfield redevelopment, replacing the Belfast Area Metropolitan Plan proposals (for 60% greenfield and 40% brownfield) and keeping Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the UK and Europe.

¨ Encourage development that solves current housing, transportation and environment problem, rather than creating new ones.

¨ Require the Planning Service to zone land for social housing and amenities, so that community diversity is preserved

¨ Require the Planning Service to extend neighbour notification on all developments over 20 accommodation units or in the case of shopping or commercials developments. The current system is very limited and does not enable those most affected to be informed.

¨ A moratorium on the M1 Westlink development until the Road Transportation Strategy is agreed.

Our roads and public transport system are deteriorating. Local government as well as the Assembly has a vital role to play in addressing this situation. Increased reliance on cars adversely impacts the environment in terms of pollution, and compromises the community ethos we want to build. Reliance on cars diverts attention and funding from public transport and leaves those who are unable to drive because they cannot afford cars or because of disability or age, without effective transport. Regular, accessible public transport should be a positive choice for people in Northern Ireland. As Northern Ireland continues to expand, the need for a well-coordinated and proactive plan for transport systems becomes increasingly important to sustain our growth.

¨ Connecting strategies in planning and transport and allocating resources to ensure that community development and transport reform complement each other.

¨ Locating housing principally within existing urban areas, planning for increased density of development for housing and commercial uses which are highly accessible by public transport, walking and cycling.

¨ Seeking to reduce crime and the fear of crime by designing new developments in ways which promote community and road safety.

¨ Increasing the number of park and ride services.

¨ Researching alternative transportation like trams, light rail, and promoting cycling and pedestrian routes

¨ Introducing more traffic calming measures particularly in areas where there are families and large numbers of children living

¨ Integrating bus and rail facilities

Developing and Creating more Inclusive Communities
As we move from conflict into greater stability, we need to acknowledge the strength and skills of our local community groups and organisations and to support them. We also need to face up to the fact that the continued impact of sectarianism and violence on all aspects of social and economic life and aim to use creative and imaginative ways of tackling it.
We are committed to reaching out and involving both young people and older people in our communities. The exclusion of both groups is unjust to those who experience it and wasteful of much needed talent and experience.

Our plans for addressing these issues include:

¨ Facilitating discussion about promoting and protecting mixed housing schemes - not just in terms of religion, but also class.

¨ Establishing issue based community forums between different communities in the same area

¨ Lobbying for mainstream funding to community groups so that they can develop properly without the continual threat of closure or job loss

¨ Creating space to understand the other communities better - be they based on religion or ethnic origin, perhaps with local history programmes, exhibits, events and discussions in a positive and safe environment

¨ Economic development strategies that benefit women as well as men

Children and Young People
The change we hope to see in our communities will not be possible without the active involvement of young people. Young people are not just citizens of tomorrow, they are citizens of today. We recognise the essential role that they have to play in shaping current and future politics. In the Assembly we have proposed legislation to introduce a Children's Commissioner. Young people are disillusioned and disenfranchised from the political process, without a means to voice their opinions and needs to decision-makers. The effects of growing up in a culture of violence are still being felt and that this continues to limit the choices that young people make. They are bored with the limits that sectarianism places on their social lives. They need the freedom to seek employment, maintain a social life and feel safe in doing so.

Older People
Older people are a valuable community resource and a reservoir of knowledge and wisdom. Unfortunately they often feel themselves to be invisible and undervalued. Once people retire they should be able to live a full and dignified life, and be encouraged to make an active and positive contribution to society.

We believe that
¨ All retired citizens should have sufficient income to enable them to lead dignified lives without recourse to means tested benefits. Therefore, research should be commissioned into establishing a Minimum Income Standard for pensioner households as soon as possible.

¨ The Winter Fuel Allowance should be maintained and the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act should be enforced.

Victims of violence
The legacy of the conflict is still very much with us. It is time to work to heal the scars of violence rather than inflaming them through political game-playing and narrow party interest. At a policy level though, there is confusion over who exactly is responsible for dealing with victims of violence - both the Northern Ireland Office and the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers take some responsibility, but there needs to be clarification on an overall strategy.

We believe that there should be

¨ An urgently agreed co-ordinated approach to dealing with the needs of victims, one that includes representatives of victims, health and educational professionals, supported by political representatives.

¨ The development of a Victims Strategy between statutory bodies, funding agencies and the voluntary sector, including victims groups.

¨ Resourcing of more research into the effects of violence on our community.

¨ Support for community projects that deal with victims of violence.

¨ Access to information for individual victims not affiliated to groups. This could be provided by local branches of the Citizen's Advice Bureaux, who should be publicly funded for this work.

¨ A review of legislation regarding those victims who are prohibited from claiming compensation

¨ Specialist training for health professionals and counsellors in dealing with trauma and other victims issues


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