We cannot change the past but we can build a future. The 21 in our name stands for the 21st Century. Whilst we acknowledge the impact of the past, we will not let it dominate our future. We are committed to putting the past behind us and building a better future for everyone. We believe in Northern Ireland. We are proud of our culture, our people and our place. We are outward looking, positive, willing to look beyond the narrow confines of our own borders. Eager to embrace other peoples, cultures and opportunities.
We do not believe in using labels to describe people that they would not use themselves. We believe that people and their identities are complex, multifaceted and personal. A single label does not do justice to the individuals that make up our society. We do believe that Northern Ireland is better placed as part of the United Kingdom, but we will not accept the term Unionist, an old fashioned label which does not adequately describe our position on many issues.
If you want a label to describe us – We are Northern Irish.
Our economy is unbalanced, unhealthy and unsustainable. Only massive subvention from London permits the standard of living to which we have become accustomed. All industrialised countries, including the UK are having difficulty in balancing their budgets, the pressure on the subvention is likely to grow.
Growing our own economy is not easy. Not least of our problems is the huge attraction of London and the south east to those with skills and capital. In addition, we are a peripheral region, with a small domestic market, physically isolated from potential export markets.
To successfully tackle these challenges we need greater financial autonomy. We need the ability to offer lower taxes not just to corporations but to the skilled works and entrepreneurs who make our economy thrive.
We need to convince the Treasury that not only do we need lower taxes we need to maintain the subvention. This is not an easy task but we are not alone; almost every region of the UK will need similar flexibility if we are to maintain an effective national economy. We should be working with them to make the case to the Treasury.
This is not just a matter of economics but also a political matter. There is no need for compromise when somebody else is footing the bill; there is no incentive for innovation where the public sector is better paid.
NI21 supports the devolution of fiscal powers to the Assembly. The devolution of corporation tax on its own will not be sufficient, it may even be counterproductive; we wish to see the devolution of income tax and stamp duty. If we are to keep our best and brightest, we must be able to offer financial incentives, a vibrant cultural life, a great education system, world class health care and to do all that we need political stability and a unifying vision.
The headline unemployment figures are repeatedly trumpeted as a good news story. The reality for many, particularly the young, is anything but. One of the great tragedies for Northern Ireland is the level of emigration by our well educated and motivated young people.
The unemployment rate for 18-24 year olds in Northern Ireland is 21%, which is just above the UK average but this does not take into account the huge numbers that leave our shores.
The economic inactivity rate is significantly higher than the rest of the UK and our productivity levels significantly lower.
NI21 is committed to tackling youth unemployment; linking skills, training and jobs and significantly improving the careers advice but there is a missing element.
The world is awash with capital, it is short of people with skills, but people with skills are highly mobile. If we are to attract investment we must make it possible for those with skills to remain in Northern Ireland. Only if we can maintain a skill base will we attract long term sustainable investment.
We should be able to reduce personal income tax for entrepreneurs and those in their twenties.
We are convinced of the value of Science and the Arts to our society. Both provide opportunities for employment, education and dialogue.
NI21 believes that an integrated education system must be put in place over the next decade; and that by 2025 every child and young person’s experience of primary and post-primary education will be shared with children and young people from across the community.
We believe that parents are best placed to decide what is best for their children. Parental choice is important and valuable but it does mean that schools that are perceived to offer a higher standard of education will be over subscribed. Until such a time as the public accept that there is equality in educational opportunity a degree of academic selection should be maintained.
In the longer term we oppose a one size fits all approach to education. We want to see diversity and innovation in our school sector. Schools should be free to develop their own specialisms and ethos. Parents should be informed of the different options available and select a school that most suits their child. Our young people are not the same, the education system should reflect that.
There should be a broader educational offering available providing a diverse range of teaching models to match student potential to societal needs.
We believe in the promotion of STEM subjects from primary school level; ensuring our teachers have the skills to deliver world class science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.
The crisis in funding for higher education means that we must take tough decisions regarding student fees. Either we must increase the fees that students pay or we must increase the subvention to our Universities and Colleges. We cannot allow the standard of our 3rd level education to fall. The majority of students will not be required to repay their student loans but this does not mean that higher fees do not act as break. A repackaging of the fees proposals and shorter, modular courses with integration with the Further Education colleagues represents the long term goal.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK showing a decline in infrastructure investment.
Investment in infrastructure is key to delivering jobs, growth and prosperity for Northern Ireland. We fully support the delivery of the A6 dual carriageway construction linking Greater Belfast with the North West.
Strategic long term planning to replace and upgrade ageing road and rail networks will not only help rebalance our economy but will stimulate growth in the construction sector.
Climate change is one of the greatest threats facing Northern Ireland and the world as a whole.
We have an obligation to future generations to reduce carbon emissions and safeguard the environment.
We can take practical steps at a local level by incentivising a move from a fossil fuelled economy to one powered by renewable energy. The key challenge however is the building of a suitable infrastructure to transport energy from where it is generated to where it is needed. We believe that Northern Ireland’s public sector and the consumer should contribute to the cost of building a public asset.
In relation to reducing the use of fossil fuels, the move to gas where possible and ground heat pumps where this is not is to be encouraged. An absolute priority for better insulation should be provided and consideration given to the use of Financial Transaction Capital in this regard.
Northern Ireland is facing a public health crisis that is making the NHS unsustainable. NI21 will encourage everybody to take personal responsibility for their health. Reducing smoking and alcohol intake along with a healthier diet and exercise significantly reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and Alzheimers.
Northern Ireland should be a hub for medical innovation. Scientists should be financially supported to continue their work in clinical trials aimed at defeating some of the most serious illnesses which affect so many of our population.
The issue of anonymous health records being made available for medical research is poorly understood by legislators and should be supported.
NI21 believes in an open, tolerant and pluralist society that celebrates diversity.
We oppose all prejudice and discrimination based upon race, religion, colour, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation.
NI21 believes that a strong properly funded arts sector is vital to life for everyone in Northern Ireland.
The arts cut across social, educational, and economic barriers and enhance cultural appreciation and awareness. The Arts are not an expensive luxury, they are tool for cultural expression which is badly needed by our society. We spend so little on Arts in comparison to everything else that even a modest uplift would provide huge benefits.
Around 300,000 households in Northern Ireland cannot afford to heat their homes.
42% of the population of Northern Ireland are affected by fuel poverty compared with only 15% in England.
We must engage with and incentivise people to insulate and heat their homes in the best possible way.
We propose ring-fencing a proportion of the Financial Transactions Capital available to the Executive to help tackle fuel poverty.
The gas network in Northern Ireland should be extended to stretch beyond the Greater Belfast and ‘Ten Towns’ areas.
The North-South electricity inter-connector must be delivered within the next five years. Completion will not only drive lower prices for consumers but also provide additional power generating capacity.
NI21 supports the proposal by the Attorney General to bring an end to the prospect of inquests with respect to Troubles-related deaths. 1998 was a pivotal moment in our history when most expected a political line to be drawn under the past.
While ensuring that victims receive the support and resources they need, NI21 firmly believes that we must make progress in governing the present and building a future; the focus must be on a cohesive, productive and successful Northern Ireland.
We recognise that in many cases, the people directly involved and their families will have a deep sense of injustice that those responsible for the death or injury of a loved one will not be brought to justice. We believe they should be treated with respect, accorded the dignity their situation demands and given whatever practical support is required. However it must be recognised that as time progresses and without the benefit of personal testimony or forensic data the chances of obtaining justice will diminish.
NI21 respects and supports the rights of people to parade, and protest.
NI21 believes that the legislative authority for the process of mediating and adjudicating on contentious parades and protests should be devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Local politicians must take responsibility for parading and begin to manage interested groups’ expectations.
NI21 believes the Union Flag should be flown on designated days on Government Buildings.
We also believe that legislation should be introduced to regulate the flying on flags on street furniture, to ensure that national flags are flown with respect and that there is a zero tolerance policy for paramilitary flags.
NI21 supports the living wage campaign. We believe in the benefit of work.
Wages and rewards should be fair and commensurate with effort and ability.
NI21 believes that abortion should be available to women in cases of Fatal Foetal Abnormality and in cases of non-consensual sexual intercourse. It is not humane to force someone in difficult circumstances to travel to England without the help and support of their family and medical practitioners. Medical services that are available in the rest of the United Kingdom should be available in Northern Ireland.
NI21 does not advocate abortion as form of birth control but recognises the pressure that unplanned pregnancies place on many people. People in such circumstances should be provided with guidance and supported in whatever decision they make.
NI21 firmly believes in sexual education and wider availability of contraception to minimise risk of unwanted pregnancy and thus reducing need and requirement for abortions.
Making abortion illegal does not stop abortions, it makes abortions dangerous.
NI21 supports the the use and development of the Irish language in Northern Ireland, and the right to have this acknowledged in statute. However, an Irish Language Act would politicise the issue and is unlikely to succeed.
NI21 supports the reduction of the voting age to 16 for all local and UK elections and Referendums.
Although we recognise that Europe needs to reform significantly, NI21 believes that European Union has been good for Northern Ireland. It also recognises the difficulties of being governed by a small regional legislature. There are considerable benefits of being part of a wider legislative framework.
NI21 wants to transition our relationship with Europe away from the peace process towards maximising Europe’s potential to deliver jobs and growth.
There is no future for Northern Ireland that does not include a shared vision for Northern Ireland.
You cannot have effective government by an Executive which is fundamentally divided. While mandatory coalition is not ideal, any government which would exclude Sinn Fein would simply not work.
NI21 will provide a viable alternative to the parties of the past in the Northern Ireland Assembly. NI21 welcomes the reduction in the number of MLAs provided the electoral boundaries are changed to ensure minority representation.