Meath Peace Group Talks
No. 67 – ‘Towards a Shared Future: Ballymena’
Monday, 21st May 2007
Newgrange Hotel, Navan, Co. Meath
Jackie Patton (Community Relations Officer, Ballymena)
Delia Close (Vice-chair, Ballymena District Policing Partnership)
Ronnie Hassard (Principal, Ballymena Academy)
Kate Magee (Principal, St. Patrick’s College, Ballymena)
Jeremy Gardiner (Community relations development officer, Youthlink)
Fr. Paul Symonds (Kirkinriola parish, Ballymena)
Máirín Colleary (CEO, Glencree Centre for Reconciliation)
Official welcome: Cllr. Andy Brennan, Deputy Mayor of Navan
Fr. Paul Symonds
Questions and comments
Biographical notes on speakers
©Meath Peace Group 2007
‘Towards a Shared Future: Ballymena’
Welcome and introductions:
Julitta Clancy, Meath Peace Group: “Good evening everyone and thank you. We are meeting in the summer and there is an election campaign so we do very much appreciate you coming at this time. We want to particularly welcome our friends from Ballymena who have come a long distance to be with us and Cllr. Andy Brennan, the Deputy Mayor of Navan for the official welcome. I also wish to thank Mairin Colleary, Chief Executive of the Glencree Centre for Reconciliation who very kindly agreed to chair this talk for us. …
Cllr. Andy Brennan, Deputy Mayor of Navan: “Thank you…. I am deeply honoured to be in such great company, especially our friends from across the border. Peace has always been my priority. I served 25 years in the Defence Forces and I have been a Councillor for 14 years and I think that if we can’t have peace in our time there is something terribly wrong. I am looking forward to tonight’s discussion. So I will just say thanks very much for coming and I am deeply honoured to be here.”
Máirín Colleary (Chief Executive, Glencree Centre for Reconciliation) – Guest chair:
“First of all, I am greatly honoured to have been asked by Julitta to come here this evening and to chair this very interesting talk by the Meath Peace Group. I think their talks have been remarkable and I know they have sparked enormous interest in many people. I’m also very keen that we all focus on a shared future because we in Ireland have long memories …. and I think looking towards the future is something that we all need to learn to do and to do with confidence. Now that the political vacuum has been healed and there is a proper government in charge of the affairs of Northern Ireland I think that it is really important that we all look to the future. As somebody said to me recently: ‘I hope it is a shared future and not a shared out future’. So I think it is very important that we focus on that and I am delighted to chair this panel of speakers. I would just like to introduce quickly our first speaker, Jackie Patton, who has been with Ballymena Borough Council since 1988. She is Community Relations Officer for the Council and manages the Council’s Good Relations functions …..
1. Jackie Patton (Community Relations Officer, Ballymena):
“First can I just start by thanking you for the opportunity to be here tonight. We certainly appreciate it. It is always very nice to be amongst friends and to deliver the message in terms of what we are trying to do in Ballymena borough. If I just first give you a wee bit in terms of my background: I was born and bred in Ballymena and very proud of it. I am into my 41st year of living in the borough. My parents’ marriage was actually a mixed marriage, so I come from that. I was brought up Church of Ireland. I went to Ballymena County Primary which would have been a predominantly Protestant school and then went on to Ballymena Academy.
Ballymena Borough Council: “Basically, in terms of the makeup of our Council, I am not sure. I don’t think local authorities down here maybe necessarily have the same services as we would have. We have about half a dozen departments within the Council. They range from the Chief Executive’s Department, from building control to leisure and cultural services, through to the personnel policy department – of which I am a member of staff – to finance and estates and on to district public health. So we have a wide range. We have roughly about 350 staff.
“Our council is made up of 24 members. [Up to recently] …we would have had about 14 DUP, 2 SDLP, 1 Sinn Fein, 5 Ulster Unionists and 4 Independents. 6 of the DUP defected after the recent events….
Community relations programme: “In terms of the history of the Community Relations Programme within the Council. I am the Community Relations Officer and have been in the post since October 1991. The job has totally evolved from one in the initial days where I was organising a whole host of community relations events in the town – from an arts festival to sports events, to switching on the Christmas lights – a whole range of those sorts of things, whereas in 1998 after the Good Friday Agreement our funders felt that councils should be much more proactive in terms of promoting good relations.
‘So from that we decided we would promote a good relations strategy whereby we had eight or nine key themes ranging from cultural traditions to single identity work, to work with ethnic minorities, to work with a range of sports groups and inter-church work. Then we had the much more focused areas in terms of intimidation and territory marking, working with the likes of flags that would have been erected in the borough, the likes of bonfires – all very difficult sensitive issues. So, certainly as a department, we have been very involved with the likes of that. We also have various training sessions with our elected members in terms of affording space to go away to discuss sensitive issues within the borough. That has all been behind closed doors and again that has been difficult work to try to manage and to evolve, but our members have been part of it and certainly I think they have learnt from those processes. We also then have a whole range of Good Relations training seminars for our own staff within the council. So that really gives you a wee bit of the background as a borough council of what we are trying to do.
“Our Good Relations strategy is currently being evaluated and reviewed. Some of the key findings at this stage are in terms of shared space and civic dialogue, those sorts of issues. I would say probably in terms of the next three months we should be ready to take that to council in terms of our new Good Relations strategy.
“Back in 2003 we produced this document here which was sent around all the households in Ballymena and we entitled it ‘A Shared Environment’. It was around the time whenever the ‘A Shared Future’ document was actually being negotiated and was being consulted upon widely. So this document here gave our residents an opportunity to see as a department what we were involved in. Basically it went through the whole range of services – I have some copies here for people at the end….. it went around a lot of people and gave them an opportunity to tell us what they thought were the good relations issues in the borough at that time. Quite a number of people came back and filled this in, just to make sure that we were actually on the right track.
“In terms of projects, we work externally and we work internally. We have a very small department within the council. There is myself. I have a line manager and I have an assistant and we have an administrative person, so it is a very small department basically to try and disable that whole wide range of sectarian incidents.
Sectarian incidents: “Around 2005 the borough was very much badly affected by a range of sectarian incidents from petrol bombings to sectarian assaults, a whole range of things. I think I am right in saying we had a figure of about 80 assaults, various incidents of intimidation and racism in the period of about 4 to 5 months. So from that the council were obviously very concerned in terms of what was happening within our borough and at that stage we very much worked along with the Mayor in terms of trying to develop some form of civic dialogue to try and move things forward. So we will give you some details of that as we go on.
Ethnic minorities: “In terms of external projects we have a wide range of different things that we are involved in. One of the most important things as a council is to make sure that our minority ethnic groups are addressed and they are appraised and that they know exactly what we are trying to do as a Council. We are very much involved in consulting with them. We work very closely with them.
“We got help to fund part of the salary cost of the staff through Ballymena Community Forum. We also work very closely with Ballymena Interagency group and that is a multi-agency group of a whole range of agencies. There would be 25 agencies that come together on a monthly basis to try and work positively for the minority ethnic community in the borough. So certainly I have tried where we can to help with those issues. We as a council helped to produce this leaflet here about 3 years ago and that was translated into the various minority languages that were prevalent in the borough at that stage and that again was basically just telling people where the information could be gleaned from. Then we addressed a group 18 months ago and produced this document here and it was translated into about 5/6 prevalent languages at that stage and at the minute it is being updated. That basically gives a whole range of different agencies that people can contact. So that is very useful.
Young people: “In terms of some of the other external things we have been involved in, youth obviously is one of our key issues within the borough. Now I should say, within the programme I work along with, the large funders don’t actually ‘allow’ me to work with young people because there are other agencies set up to do that.
‘But obviously as a council we realise that our young people are very much part of our future. So therefore we are keen to do what we can. We have been involved in a number of things – and I won’t steal Ronnie or Kate’s thunder in terms of a very exciting project that they were instrumental in setting up called Common Purpose and Ballymena Learning Together and basically that project was set up last year in the aftermath of a very tragic death in our borough, a very young man who lost his life [Michael McIlveen]. Certainly as a council we have tried where we can to be supportive of that … all of our post-primary schools are involved in the Common Purpose programme. But I know that the experts will be telling you all about that.
Cross-community funding: “We have an external community relations grant scheme whereby a number of community groups in the borough can apply to us if they want to do cross community events. There is a small amount of funding – up to about £300.We gave out recently about 30-40 of those in a year. ….. Depending on what the good relations issues would be, we would try to work with one of the community groups there and to intervene in some of the work that would be going on. For example one of our areas …has been subject to quite a range of various sectarian and racist incidents over the last 2 to 3 years. We have worked very closely with the community there to developa good relations strategy, whereby we got consultants to go around all of the households in the area basically to find out what the key issues were with those people, so that it wasn’t just ourselves as a Council saying: ‘well we see a,b,c and d as the issues’, because that certainly is not the way that we want to work. That has been very instrumental in terms of managing to get about £5million funding into the …area … So we are very pleased with that.
Inter-agency work: “We work closely along with a local strategic partnership who administer the peace funds and again we have been involved in a range of projects that they have adopted over the last number of years. As I said we have also worked very closely with the Mayor’s department in terms of the Mayor’s initiative and again that was basically organised after the sectarian attacks in 2005. We have been very fortunate, our last couple of mayors have been very supportive of our work. They have tried to show real true civic leadership in terms of trying to move things forward. Currently we are in the process of working with Mediation Northern Ireland … after the death [Michael McIlveen] mentioned earlier they came into the borough to see if there was anything that could be done basically in terms of improving good relations. As a Council we are hoping to work with them in the near future to develop that programme and … again that would be looking at the key good relations issues within the borough in terms of shared space, segregation, disaffected youth, anti-social behaviour, a whole range of issues within that. So we are certainly very hopeful that that will be a good way of moving forward in terms of an inter-agency approach.
Internal work: “Internally we also do quite a range of work and we have set up a Good Relations Working Group: about 10 key staff working from the DPP to community safety, local strategic partnership, the policy unit, the town centre manager, community services, a whole wide range of services, and that is to make sure that those staff are working together, that we are all co-ordinated, that we know what we are about and we are making sure that we are actually mainstreaming good relations within the Council. As I said earlier we have had a wide range of programmes with our elected members. We have used a variety of agencies to come in and to get them space to be able to move forward as civic leaders.
“We have worked through the University of Ulster, Future Ways, CounterAct, the trade union movement …to try and help our elected members. Whilst at times that really hasn’t necessarily been easy work, they have certainly been happy to have been involved in it. We have tried to move things forward. We have been very fortunate over the last two to three years when things have been very bad in the borough that our Mayor has been very, very keen to show true leadership in moving things forward and we have worked very closely with the Mayor’s department making sure that the speeches are giving out the correct message, that nobody is going into the public domain and basically saying things not necessarily conducive to good relations, shall we say. We also have a wide range of internal funding of council events- as I said in the first number of years I was a council officer and I was involved in organising events. That is not the case anymore because basically we don’t have time to do that and so we would try and fund internal events from our own staff. … Initially whenever this was due to be set up, I think it was just Delia herself…..
Hope for the future: “I have great hope for the future. With the calibre of the people around this table tonight I think I don’t have to say anything further. They are simply people just trying to do their bit in terms of moving the borough forward. I am certainly very hopeful. As a resident and also as a council employee we can achieve it. It won’t be easy but we’re in it for the long fight. Thank you.”
Chair: “Thank you very much indeed Jackie and we will have time for questions towards the end of the evening. Please save your questions for then. I would next like to invite Delia Close to speak. Delia is a retired secondary school teacher and also a former member of the Womens’ Coalition, and she is currently serving her second term as an independent member and Vice-Chair of Ballymena District Policing Partnership. Thank you Delia.”
2. Delia Close (Vice-Chair, Ballymena District Policing Partnership)
“Good evening everyone. Thank you for inviting us. Like Jackie I also come from a mixed background with Catholic/Protestant parents. Unlike Jackie I was brought up Catholic. I was reared in Derry but have spent all my time since I got married in 1969 living in Ballymena, so I consider myself really as much of one as the other and certainly committed to Ballymena which is why I am here this evening and why I am also a member of the DPP. I feel I have something to contribute now. I have been retired for the last ten years. I have time, so I was quite happy to spend some of that time doing what I could.
DPPs: “District Policing Partnerships [DPPs] came into being as a result of the recommendations of the Patton Report which changed policing in Northern Ireland totally. There are 29 DPPs – one for each council area and then 3 smaller ones for individual areas of Belfast. The DPP is a partnership between the local council and the community. Its membership is made up of political members who are councillors nominated to the DPP by their own parties, and independent members drawn from the local community and appointed after an interview process by the Policing Board.
Functions of DPP: The function of the DPP is a consultative monitoring and facilitative work whose purpose is:
to consult with the public, to establish what issues in relation to policing and crime or/are a concern for the local area,
to identify local policing priorities arising from those consultations and to encourage the district commander to include them in the Local Policing Plan.
to have input into the drawing up of the Local Policing Plan and – this is quite a big one – to monitor police performance against the objectives contained in the Local Policing Plan and in the Northern Ireland Policing Plan as it relates to the district,
to engage with the community, to obtain the cooperation of the public with the police in preventing crime, and
to act as a general forum for discussion and consultation on all matters relating to the policing of the district.
Composition of DPP: “In Ballymena there are 19 DPP members, 10 councillors, 9 independents. The intention is to have a group which is representative of the area so, among other prerequisites, there has to be a gender and religious balance. Because all 10 councillors are men, the Policing Board appointed 8 women and 1 man as independents. I have been a member of the DPP since the beginning and I have seen many changes both in personnel and in attitudes. Councillors sometimes think they are attending a council meeting and have to be reminded that different rules prevail at DPP meetings. They are councillors, yes, but they are DPP members first when they have the DPP meeting, so at our meetings everyone is addressed by their first names with no titles allowed. Sometimes they need reminding of that! The great difficulty at the minute actually is remembering not to say “he” when they are talking about the Chief Inspector because we have a new Chief Inspector called Wendy and she is very definitely “she”, but every now and again you will hear “he” and they have to be reminded! But anyway they will get used to that too. We are bringing them into the 21st century.
Chair and Vice-Chair: “The Chairman and Vice-Chair hold their posts for 12 months. The Chairman is always, as per the rules, a councillor. During the first term of the DPP the role of Vice-Chair is also allocated to a political member. However that role has changed to allow for an independent Vice-Chair and I hold that position this year. I was elected to the position by my fellow independents.
Meetings: “As DPP members we are expected to commit two days per month to the work of the DPP by preparing for meetings, attending meetings, relevant training events and engaging with the local community. We hold a number of public meetings or general forums for discussion each year to enable people to present their views on the policing of the district. Public meetings are advertised in the local press and they are held in different parts of the Council area to ensure that all residents have easy access to them. Meetings are also held at different times to allow for different working patterns and domestic commitments. In addition to the meetings held in public at which the DPP monitor police performance, we also have private meetings which allow us to plan our business.
Consulting with the public: “Important though the public meetings are, there are other aspects to our work which are quite often more useful and more interesting. One of our duties is to consult with the public. This can take many forms. We have spent afternoons in the two main shopping centres. We stood giving information leaflets, talking to passers by about the DPP. Saturday coming we will have a stand at the Ballymena Agricultural Show where all members will spend an hour or two engaging with the public. Most people still don’t know who we are. So there is still a lot to be done here.
Young people: “Personally, I have found that my most interesting times have been spent with teenagers. As an ex-teacher I spent almost thirty years teaching. It was secondary school teaching I did so I feel totally at ease with teenagers. So I continue that where I can with the DPP. I help with focus groups in several of the local schools and I found it very interesting, because we found that young people generally no matter what their background have the same often negative views on policing. I also attended a meeting with a small group of boys who were friends of Michael McIlveen who was murdered a year ago. You will notice the same name coming up – I am sure all of us at the table here would agree that had such a huge impact in the town that changed everything in a sense. So many things changed after that, but there others here who can talk about it better than I can. But anyway this was a small group of boys who were friends of Michael’s. They were very forthright in their views on drugs and sectarianism. A few weeks later I went at the request of Inspector Stephen White to a PSNI training base in Antrim and watched three of the same boys being shown various aspects of police training. They were particularly interested in the riot training complete with real petrol bombs, body armour and riot shields. One of them offered his services if at anytime they needed volunteer rioters! I should tell people at this point that he was one of Kate’s pupils – I would be quite sure that you know the very same character I am talking about! But it was interesting to see 15-16 year old Catholic boys and police officers so easy in each other’s company. One thought he might like to join the police but not necessarily the PSNI. That would be a step too far I think. The work being done with these boys is ongoing and involves the police, the council, community relations and the DPP. So there is a wee bit of a joined-up process starting to happen which is very good.
Parades: “Part of the theory of DPPs was to make policing more open to scrutiny. I have found this to be a particularly influencing aspect of our work. I have been interested in the issues around band parades and orange parades for some time. For the last two years I have attended as an observer at almost all the local parades. I have been invited on several occasions to be part of the planning meeting in the police station for an upcoming parade. My comments and contributions have always been graciously accepted and I have learned a lot about the difficulties associated with policing parades especially those presented by band followers and at times counter demonstrations. I occasionally have been critical of some aspects of the policing of particular parades and I have made my criticisms known to the police on the spot and to the district commander.
“Only last Saturday I attended the first of this years band parades…. At this point I will just very quickly tell you that there is a difference between what is a band parade and what is a parade organised by the Loyal Orders, totally different. A band parade is just a local band who organise their parade and the idea of it – apart from putting on a wee bit of a show – is to collect money for their band. The Orange Order, the Black Preceptory, none of those are involved in these, so they can be a wee bit more volatile and a wee bit more of a problem. Currently there are some very good marshals who come from, let’s say, paramilitary backgrounds, who have been trained as parade marshals and that is actually starting to work quite well helping to make sure that there is no trouble along the route and they go where they are intended to go. So Saturday’s parade turned off not too badly and I have been asked now to go and talk to the Parades Commission on Wednesday about another upcoming parade which seems to be a wee bit more controversial. But let’s see how that goes.
“But things are getting better. I agree with Jackie totally. We had some hairy situations over the years but I must say on the evidence of Saturday night’s parade, people are talking much more to other people. Some wee problem I think with getting Sinn Féin to talk to the police in Ballymena. They are a wee bit behind everybody else around Northern Ireland, I think, but hopefully they will get there.
Community policing: “In October 2006 there was a review of neighbourhood policing and they decided to adopt a neighbourhood policing model which would incorporate a deployment strategy across all sector areas, the development of sector plans and ‘micro beats’. These ‘micro beats’ are the ones that are considered to be extremely important, the idea being that there will be small areas within the town which will have their own designated police person. They must guarantee that they will stay there at least a year so people get to know them. They trust them. They bring their problems there. One other sentence on local policing. They are developing – they have already got three and another one in the oven called ‘police surgeries’ where police go at a designated time every month to a designated place. The local people know, they come along, discuss their problems and they are finding that these surgeries are actually helping quite a lot. So I will just leave it there and not take any more of your time. Thank you.”
Chair: “Thank you very much indeed, Delia, and we will have time to go back to the issue of community policing at the end of the evening if anybody wants to pursue it further. It is a wonderful move forward. I am now going to ask two people who together represent the Ballymena Learning Together Initiative, Ronnie Hassard who is the principal of the Ballymena Academy and Kate Magee who is the principal of St. Patrick’s College, Ballymena, to talk to us about their initiative and tell us how it is going, so first of all I would like to invite Ronnie to say a few words.”
3. Ronnie Hassard (Principal, Ballymena Academy):
“Thank you. Can I just say first of all that I applaud what happens in the Meath Peace Group. What has beenhappeningimpresses me mightily, the archive [on the website] which I looked at is an important historical document that is happening. I will not add anything of importance to this historical document, but there you are. I’m from a mixed marriage too, my mother was Presbyterian, my father Church of Ireland. Despite that I have turned out the way I have! I am going to start, as is my wont, with a poem if I might. It is one that will be familiar to many of you. It is Patrick Kavanagh’s ‘Epic’ and I hope the relevance is apparent.
Epic (Patrick Kavanagh, 1938)
I have lived in important places, times
When great events were decided: who owned
That half a rood of rock, a no-man’s land
Surrounded by our pitchfork-armed claims.
I heard the Duffys shouting “Damn your soul”
And old McCabe stripped to the waist, seen
Step the plot defying blue cast-steel –
“Here is the march along these iron stones.”
That was the year of the Munich bother. Which
Was most important ? I inclined
To lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin
Till Homer’s ghost came whispering to my mind.
He said: I made the Iliad from such
A local row. Gods make their own importance.
“And I suppose it’s the God of small things that I want to talk about.
“Chair, earlier on you said that the political vacuum has been healed and we can look forward to the future with confidence. I believe that is the case. I’ve been an optimist and an educationalist and an idealist. I think that is important but it isn’t just going to happen. Maybe I began the poem as a kind of self defence. You might well find what I have to say is small-scale if not self indulgent and, if so, I apologise now.
‘I’m speaking to a peace group which has many years and 67 public meetings, I think, in the thinking about feuds and factions and communal self-destruction in the North and I am speaking to you just as peace apparently has broken out. I am also aware that you have addressed these issues many times and words for many people here such as ‘Northern Ireland’ and ‘Peace’ and ‘Progress’ will send them to sleep and they ignore them. I will try not to do that.
“Friday a week ago you heard about the events at the Boyne when the arms trade was reversed and the First Minister came down with a musket to the Taoiseach! I met a lady there, she was a teacher and we got talking about things. She didn’t get away quickly enough on me – that is what women usually do! But she said to me: ‘I haven’t followed the Troubles very carefully’ – as though it was racehorses or a football game, and yet it is true. She also told me that Drogheda was the furthest north she had ever been and I got the impression she was longitudinally challenged and that if she went any further north she would be contaminated and maybe violence would get in. It does seem that the river Boyne has assumed some symbolic importance in Irish history. Of course she is not alone. Many decent and good people north of the border are fed up …as well. Perhaps this will change, but young people increasingly don’t vote in our elections and they don’t feel part of the political process at all and they have accepted the status quo just as ordinary islanders accept the weather.”
Ballymena Learning Together: “And who am I to speak to you at this time? I am neither a politician nor a theologian nor a savant philosopher, psychologist, socialist, legal guru, lifestyle pundit or any of those contemporary know-it-alls who can fix everything. I am just an educationalist. I am a principal in a voluntary grammar school in Ballymena, one of nine schools involved in Ballymena Learning Together. I have been in Ballymena Academy for 3 years now and just at about that time, Kate [Magee] was appointed [to St. Patrick’s College]. There were a number of new principals in the town schools. We were meeting together, sharing ideas. It was a kind of a therapy group really, mutual self-help group for sad and lonely principals, but we had started to get to know each other and to feel a sense of mutual respect and trust when the events which both Jackie – a former pupil of my school – and Delia have outlined to you: when Michael McIlveen’s sectarian murder took place in the town. And whilst that didn’t make us meet – we were already meeting – it certainly gave us focus and impetus and did galvanise thinking. There is no doubt about that. The whole atmosphere of Ballymena … was changed by that.
“I wish that I could say as an educator that I had a magic cure for the ills of the community. I don’t. You have heard a speaker from the council. You have heard a speaker from the policing partnership. You will hear people from the churches. All of those people need to work together and it is interesting that we do know each other. We have met a number of times in different contexts. I am not sure if that is the case in every town. But there is a togetherness about the approach that is happening in Ballymena. I was an English teacher when I had a real job. Maybe that shapes how I look at things but I want to share a few perspectives, personal perspective stuff but I think they are shared by my fellow principals in the town. Their mistakes are never my fault, but the good ones we will share!
“Sustaining peace cannot be left to schools. If that is to be the case I think we should pack up now and get back to the fighting. Schools cannot do it on their own for a whole range of reasons….. I don’t know what you were like in school. I know what I was like in school and I didn’t always listen to what the teachers told me! In fact I was more inclined to disbelieve what the teachers said, possibly more than my father, but I don’t know. It would have been on a par. So that is one of the things I want to say. I want to say too that schools can and must take a strong and leading role and we have sought to do that in Ballymena.
“Other social institutions such as family, the politics, the churches, the police and justice system must also discharge their responsibilities. Indeed I would argue that the more effective those other institutions become, the less crucial is the schools role. That is probably counter-intuitive in a western democracy. Well, in Northern Ireland, the second biggest budget goes to schools – after health. So all of that investment suggests well, they must be important, they must do things, they must make things happen. I don’t believe that is the case. Research shows that schools are not nearly as important to young people as their families, their communities, and their peers and the messages they receive from the media. I don’t think that can come as a surprise to those with even a passing knowledge of contemporary teenagers. That applies to attitudes to sex and drugs no less than towards those who hold different religious or political beliefs.
Integrated schools: “Research carried out at Queen’s University for instance found out that it was not possible – at least not yet possible – to say whether young people who attended integrated schools tended to have less sectarian attitudes than their peers. That research is ongoing of course. That’s not to say anything critical of integrated schools. One member of our partnership is an integrated school and that is what makes it unique. We represent all sectors, different sizes of schools and different types of schools. Parents who wish to send their children to an integrated school should continue to have that option. They are good schools and I have no doubt their growth will continue and that should be encouraged. But a very small percentage of pupils are educated in integrated schools and even exponential growth won’t allow that in the short term to cater for all children. …Citizenship as an element in learning for life in work in their revised curriculum, a great openness to collaboration and a willingness to engage and join developed work with other schools. That would be more important I think as time passes.
Vision of Ballymena Learning Together: ‘Ballymena Learning Together’, involving all nine post-primary schools in the Ballymena area, is trying to establish open relationships and constructive partnerships between schools of all kinds. … If you know the Shared Future document well then the resonance is here. By working together we believe that schools can be more open, involving the community in which young people feel a sense of belonging, and where diversity and difference are seen as enriching and valuable. Our vision is of a society where young people from different traditions and cultural backgrounds can work together towards a shared future characterized by mutual understanding and respect. Which is all very well, easy to say, well relatively easy to say, but what does that actually mean on the ground? We have brought in an organisation called ‘Common Purpose’. This is a not-for-profit voluntary sector organisation which focuses on how young people can see themselves in their own communities as leaders and shapers of the future and that is for all children. It is a tall order I think. In Ballymena over the last few years we have managed to do this. We’ve also used ‘Spirit of Enniskillen’ an organisation founded in the wake of the Enniskillen bombing to help us. We think that it is possible to engage young people in controversial and sensitive matters but it is beyond normal classroom interaction. It is not just standard everyday give and take of the classroom. It is actually how you do it. It is how you engage with young people.
“I think the quality of parenting which young people have seen, the maintenance of civil relationships particularly over contentious issues which are going to be encountered, the successful conduct of the devolved Assembly, the wise investment of sizable amounts of funds in underprivileged communities, particularly the Protestant areas, an ongoing commitment to supporting schools’ efforts such as ours. We receive funding from Ballymena Council, from the Department of Education, from the Department of Foreign Affairs and from the Church of Ireland. We are open to other offers and … we have to do better, especially for the somewhere between 3% and 5% of young people who leave school at 16 without a level 2 qualification, and we have to find out ways in which schools can make a more telling contribution to wealth creation and greater prosperity for individuals on which better peace would be built. And yes that will happen through the curriculum and it will happen through collaborative activities but it will also have to be supported within the wider social infrastructure around us.
“Finally, a quotation from [Gerald Manley] Hopkins – it is the English teacher coming out again – who imagines peace arriving. He uses the dove- the biblical symbol for it’s arrival and he says:
‘And when peace here does house
He comes with work to do
He does not come to coo.’
“So there is much preparatory and enabling work to go on. There will be much more groups such as this to talk about. Thanks for listening again. …”
Chair: “Thank you very much indeed Ronnie. I would now like to invite Kate Magee to pick up on all the mistakes that Ronnie has made!”
4. Kate Magee (Principal, St Patrick’s College, Ballymena)
“Thank you very much. …. I’m really not going to say very much because Ronnie has very eloquently summed up what we are about in ‘Ballymena Learning Together’. Some of you I know and I have met before. It’s a great pleasure to see so many familiar faces and to be invited down here this evening. We feel very proud of the work we do in Ballymena but it gives us particular pleasure to know that you have such an interest in our work and that we can probably learn an awful lot from a group like yourselves. Despite setbacks and occasions in the past when you have been meeting and you have been downhearted or disillusioned about your work or your aims or aspirations, you have still continued to meet and you are a very strong and thriving group and I commend you for that. Hopefully we in Ballymena will be able to emulate that sort of commitment.
Death of Michael McIlveen: “The nine schools, as Ronnie has said, have worked very closely together and had been working very closely together prior to the very tragic death of Michael McIlveen who was a pupil in my school, St. Patrick’s college. I think the fact that we had been meeting and we had forged such strong relationships amongst the nine principals meant that when we were faced with that awful situation, we all pulled together. I know that, as principal facing the school community the day after Michael’s death, I was I suppose helped by the fact that prior to taking Assembly that morning I had phone calls from all other 8 principals in the Ballymena Learning community. ….
Support and strength from within the educational community: “There are situations that could divide us but we are rising above that. So, as I say, there is that strength that we gather from each other – and I know if I have an issue or a problem I lift the phone and I speak to Ronnie or one of my other colleagues and really it is that strength within the educational community in Ballymena, I think is very important. Just last week I was doing a staff audit. It is a very dangerous thing for a principal to do, to ask the opinion of staff, I am not terribly sure that I am wise asking! But, quite seriously, it is revealing…. I had my own ideas about where I wanted the school to go and what I want for the school and I asked the staff to give me their opinions in this audit. You have to make things quite easy for staff in terms of not asking them to write too much or to deliberate too much.
“So all I asked them to do is to try to pick three things that they feel that we are doing well at St. Patrick’s College and then to think of three things that really we could perhaps do better or develop or whatever. And I feel very encouraged by the fact that those who have already completed the audit, the one thing that they have highlighted as one of our successes has been the links with other schools within Ballymena …. it has only been in the last three to four years that those links have been developed and I think it is something that both the staff and the pupils are benefiting from.
Ballymena schools – offering young people the opportunity to respect each other’s traditions: “Ronnie has talked about the integrated education system and I know that many people – quite rightly from their perspective – feel that that is the answer, that that will provide the solution to Northern Ireland’s problems. But I am afraid I don’t think Northern Ireland’s problems are as simple as that, and I think those of us who have lived through the last thirty years realise that if they were that simple then we would have solved the problems a long time ago. The difficulty is if you put children altogether under one roof, both Protestant and Catholic, you are presuming that they will automatically get on well together and you are also presuming that when they go back into their communities that they are also integrated, and that isn’t the case. Really what we have in Ballymena is a more lifelike situation for our young people. They come from quite divided communities. We educate them. We ensure that we are providing them with a forum where they can very safely and very comfortably be proud of their own tradition but also learn to some extent to respect the opinions of others. We don’t throw them altogether and hope that everything will be alright. We do it in such a way that they have our support and they know that they are secure in hearing other people’s opinions and also voicing their own. I think that is important and I think that is unique about what we do in Ballymena. We are realists. Ballymena is a community that has suffered terribly over the last number of years. We won’t solve all their problems. But certainly we feel very much that what we have through our schools is offering young people the opportunity to respect one another’s traditions and realise that within each of their traditions they have a lot to be proud of but they also have a lot that they can learn from each other.”
Chair: “Thank you. Now I would like to invite Jeremy Gardiner to come and speak to us. He is Community Relations Development officer with Youthlink, an umbrella body representing the four churches. He has got some very interesting things to say to us.”
5. Jeremy Gardiner (Community Relations Development Officer, Youthlink)
“Hi, I feel like I am about to do Karaoke with a microphone standing up here! My name is Jeremy. I also come from a mixed marriage. My mum comes from the Falls Road and my dad comes from the Shankill Road. So I really do come from a mixed marriage. It was interesting growing up in that they chose to follow the Protestant faith but in doing so had to leave Belfast and live in Enniskillen, which is where I was born actually.
“My relationship with Ballymena started about three years ago when I came as a youth pastor to High Kirk Presbyterian Church. Primarily what I wanted to do was find out what was going on within the community at that stage so I spent time in the community trying to find out. Actually this is where I met all these people because I spent the first three months going around asking questions specifically of the principals and of the community relations worker trying to figure out what were the issues for young people in the town. The young people in the church that I represented, they lived in that town and they were the issues facing them. So I wanted to know what those issues were. There were a number of issues specifically at that time in regard to the bus station. There was abuse, bullying, that type of thing in the bus station. There was also an issue of suicide within the town. It was becoming very popular. There were a number of suicides. Drugs was an issue obviously. But one of the main elements of Ballymena was the sectarianism in Ballymena between the young people from Catholic and Protestant communities. So primarily what I started to do was build relationships with the Catholic Church and specifically Father Paul [Symonds] in just developing a friendship more than anything within the first year of being in Ballymena.
Harryville: “It was only a matter of months after our friendship began to grow that there was an attack at the Catholic Church in Harryville, a paint bomb attack by loyalists at the church there. In response to the paint bomb attack we decided to call Paul and just ask could we go down as a group of people from our church … and just clean up the church in the area. So we all got in a group and spent time clearing that up. When we arrived, unfortunately, let me say this, there were media there. We didn’t have any clue that was going to happen and also the PUP representative for the town. He was Billy McCaughey at that stage. He has now passed away. He was there to protect us more than anything, to be honest. We thought he was just there to show his support. So that was primarily my first introduction to Ballymena. It was really rough. I am not going to be polite about it. It was pretty tough at that stage. The first clean-up happened in July and another one happened in August in relation to a reaction from the first republican march that happened in Ballymena. We got another clean-up involving nine Protestant churches going down to Harryville and cleaning up the church. The reaction to that was pretty bad at that stage and eventually I had to leave home … I had to get out of the town for a period of time and just find out what was going on.
Paramilitaries: “But the relationship that really took off at that stage was the relationship that we started to build up with the paramilitaries within the area, the UDA and UVF. Paul and myself were keen on that in regard to building relationship with these people and trying to develop community relations within Northern Ireland. Throughout the next year we worked really hard with them and with Community Voice at that stage in building relationships to the point where they decided to clean up the front of Harryville Church and take away some of the murals that were there which was a real success story. However then the death of Michael McIlveen happened which wasn’t a success story.
Young people: “It wasinteresting at that stage watching the young people react. It is funny how young people just respond to what they are shown …That is specifically within the community. They just take on their characteristics and take on their way of doing things and we realised as a community, as a church leadership, as a school leadership and as a community leadership, that we needed to do something specifically for young people. I actually am really encouraged to say that what is happening in Ballymena over the last year and a half has been unbelievable actually, it has been amazing to see people coming together from all traditions, from all backgrounds and saying, “do you know what? We don’t want our town to be the way it has been known for in the past”. We are starting to see people work together which is great.
“I moved jobs from High Kirk to an organisation called Youthlink, which is an umbrella organisation for the four main churches in Northern Ireland which develops community relations specifically for youth. My target area is Ballymena so that is where I am based. …
‘I work with schools and I work with the churches and community groups within the area just to try and influence young people from all levels of the issues of community relations work. I have a few concerns ……… We have had a major reaction to the issues of young people in the area which is good in one part. But sometimes you know we can overreact and sort of like miss the quality for the quantity and I think there is an element where we need to start to evaluate what has been happening and the effect it is actually having with the young people. I am not sure if the strategy that we have in Ballymena is specific and focused on young people for their benefit. I think it is still something that we need to look at. We are not saying we are perfect. We are just saying, my concern is that we develop and continually look at it and evaluate it for a way forward and come up with the best practice possible for young people in the area and to bring other people and other agencies on board and to say look let’s work together. I think that is probably what my concerns are. As a church, organisation and as a Christian in regard to a shared future, I think it is the only way forward. I think diversity is something that we embrace andrelating to one another is something that we should welcome with open arms and walk together wholeheartedly.”
Chair: “Thank you very much indeed. That is very powerful and I’d now like to invite our final speaker Fr. Paul Symonds to come and talk to us. He had been a priest since 1976 and has worked in Belgium, Holland, Italy and France before coming to the diocese of Down and Connor in 1989. He is especially committed to reconciliation and unity of Christians. Fr. Paul:”
6. Fr. Paul Symonds (Kirkinriola parish, Ballymena)
“Thank you very much Máirín. My name is Paul Symonds and I come from a very mixed-up background. Symonds is a Jewish name. We were Jews from Eastern Europe and came, I don’t know how many generations ago, to London looking for work and at some stage my ancestors took baptism in the Church of England – I suspect for economic, rather than religious reasons, although I might be doing them an injustice there. My parents would have been non-practising Anglicans – Church of England they would say – and they sent me to a Catholic primary school. So that was my first encounter with the Church as church and it was a very, very positive encounter. But even then I was very friendly with the local Church of England curate and his family. So I always felt at home in more than one church and, during my years of primary school, one day one of the girls in the senior school said to me slightly aggressively, ‘are you a Catholic or a Protestant?’ To which I replied, ‘I don’t know’. She said, ‘in that case you must be a Protestant because if you were a Catholic you would know’! But I think people who know me very well would know that the answer to the question is that I still don’t know. A child of the Kingdom.
Vocation – call to Northern Ireland: “I came to Northern Ireland in 1989 and it was very much the fruit of or what I experienced as a real vocation, a sense of God calling me to Northern Ireland. It was as strong and intense as the original vocation to ordained ministry. I never doubted but that is exactly where God wanted me to be and I spent my first three years in North Belfast, and six wonderful years in South Belfast, and another four years in North Belfast, and then to my great surprise the bishop asked me to go to Ballymena which is not a place I would have chosen to go to. I expected to spend all my time in Belfast.
Ballymena – building bridges: “Once I arrived in Ballymena I knew that was where I was meant to be, and, because my whole life has been committed to building bridges between churches and establishing relationships, well that was the first thing I wanted to do. So I started with the Church of Ireland, met the Church of Ireland. I very quickly became friendly to one of the local curates… Neil is quite a character – he comes from Monaghan and has a quite a strong southern accent. He and I did a wedding together once and he related afterwards, ‘ah me and Paul did a wedding together and everybody thought that Paul was Church of Ireland and that I was a Catholic priest!’ But as a result of that, we organised a week of prayer for Christian unity service in St Patrick’s in the Church of Ireland with Neil and myself, the two of us preaching. Amazing at it seems some people told the rector that if a catholic, some people from All Saints came in with a pulpit from St. Patricks, then they would never darken the door of the church again. However I don’t think they did actually leave the congregation, thanks be to God. And then our nearest neighbour church is High Kirk Presbyterian. …I didn’t really reach out to the Presbytery of High Kirk, they reached out to me. Initially the then minister …invited me to coffee and then I began to make friends with some of the congregation and as a result of that was introduced to Jeremy. And Jeremy and I, when we first met, we just knew we were on the same wavelength, soulmates. We have enjoyed a rich and very fruitful friendship. So I am delighted that Jeremy is still working in Ballymena and especially in St Patrick’s College where I feel very privileged to be the chaplain.
Shared future – inter-church work: “Well what are the churches doing for a shared future and coming together in Ballymena? Well one way that I mentioned was through small starts. But a few years ago I was visiting the Benedictine monastery in Rostrevor. I don’t know if you know it – Holy Cross monastery founded from the monastery of Beck in Normandy in France – and it is the Benedictines in Rostrevor who are totally committed to inter-church work. So it very much a place where I feel spiritually refreshed and where I go regularly to be renewed in spirit. And whilst I was there once a Presbyterian minister called Dessie Maxwell from Belfast Bible college was giving a series of talks on the Torah, the first five books of the Bible called ‘Take Five’. I was just bowled over by the lectures and thought I must get him to Ballymena, initially I thought just to give a series of Lenten talks in my own church. But then talking to friends you began to think well why not open it up to other churches? So there were 5 churches on board, Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland, Methodist and two of the local Presbyterian churches – High Kirk and West Church. We decided to hire a room in a local hotel… and we booked a room that would accommodate 60 and on the very first night there were 120 there. So we had to ask for a bigger room which we got and I think on one night we were up to about 300. That was fantastic in bringing people together by no means not just from those five churches but from many, many different churches in Ballymena. Each evening the talk ended with a cup of tea and coffee. That enabled people to get together and friendships to be made. Two men came every five nights from Bally Baptist church and even in the Baptist world, Bally Baptist church would be regarded as super right- wing. Yet they came with long overcoats and great big Bibles under their arms. But they came every night and l made certain I had a little chat with them each night.
Inter-church Alpha course: “One of the fruits of those series of lectures from Dessie Maxwell was an inter-church Alpha course. I am not sure if you are familiar with the Alpha. The Alpha course was devised by an Anglican priest …in Holy Trinity Brompton in London and really originally with a view to explaining the essentials of the Christian faith to non-Christians, or the people who had no real church connection. But it has been welcomed by all churches including my own from the top down. Nicky Gumbel was received in audience by Pope John Paul II. Every mainline church has taken the Alpha course on board, but generally speaking for internal use. I think most of the churches, or many of the churches, have had Alpha courses including All Saints, including my own before I came to Ballymena. But this was the first time we had an inter-church Alpha course. And we were able to hold it in a local restaurant, a local café called Montgomerys because Stephen Montgomery who is the owner is a very committed Christian. He is a member of West Church and he is a very successful businessman who wants to use his business in the service of the Kingdom. So very much a man with whom I can relate very easily. He made his premises available and I think we had something like 60 names after the Dessie Maxwell talks. Once we had advertised, we had 110 people registered and during the 9 weeks, because it is a big commitment, the 9 weeks of the Alpha course we had an average weekly attendance of 95. The dynamic of the course is that it begins with a meal and Stephen provided us with a different meal every week for the 9 weeks … we very, very much enjoyed having a meal together … and that creates a nice atmosphere and trust and fellowship. After the meal there is a talk on some aspect of the Christian faith and then people are in groups and they discuss within groups. So it is a way of sharing things and building relationships and that went so well that we are going to do another one beginning this September. Last year we held talks on a Wednesday and this time on a Monday, hopefully to enable people who were not able to come on a Wednesday to come on a Monday. We are hoping to also have on board not only the five churches that I’ve already mentioned but also the Moravians. They are pretty committed, and the Church of Ireland in Aghohill, but also Hillside Community Church which was originally a Gospel Hall and they have an incredible outreach into Dunclough which is an estate that Jackie has already mentioned and we hope that at a future Alpha we will be able to focus on some of the difficult estates in Ballymena like Dunclough, like Ballykeel. So we channel it in that way.
Prayers for Ballymena: “As a result of the tragic death of Michael McIlveen, already alluded to, we started a series of prayers for Ballymena. The first one was held in West Church Presbyterian Church and I was the preacher. Well that was very significant. A Catholic priest was the preacher in one of the local Presbyterian churches! And then we moved to the Church of Ireland – St. Patrick’s – and we had a Presbyterian preacher and then we came to Harryville, to the Roman Catholic church in Harryville and that was very well attended. For the coffee after the service, I asked Harryville Presbyterian Church from the other side of the road if they would provide us with cups and saucers and all the rest of it which they did, which was a sign of solidarity. They did so without question.
‘Then I had a Church of Ireland lady priest as the preacher and that was probably one of the most successful of the prayers for Ballymena. Then we went to the Methodists and now we are waiting for High Kirk.
“I don’t want to go on too long. That’s just an idea of what’s going on amongst the churches to bring people together and to try and focus together on a shared future. One thing, with the joint Alpha course, in the evaluation sheet afterwards, I think everybody said that the reason that they signed up for that Alpha course was because it was an inter-church Alpha course and they realised there would be opportunities of meeting people from other churches. So thank you very much for your attention and hopefully there is some time for some questions.”
Chair: “Thank you very much indeed, Fr. Paul. I’d just like to remind you that the focus of tonight was community relations, the challenges in relation to Ballymena. I think there is no doubt that we would have heard a large amount of work being done taking very strong initiatives, taking risks, accepting the challenges to build a stronger and more integrated society. For that I think you all deserve huge congratulations. I could say lots but I am going to ask people in the audience if they would like to raise some issues, ask some questions and just to remind you: Jackie talked about the Council and the work they are doing and the outreach they are doing, Delia talked about the policing partnership, and there is a lot to be asked about community policing I think. Ronnie and Kate talked about the Ballymena Learning Together initiative and reminded us that schools can’t do it by themselves. A lot of people are taking that as an easy way out, saying, ‘oh well if there were integrated schools it would all be ok’. But I think that is clearly not the answer. It is going to take all of the community to make progress. Jeremy, you talked about the youth work and the challenges that you faced and overcame and the risks that you had to take, and being asked to leave your home – that is just a terrible thing to happen to anybody. Fr. Paul, you talked about working with the churches and the enthusiasm for bringing people together and creating opportunities which are safe… So I just wanted to remind you of the wonderful contributions of our panel members here this evening.
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS (SUMMARY)
Q.1. Canon John Clarke: “Thank you very much, John Clarke from across the way, Church of Ireland rector. From the point of view of Ballymena, is it a growing town, are there new communities coming from other parts of Ireland, other parts of the world? Is it multicultural growth? If there is, what sort of effect is that having in terms of unification if I could put it that way?”
Jackie Patton: “Yes, certainly over the last two to three years there has been amazing growth. In terms of actual numbers we don’t actually know. … We have a Ballymena Community Forum. We have got an ethnic minorities project and the statistics would appear to show that there are over 3000 members of minority ethnic communities, predominantly from Eastern European communities. In terms of the effects that that is having, I mean obviously as a council we have been very aware of some of the issues that that is creating and we are trying to work very closely with them in the minorities programme. There is also a fear factor in terms of the business population certainly. There is this perception that these people are coming and taking their jobs. … There was a man called Billy McCaughey who was a PUP representative in Ballymena, and out of all the good work that Billy did, he organised one amazing conference about two to three years ago, before his death, young guys from the streets together ….and he got those guys together basically to look at the whole concept of racism. He managed to get David Ervine to that. He was amazing as well because he talked about his family and how he went to Australia and some of the things that had happened to them. … He also brought together a personnel manager from one of the local industries – the McCain chicken company – where again the perception was these guys were coming in and ‘taking our jobs’ and they were able to show statistics that they were spending thousands of pounds of money every year advertising for these jobs and basically people didn’t want the jobs. So yes there are issues, but on the more positive side we have managed to be able to integrate these people into the community I think very successfully in that we have made great friends with so many people. The multicultural aspect in Ballymena I think is quite amazing. You go down the town and it is just amazing, the plethora of languages you can hear, the colour of faces. Certainly I think that holds out great hope for the future. It is not to say there won’t obviously be issues but I think generally we have become more aware of what this is in trying to move forward.”
Ronnie Hassard: “I’m interested because one of the things that we as a school group wanted to do was try to define what we stood for. Everybody said they were against sectarianism. But we didn’t think it was a good idea to define yourself by what you are not. So we are about promoting good relationships, about openness to whoever that may be, and …. While I hope that immediate issues of sectarianism will recede, as they are expressed on the streets in Ballymena, I fear very much that the racism and a latent racism could well be unlocked. But I think the sort of work you have heard here would help to combat it and prevent it….”
Q. 2. Julitta Clancy: “Thank you very much all of you for your contribution. Just one comment in relation to the schools initiative. I was very interested when I heard you speak at the Department of Foreign Affairs Reconciliation Forum [April 2007] because, outside the immediate reasons why you have set up the [Ballymena Learning Together] initiative, I felt it could serve as a kind of a role model for a lot of rural towns all over the island where you have large secondary schools, different types of schools, and what you are doing – working with communities as well as the schools community. Ronnie did say that schools can’t do everything and we do often load too much on schools and on teachers. As parents we do that very much anyway. But we have to be able to work together. I think that is tremendous what you are doing, and it shows tremendous leadership. It can do nothing but good in terms of the parents and the students and the communities. I know there was some criticism of you at the forum – that you should all be integrated schools etc. This comes up all the time. We do a little bit of work in schools here with Transition Year students, trying to get them to think about the issues and stuff like that. When education comes up, they all say the schools [in NI] should all be integrated. But we are not integrated down here. Integrated education is good but, as you said, it is not always the answer. I would love to see schools here in the south taking on board what you are doing because of all the other issues we have here. Racism is one, but problems in communities, drugs, suicide, all of those pressures. Schools working together can do enormous amounts to help and to empower young people.”
Kate Magee: “I know that wasn’t a question but I would like on behalf of ‘Ballymena Learning Together’ to thank you for those kind words. Just to pick up on two points, one about the Eastern European community and also the fact that we as a school are very aware of our role in the community. I think that was the one thing following the death of Michael McIlveen …. The attack on Michael took place in the early hours of Sunday morning and he actually died on Monday. The next day I took the whole school assembly and I noticed that a lot of his school friends were not in that day and I became very anxious about where they were and the influences that they might be coming under. So after I had finished the assembly I got into the car and drove to the estate where Michael had lived and I felt very ashamed that in actual fact it was the first time that I had been in Michael’s estate. I have to say I was absolutely horrified at the condition of the housing for a lot of those young people that I teach in my school, it was the first time I had become aware of it. And I think that it proved to me that in a way a school can provide for young people a very safe, secure environment but as soon as you go out into the community we have to show them leadership within the community. They can do it in school and I think we do it very well in Ballymena, but we also need to show leadership within the community. Just to pick up on what has been said, as I say I was very conscious of the fact that those young people were vulnerable at that time. Their very dear, very close friend had died as a result of sectarian attack. I was very worried about the influences within their own community that they might come under and I think they got the shock of their lives. I pulled my car up on that morning and I went into the community centre and I sat amongst them. It is very important what we do in Ballymena. At school we are educators and that has to be our prime reason for being there. Friday evening we are going to A Shared Future concert at which both Dunclough college – one of the other schools – and my school are having a joint choir and again the council are working towards promoting that concert. The principal of the other college is going to be there. So these are the things that are important
“Just to finish on a note about our Polish students, we would have about 11 Polish students in the college at present. Most of them came to us perhaps with no English and their parents have little or no English either. But one particular lunchtime two of the boys had a fight. You will be pleased to know that Polish boys fight just the same as Irish boys fight and they were taken to my office. So here I was standing in my office with two young boys who had just fought and they had no English. I, as you can imagine, had very little Polish, but I did have a Polish dictionary so I was standing with the dictionary and I was opening at a certain page and pointing to certain words.
‘So we did mange to get the reason for the fight! It is something that I think has enriched our community – the presence of children from different backgrounds and to some extent I suppose it has made our young people more outward looking towards welcoming people from different countries and I think, as Jackie has said, it could do a lot of good to enrich our communities as long as they are providing the example of that to young people we meet in terms of welcoming others from different cultures.”
Q.3. Nuala McGuinness (Nobbber): “I would like to just follow up on what Kate was talking about. I would imagine that teachers have quite enough to do teaching children without having to visit their homes and what not. In view of the community problems in large towns not only in Northern Ireland but throughout the island and also with the influx of all the foreign young people coming in would there be a role for a social worker … attached to schools in problem areas? I think you have started something marvellous and I’d like to see it spread to other towns in the same way as I’d love to see something like the Meath Peace Group spreading in the south of Ireland. I know it is very difficult. I would also think that perhaps schools along the border – both sides of the border – could get together. Finally Fr. Paul I attended an Alpha course here in Navan a few years ago just for my own interest. I wasn’t a member of the parish or anything. But it was solely a Roman Catholic affair and I did feel it lost a lot by the fact that it wasn’t ecumenical. So I agree with you one hundred percent on your views on that. Thank you.”
Q.4. Paul Barr (Dunshaughlin): “Thank you very much. Tonight seems to be a night for outing things. Two points struck me in particular. One which said diversity is something which you embrace and I absolutely agree with it. But I think it needs to be qualified by saying you can only embrace it whenever you erase the fears and what it is that people are prejudiced against. The second thing was, as Jackie said, 6 DUP members [in the Council] have been become disaffected by what we all regard as progress and it helps to see them in a different light. I am just wondering is there any evidence in the work that you are doing and the people that you are working with that you can address the fears of these people, these disaffected unionists or is their alienation a potential threat to your collective efforts?”
Chair: “Thank you very much indeed. That is a very interesting question. Who would like to respond?”
Ronnie Hassard: “I will give a very brief response to that because I think again in the schools context, we are very open about what we do. All of the schools signed up to it. All of the board of governors were consulted with it. They signed up to it. Before a child goes out to anything, the parents know what will be happening, what is going on, what the purpose of it is. It is very well publicised. It is very well known within the community. I would have expected that within my own school, given the constituency, that I would hear voices against the initiative … I haven’t heard those voices. … Any child being prevented going out is yet to happen. If any parents are saying they disapprove or disagree with this it is yet to happen. One of the things about Ballymena people is that they are fairly forthright and if they don’t like it you know it. So being open and being honest about what we are doing is a very large part of that and in time I hope, as more of this happens and the benefits are seen, then that will be part of it.”
Fr Paul Symonds: “In the Alpha course we were surprised by those who signed up to it.”
Jeremy Gardiner: “To me it’s the element of leadership, what we are showing and what we are presenting. In the group that we had … for me it was modelling diversity. It’s up to us to continue to do that even when people are against us.”
Delia Close: “Referring to the point on dissident DUP members, one of the loudest voices in the breakaway DUP group … is disillusioned, he feels that he was lied to, this is palpable. If that is the price that Paisley pays, if it stays there it won’t be a problem. It’s felt that there are some problems for Paisley. He promised never to go into government with Sinn Féin. It’s understandable but I’m not sure that in the long term that it will make a difference.”
Chair: “How to break down fear? In th south we have difficulties. In our view the only way is by getting to know each other and creating dialogue. By seeing each other in that light. At Glencree we are very committed to being inclusive.”
Q. 5. Jim Owen (Kiltale): We hear your story…We hear about your communities. In the south there are some differences. What advice would you have for us? Help us to reflect on our communities, we have less Protestant communities, and a growing lapse in the Catholic faith. What advice can you give us?”
Jackie Patton: “I’ve worked for local government and really it’s about the power of the people. We don’t have talks like this. We are very much encouraged by your presence here. We need to have people there. With two or three people to organise. Civic leadership have been superb. Education can’t do it alone. Things have developed. Don’t talk yourselves down.”
Delia Close: “Talking about policing: one of the big successes of the Patton report has been the appointment of the Police Ombudsman. Just as the RUC needed modernising, I’m sure you would agree that the Garda need modernizing. The changing of policing has made a huge difference.”
Fr. Paul Symonds: “John Paul II said the church had to breathe through two lungs. It is to be regretted that there is a very small Protestant presence [in the south]….The way the church can go …It can bring about a more smaller and committed church. See itself as a server of the kingdom of God.”
Jeremy Gardiner: “The only way to change it is to get to know it. The bus station issue, the only way I knew about it was because I felt it. … The other thing I would say is to get to know the people of influence. Build relations with them, the people on the ground that can change things.”
Q.6. Arthur O’Connor (Trim): “Is there any danger of Christian unity breaking out? Practising churchgoers are getting less and less. I came to Trim in 1953. There were about 2000 in the town. Today there are about 8000, and there is about a quarter attending church. …”
Q.7. Vincent McDevitt (An Tobar, Ardbraccan): “I found it very helpful. Each of you brings a rich experience. We could make a gesture – bring two groups down to Meath. One group would be Catholic, and one would be Presbyterian. I would look forward to networking with you.”
Q.8. Fr Iggy O’Donovan (Drogheda): “As somebody who has dabbled a little in ecumenical matters, and as a priest, I’m looking at declining numbers. ….. We were damned and defined by mass-going and beneath the surface it was quite shallow. The recent events [Drogheda concelebration], it was a massive surgical operation. It was painful. A period of purgatory may be necessary. There are many people who are very alarmed and I do hope and pray that we can have a society that we are enriched.”
Ronnie Hassard: “I think the lessons of history would show that it would create more fear in seeking that.”
Fr Paul Symonds: “I would agree that there is a richness in the different traditions. We are going through a purgatory. I think it can only lead to a better result in the end. Unity through diversity.”
Jeremy Gardiner: “I think the church has a lot to answer for. In its silence it has actually condoned a lot. Young people don’t want to know. …. We can retrieve it and make it better. The church is still in the element of fear. We have to deal with what we’re at.”
Q.9. “I teach in a Catholic school. I would be worried if they only see it as going to mass on a Sunday. They should live out their Catholic faith. I feel very strongly that they may not attend church now but that they will come back as a result of the priests that they know now. It’s not something to despair over
Delia Close: “I will just digress. They make a very distinct difference between the young Protestant boys and their neighbours and those they don’t like – the Celtic/Rangers split. …. It’s their own age group that they have the problem with., the level of sectarianism is at their own peer level. When they are ready to talk about it it is helpful.”
Vote of Thanks: Jean Kenny (Navan)
Biographical notes on speakers (in order of appearance)
Jackie Patton has worked for Ballymena Borough Council since 1988 and took up her current post as Community Relations Officer in October 1991. Her role involves managing Council’s Good Relations function throughout all Council business. The Good Relations Unit of Ballymena Borough Council has been involved in a range of projects including:
Contentious issues such as flag flying, kerbstone painting and bonfires.
Working in partnership with our local Community Forum to establish an
innovative initiative working with our local minority ethnic communities.
Cultural projects ranging from St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations to sports and
arts festivals throughout the Borough.
Delivery of a Good Relations Grant Scheme whereby local Groups apply for
funding to promote positive Good Relations in our community.
Creation of an internal Council Good Relations Working Group combining a range of officers from Community Safety, Community Development, District Policing Partnership, Local Strategy Partnership, Economic Development, Town Centre Management and Ballymena Community Forum, who mainstream Good Relations throughout Council business.
Delia Close is a retired secondary school teacher and a former member of the Women’s Coalition. She is currently serving a second term as an independent member and also vice-chair of Ballymena District Policing Partnership (DPP). Delia is also a member of the Ballymena group, ‘Community Voice’.
Ronnie Hassard and Kate Magee:
Ronnie Hassard is principal of Ballymena Academy and Kate Magee is principal of St Patrick’s College, Ballymena. Both principals are involved in the Ballymena Learning Together initiative which enables the 9 post-primary schools from all sectors of the Northern Ireland education system to ‘involve students in programmes where they are allowed to express their opinions in a safe and controlled environment, while listening to and learning from the sometimes very different opinions of others’.
Jeremy Gardiner is Community Relations Development Officer for Youthlink, an umbrella body representing and serving the four main churches (Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist and the Church of Ireland). He was formerly a Youth Pastor for High Kirk Presbyterian in Ballymena. Jeremy is also a committee member of Community Voice in Ballymena. ‘My work in Ballymena was focused on the young people within the church itself. However to effectively do this you had to understand the environment in which they grew up in. This lead to work in the local community and essentially stand up against issues such as sectarianism. My work now involves educating young people for youth work and community relations work.’ He previously addressed the Meath Peace Group talk ‘Towards a Shared Future’ (No. 63, 13 November 2006) and also addressed transition year students in Dunshaughlin Community College who took part in the Meath Peace Group peace education programme
Fr Paul Symonds was ordained in 1976 and has worked in Belgium, Holland, Italy and France before coming to the Diocese of Down and Connor in October 1989. He was appointed to the parish of Kirkinriola (Ballymena) in August 2003. He is especially committed to reconciliation and the unity of Christians and is a regular contributor to BBC Radio Ulster’s ‘Thought for the Day’.
Meath Peace Group report 67 (2007)
Taped by Julitta Clancy, Oliver Ward (Nobber) and Jim Kealy (Navan)
Transcribed by Catherine Clancy (Batterstown) and Judith Hamill (Tara)
Edited by Julitta Clancy
©Meath Peace Group
MEATH PEACE GROUP TALKS
No. 63 – “Towards a Shared Future”
Monday, 13th November 2006
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath, at 8pm
(CEO, Community Relations Council)
Esmond Birnie, MLA
(UUP, south Belfast)
(Good Relations Officer, Belfast City Council)
Dr Colin Coulter (Dept. of Sociology, NUI Maynooth)
Welcome: Anne Nolan
Opening words: Colin Coulter (Chair)
Questions and comments
Closing Words: Canon John Clarke
©Meath Peace Group
‘Towards a Shared Future’
“The overall aim of this policy is to establish, over time, a shared society defined by a culture of tolerance: a normal, civic society in which all individuals are considered as equals, where differences are resolved through dialogue in the public sphere and where all individuals are treated impartially. A society where there is equity, respect for diversity and recognition of our interdependence” (A Shared Future: Policy and strategic framework for good relations in Northern Ireland, Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, March 2005)
Welcome and introductions: Anne Nolan, a founder member of the Meath Peace Group, welcomed the speakers and the audience to Dalgan Park, before handing over to the guest chair, Dr Colin Coulter of the Dept of Sociology, NUI Maynooth …
Dr. Colin Coulter (NUI Maynooth):
‘Thanks very much. Can I just start by returning your thanks and I just want to express my appreciation for the opportunity to come and chair this evening’s talk on ‘A Shared Future’ and the possibility of a shared future for Northern Ireland. It is a very opportune time, it always seems to be an opportune time for these discussions in the context of Northern Ireland. There are a number of deadlines looming in Northern Irish politics, perhaps an influx of choreography towards what seems to be a pre-ordained end of, perhaps, a re-instalment of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Perhaps Esmond will have more insights into that later on.
“I think that when the original ceasefires were declared in late summer/early autumn of 1994, and certainly when the Good Friday Agreement was signed back in 1998, a lot of people were very hopeful for the future of the North of Ireland, particularly the future for community relations and so on. And certainly there are signs of progress in the North but unfortunately as ever there are also signs that things are moving in some context in the opposite direction. It’s sometimes hard to sum these things up and capture what’s really going on, but certainly some people are optimistic about the future and others are not. Certainly the assumed ‘peace dividend’ of what has been going on over the last generation in the North in some parts of working-class Belfast doesn’t seem to have come to fruition. The research of a former colleague of Duncan’s and a good friend of mine, Pete Shirlow, would suggest that in certain parts of the north and east of the city that what you might call sectarian feeling and hatreds not only haven’t evaporated … but if anything they appear to have hardened. Research by other people such as Paul Connolly in the North would suggest that sectarian recognitions and the beginnings of sectarian enmities begin perhaps as young as among 3 year olds….
“What perhaps I think is particularly depressing is that certain forms of ethno-nationalist sectarian feeling in the North seem to persist in certain areas, some people would say they have hardened. But what has happened of course more recently – and this has got rather lurid headlines that possibly over-stated the problem but it is I think unfortunately a problem – is that pre-existing traditional long-established forms of prejudice have been complemented by other forms of perhaps slightly newer prejudice in the form of racial intolerance. I’m sure many of you have seen those perhaps slightly hysterical headlines about Belfast being the sectarian capital of Europe. There’s been a number of these including a recent BBC NI ‘Spotlight’ documentary about this problem.
“So in the context of this political flux at the level of political elites, and in the context of ongoing enmities, stereotypes, on the ground, we are here to have this particular debate/discussion, sharing of ideas and so on, talking about a shared future for the North of Ireland. Some of you will have seen the document which has been presented from the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister which talks about the possibility of a shared future, not merely among Protestants and Catholics, but of course among the other ethnic groupings that exist in Northern Ireland.
“To put it in perhaps a slightly brief context, hopefully the rest of our speakers who have more experience of Northern Ireland – I have been very happily in exile in Co. Kildare for the last few years and I have enjoyed it very much, but of course one of the problems of living that distance, even a distance of 100 miles, you don’t necessarily have a feeling for what’s going on on the ground and obviously the four speakers here tonight will have more of a grasp of the nuance of things as they are lived day and daily in Northern Ireland than I certainly would.
“The first of our speakers – and I will introduce them in turn, everybody has been given biographical details of the four speakers so I won’t say too much about them [Editor’s note: biographies included at end of report]. But I just want to introduce our first speaker and he will speak for 15 to 20 minutes – Duncan Morrow. Duncan is an academic, a political scientist by training, and he has written particularly about issues of religious identity and religious intolerance in Northern Ireland and has been seconded as Chief Executive of the Community Relations Council….
1. Duncan Morrow (CEO, Community Relations Council)
“Thank you very much indeed, and thank you for inviting me. It’s always nice to come and speak to a new group. Julitta has been trying to get me to come here for a while and it’s good to take leave of your traditional routes if you’re from Northern Ireland every now and again, so thank you very much indeed.
“My name is Duncan Morrow, as Colin said. I am chief executive of a very unique organisation – I don’t know if it has any parallel – called the Community Relations Council which was established in 1990 as an attempt to try to engage a wide range of people across particularly Northern Irish society but it has always tried to reach past that in discussion as to how we might move forward on a collective and a shared basis. So our fundamental reason for being is to explore from a grassroots level what that might look like and what the specific issues might be, and we have a degree of finance and money which we put as far as possible to good use to promote and support people who are trying to do that kind of work.
“But recently, and really since I came into the job, our focus has been on how we ‘mainstream’ – that’s the word, the language, the jargon of the time – this whole idea of sharing. The Government – the British Government I suppose and I will talk about that at some point – in 2002 launched a strategy and a consultation to try to look at what this might look like in practice, and it was called ‘ A Shared Future’. And I suppose there was a certain kind of unforeseen beauty in the whole concept of what they were trying to talk about. In talking about a shared future the notion was to focus people on what kind of future are we going to have, some point of common interest, I suppose that’s the first point – that we all have a common interest in this future.
“And usefully – certainly for somebody whose organisation was up for grabs and we as an organisation were part of the review, so that was also important from my point of view of course but that is not really what I am here to talk about today – but this document did not have, or it missed out, a question mark. It simply stated it: ‘a shared future’.
“Now since then I have had various typos put my way in relation to this, one of which talked about a ‘shared failure’, another which talked about ‘a sharded future’, and then it had ‘scared future’ and ‘snared future’ since then, which basically starts to show how quickly you can move off track here.
“It was useful for me when we were going around trying to engage people in thinking about a shared future to avoid the possibility of a question mark, to actually put it as a statement, to say ‘we are here together, we live together, we have some interest in the future, the only question is what kind of future is that shared future going to be?’ And then to try and focus people on that.
“But I want to, at least here, and I do this a wee bit more in the North than I have been doing of late, focus the minds on the fact that in these kinds of situations a question mark is the backdrop against everything. A question mark about whether there is a shared future is the backdrop which comes out of decades, and even centuries if you want to go back, of conflict as the daily reality of people’s experience and certainly of division.
Mark of progress: “So the first thing I want to say is: to get to the point where a Shared Future has no question mark is of itself a remarkable achievement and as such possibly is still a sleight of hand, possibly is still a sleight of hand, although I hope not. But I want to at least set the backdrop of progress in terms of – first of all the absence of a question mark.
Perceptions of community relations: “I also want to say that ‘community relations’ – too often the work that I have been involved in is focused on good relations, nice talks. I did a piece of work before I went into this job where we asked people what they thought community relations actually was. Now first of all we got a whole load of people who expressed their political fears. Most of the unionists told us they thought it was an ill-disguised plot to rumble them into a united Ireland against their will, and most of the nationalists told us it was a British Government counter-insurgency strategy! But the most damning of all came from the civil service, a leading civil servant now retired – I won’t mention his name but he is retired and I’m sure his ghost still haunts the corridors – he told us that it was the ‘cucumber sandwiches of policy’ – nice people talking about nice things harmlessly. And you don’t even need teeth – you can take the crusts off.
“Now, the difficulty with all of this is, he is associating all this stuff with the soft end of work, and as soon as you are called ‘soft’ in government be very careful because you are on the slippery slope and a vast slippery slope towards oblivion. Because after soft comes ‘hopeless’, ‘harmless’ and then ‘meaningless’.
Community relations as ‘hard policy’: “Actually, in my view, this isn’t soft at all. It’s hard and harder. This is harder policy, and it’s harder policy because what you are trying to do is put two magnets with polarised opposites against each other together. You are trying to do policy which other people don’t have to do because they assume that the nation is a point of social cohesion. That’s the great language of our day – ‘social cohesion’, what brings us together. And the notion that most people have is that we’re all members of a nation. And the notion that Gordon Brown in Britain has is that Britishness will bring us all together. I have to say ‘try to apply that in the Falls Road and you will see’, but I also have to say that 1916 rerun by Bertie [Ahern] was the idea of social cohesion for the Irish Republic, and I have to say that ‘it doesn’t work on the Shankill Road either’. And we have a problem about what it is that is going to bring us together in this shared future. What is our point of social cohesion? What is the thing that joins us together?
“And I would also like to say that trying to make policy for this is therefore not soft – it is asking people to do what we don’t know how to do, it’s asking us to learn what we don’t know how to learn, which is: how do we trust people who it is rational for us to fear? And it’s rational on the basis of evidence… I don’t know about down here but up North there’s talk about ‘evidence-based policy-making’ and the evidence is not in favour of trusting them to share the future….
Expansion/expulsion:“A truth about Northern Ireland is that we have lived in a politics where the goals historically were expansion and/or expulsion. In other words: ‘we take over you but there’s no possibility of you taking over us, so we will expand and if necessary we will expel.’ Sharing sits for me at the opposite of the politics of both expansion and expulsion. If colonialism is expansion, then getting rid of them is expulsion. And at the end of it we have to decide when people say ‘is the war over?’ What the war being over means that the policy of expansion and expulsion are replaced… And that ask is huge, and it’s the one thing that the political traditions of this island find extremely difficult to both acknowledge that that’s at their heart and that that’s the problem, but also to row back from, or to find another space from.
“Because the antidote to their expulsion is our expansion and the antidote to their expansion is our expulsion. They’ve always been answers to each other. We have to find a different answer altogether if we are to move past it, and a shared future at the end of the day, taking off all the wrappings, is actually about saying something new has to happen here. But I don’t want to be here as Mr Naïve either, that’s why it’s hard and hard, not hard and soft, none of that is soft, not one bit of it is soft.
Zero sum game: ‘I think that to have lived in communities in Northern Ireland which have been at loggerheads is to grow up with the presumption and – a big academic word again here – antagonism. What does ‘antagonism’ mean? Antagonism means that our future depends on their defeat, it’s the so-called ‘zero sum game’. The zero sum game is: if I go up one, you have to go down one, if you go up one it means me going down one. Plus one minus one equals zero. That’s the notion of the zero sum game. Therefore antagonism is ‘if they go up, we’re going down, if we go up, then they go down’. And therefore the truth of it is that if antagonism and ‘they’re out to get us’ was not the lie… And huge amounts of violence over time, certainly of organised keeping apart, have been the story, and trauma of actual experience is in the middle of that. Sharing isn’t logical, to be honest. So in some sense or other being asked to share is already a big question.
Is it right to ask me to ‘share the future with my abuser’? “Number two: if you believe – as most of our communities appear to believe – that ‘we only did what we did because of what they did to us first’, in other words, we agree on who the problem in Northern Ireland is and it’s nearly always ‘them’, and if the problem is ‘them’, then they have to do the changing because they’re responsible. And we can’t change actually because if we do they’ll take it and it’ll be a further act of injustice. So if we are the abused community, if we are more sinned against than sinning – which is the line – then the logic, the imperative of it is that actually we the sinned against are being asked to make a deal with the sinners on the basis of equality and that’s not an appropriate equality. The peace we should be looking for is the victory of the sinned against over the sinners. And so it is fundamentally unjust to be asked, even to be asked, to deliver anything in this context. And I suppose – to modernise that up from sins and sinners into a less religious context – if we believe we are the abused, is it right to ask me to share the future with my abuser? Do we do that in child abuse cases, do we do that in rape cases? No we do not. And there are many who believe that their community is the abused one, is the sinned against, and that being asked is an ask too far.
“So I suppose the fact that it has taken 12 years to get from ceasefires to now – and we’re trying to do it on a voluntary basis – is hardly surprising. I’m going to take that and twist it around and say it is another reason for optimism. Another reason for optimism is that we have got further along this road than we dare hoped that we would ever get.
Hard conversations: “A lot of people think community relations is nice talking, and we are absolutely plagued with the notion that community relations is harmony. People think you come away with a nice feeling, that it is a kind of organised new-age thinking in which the main feeling is a kind of a spiritual glow.
“It’s not that at all. It’s under what circumstances can we have real conversations, so paradoxically it is about finding the spaces in which we can have the hardest and the most difficult conversations, not the lightest ones, not the easy ones. And progress is measured because more comes into the realm of the possible.
Massive progress: “There is simply no way to discuss paramilitarism and politics and policing in Northern Ireland without risking that these will be controversial issues. There is simply no way to deal with how we share government without there being difficult questions. And so, in my view, the fact that we now can is massive progress, massive progress. These are now things we don’t resolve in people being killed or walking out, they result in people taking the issues home and re-thinking them. Now I think that’s progress. But I have to tell you we haven’t made the click yet but we might be closer to the click than anywhere we have ever been before and we might be beginning to see the scale of the thing.
NI one of the best examples of ‘conflict management’: “Finally, British-Irish cooperation: we have had big advantages over a lot of different places and one of them is the fact that, over time, Britain and Ireland have ceased to be the enemies they once were. That has consequences I have to say. What it means is that in some sense or other, Northern Ireland is one of the best examples of conflict management anywhere in the world. … Basically, in 1920 when partition happened, anti-Britishness, anti-Irishness, was rampant across both of these islands and in some sense or other it got wrapped up and reduced and managed in the 6 Counties. The rest of Britain and the rest of Ireland moved away. They weren’t dragged into an everyday experience of violence and trauma. It was possible to go on. But Northern Ireland continued internally to have the same discussion, rolling round and round in a circle.
“In 1970, or 1969, when Britain and Ireland re-engaged in Northern Ireland, the British Government had lost India and they didn’t care about Ahoghill. The Irish Government thought about stopping standing idly by and then generally did stand idly by. In the end of the day, Northern Ireland was ‘The North’, it was a place apart, it was now a different place. But even since then – and this is to meet Colin’s point – even since then we have had an incredibly successful conflict management strategy. After 1975, 95% of the people who were killed in Northern Ireland were killed in 3 measurable groups: they were the poor in urban Belfast, particularly north and west, they were the people who lived in contested rural districts, mostly the border areas and mid-Ulster, and the security forces who by nature of their work went into those zones. After that the rest of us managed to live past it.
“Now the result of that is that unpacking this means that it is very discomfiting for people who were quite comfortable with the conflict. The truth is that the conflict as it was was expensive, financially, but it was only difficult at a once-removed way for Britain and Ireland, and then for the middle classes in Northern Ireland or those who were not directly affected. And so to be asked to change, if we’re asking everybody to change, it may be more uncomfortable than living the conflict with some other people paying.
“So conflict management is something which has worked, and I think has been a great success, I am here to say that it has been a success and that it has downsides because as we go into reverse on it, it may ask people who were comfortable to become uncomfortable, and that’s going to be a complicated and difficult process. And in some sense or other we are now at that point where everybody has to engage.
“I have two more things to say and one of them is about this document, you’ll be glad to hear!
Different world: “I suppose that we live in a different world now. The world is changing very rapidly. Not only are we getting migrants coming through the door at the most profound rate that Ireland has ever seen, we have moved as an island from being a place of emigration and poverty to a place now of migration and wealth, or seen as such.
“And that’s true even in Northern Ireland where 70,000 people have arrived since 2001. So the whole nature of the bipolarity of Northern Ireland begins to alter with that.
Western Europe: “But we have also other things. We live in western Europe and thankfully western Europe has two things: first of all, it’s an acknowledgment, I think, after World War I, that the wars of empire had stuck, and an acknowledgment after World War II that actually nationalism which doesn’t know its limits also must be stuck. And so Northern Ireland lives with those two advantages, that we do have specific pressure to find a deal which is not about expulsion and expansion.
“Antonio Gramsci who is an Italian Marxist wrote: ‘the crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born. In the interregnum – in that pause in between – a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.’ I think we are living in the time of the morbid symptoms. The old is gone, it still hasn’t any morbid symptoms, and the question is can we bring something new to birth here, in Northern Ireland?
Shared Future: “Let me go on quickly to talk about the Shared Future. ‘A Shared Future’ as a document was actually by the British Government. And there’s a set of paradoxes in all of that. The last Executive could not agree on a document to consult on, it was one of the things that after ten months of disagreement they had to leave on the shelf when the Executive collapsed. That is its own kind of tragedy. The British Government under Des Brown …. then pushed the document out, not this document but the consultation document, which has left a lot of people thinking that it is a British Government document but I certainly think that it is very important that the devolved executive would get its hands on it and agree what it is that people want although it was extremely widely consulted on. 10,000 people at least directly took part, through various submissions and written submissions and so on. It’s a huge consultation on a policy document. And the outcomes in it are here [document]
Vision for NI: “The document has a number of things I still want to hold to. One is the Government adopted the first Executive’s vision for Northern Ireland which is very very general and very high level and nevertheless needs to be clung on to, in my view: ‘ a peaceful, inclusive, prosperous, stable and fair society firmly founded on the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance and mutual trust and the protection and vindication of human rights for all to be founded on partnership, equality and mutual respect …’ That was something agreed by the parties prior to them collapsing.
Normal, civic society: “It then put in this second one which is: ‘the establishment over time of a normal, civic society in which all individuals are considered equal, where differences are resolved through dialogue and where all people are treated impartially, a society where there is equity, respect for diversity and a recognition of our interdependence.’
Recognition that change needed ‘at all levels and policy’: “So there’s all these high-faluting words. And nevertheless, the critical element of it for me is that government at some level or other bought in that this isn’t a work for NGOs just, this isn’t just a work for nice people at tea parties, this is the work which, if people are serious about a shared future, will require change at all levels and policy.
“And for the first time in a government document it starts to spell that out, and in spelling that out I suppose it starts to hit at vested interests and the reality that this will not be a quick process but a slow process of dialogue and recognition and exchange.
“It says housing, education, it says working on interfaces, it says the whole issue of flags and emblems, it says that planning and all sorts of other areas of public life like youth policy will all have to be considered now with what difference does it make that we are shared rather than that we are a defensive mutually antagonistic society?
Making trust credible: “How do we begin to build things now from a different point? If we take that as our starting point and that as our end goal, what would we do differently and how would we get there? And it starts to say this isn’t a 2-month, or even a 5-year agenda. This is about a direction, about turning a tanker, about beginning to take policy choices across the room all of which over time begin to add up to a different direction for Northern Ireland, on the basis of one thing: on the basis that – and I’m giving you this – that as we take these steps there may be another history begins to emerge, the history that trust is credible. Because the critical issue in moving from conflict management to conflict transformation is to make trust credible.
Conflict management and apartheid: “Because conflict management is extremely extremely plausible: just manage this, let’s have apartheid. Well let me just say very quickly why I think it won’t work. I don’t think you can have apartheid without having inter-community defence forces springing up to defend it, I think you can’t get over apartheid while not having what they call in the North ‘the pike in the thatch’, holding out the possibility that you might have to defend it.
Equality: “I also think that unless we have a common shared sense of mutual obligation to each other, equality will always look like a competition, not like something we give to each other as citizens.
Housing: “I also think that if you have apartheid you have inevitable sectarian clashes, around, for example, housing. If only some people can live in one area and some people can live in another, then what happens is that if more people want housing on one side and there’s empty houses on the other, then you have to negotiate change and that starts to look like territorial defeat rather than just adjustment to new demographics.
Poverty: “I think the reality of poverty is that if you have antagonistic communities continuing, the reality is not just does that create poverty but that poor people are people who live in the middle because everyone else gets out. If you have economic choices you don’t live beside the interfaces, and the reality is that violence causes poverty just as much as poverty causes violence. There is no way to get investment into those areas, there is no way to get educational purpose into those areas because as soon as you invest in it people leave. So conflict management which does not address this issue is simply another recipe for maintaining things as they are and it will continue to penalise the poor in my view. It lets off the rest. It has all sorts of labour market problems. The problem with management isn’t management. It’s done very well, but we can’t settle for it.
Task for a shared future: “So the task for a shared future is … can we make sharing plausible? And to make it plausible it has to be serious, and I don’t know if we are still at the point where we really really buy in that we have a shared future. Because fundamentally it is a decision and it is a decision not for strategic purposes, for tactical purposes, it’s an actual understanding that one way or another and in what other jurisdiction, the British-Irish question can’t be solved by expansion and expulsion any more in the North. It has to be solved by something else, whether under Ireland, whether under Britain or whether under any other jurisdiction. Thank you very much indeed.’
Colin Coulter: ‘Thank you very much, Duncan Morrow. Our second speaker is Esmond Birnie. Esmond was an economist in Queen’s University Belfast and since 1998 has been a member of the legislative assembly for the Ulster Unionist Party.
2. Esmond Birnie, MLA (UUP, south Belfast):
“Thank you very much for inviting me. I believe I was last here in 2000 I think and obviously over the last 5 to 6 six years quite a lot has happened.
“The theme is ‘A Shared Future’ as Duncan has been outlining, and I also want to talk about community relations and the policy in general. I certainly agree with Duncan that this is a matter of great significance. It is also clearly a difficult subject and there are no easy solutions.
“I will start by outlining what you might call my own perspective. I have lived in Northern Ireland for most of my life. I suppose like anyone who has – if we can use that phrase today – ‘patriotic feelings’ I do want what is best for the country I live in. All of my own children are under the age of five and I now have that added good reason to feel – as I think many people in Northern Ireland feel now – in the middle of the 2000s in terms of the experience of the Troubles since 1968, please never again. So how can we stabilise the relative peace that we have and indeed improve it and entrench it so that we do not repeat what happened between 1968 and more recent years?
Unionists and community relations: “I also obviously speak as a unionist. Now it is true I should say right from the start that the view of unionists such as myself on community relations has sometimes been criticised. I think Duncan was too polite to go into that but we have been criticised.
Perceptions of unionism: “It has been said, first of all in this context, that we lack political vision to help build or entrench the new society which, arguably, we should be striving for in Northern Ireland. Or it has been said: ‘well, if unionists do have a vision with respect to community relations and all of that, it is at best one of ‘leave us alone’, in other words it is said unionists such as myself that what we really want is an uncomplicated world where there are no Irish nationalists living in Northern Ireland and indeed there is no Dublin government south of the border to annoy us: ‘if only all these things would go away’. That’s the sort of caricature of the view that some unionists are alleged to have. Most seriously it is sometimes alleged that unionism cannot comprehend community relations, in a sense can’t even go to the first base in this, because it is argued that unionism is necessarily about dominance, about dominance of one sectarian grouping over another.
“Well, how do I evaluate all of that? It is sadly true, I think it is undoubtedly true, that some unionists do lack vision – but then that’s probably true of all political camps within Northern Ireland – and that some do hanker after some perceived past nirvana, maybe it’s the 1950s, I’m not sure what the decade is they would imagine, but some time in the past when they imagine that political life was much less complicated and indeed had far fewer compromises. And yet this lack of vision or narrowness of vision, I would submit to you, is not true of all unionists, it may be true of some.
It is also sadly true that some unionists are, I have to confess, bigoted, some are deeply sectarian and indeed – Colin was referring to this point about race attacks etc – some are indeed also racists. But then that would be true of some nationalists and republicans on both sides of the Irish border.
And none of this proves that unionism as an ideology is necessarily about ethnic or race supremacism. It’s precisely because I want UK – United Kingdom – rights for all that I personally am a unionist in Northern Ireland and I am proud of the United Kingdom’s essential nature as a multi-national multi-ethnic unit.
A Shared Future – essential elements: “But what of my vision as a unionist, and indeed as an Ulster Unionist member of the Northern Ireland Assembly regarding the shared future? Well I believe any shared future should include the following elements:
“A Northern Ireland that works, and that is true on a number of levels, obviously politically but also socially, and indeed – as both Colin and Duncan were referring to – there is the economic aspect which we have been devoting a lot of attention to over recent months.
“It should also be a Northern Ireland ‘at ease with itself’ to quote from a phrase from the former leader of my party, David Trimble. And part of being at ease, but not the only part of it, is a decisive end to terrorism and it has to be said we have not yet got completely to that point, as well as bring an end to the problem of the organised crime which is being spawned from the paramilitary groups. So it moved to a new franchise, from political violence to commercial threat and violence
“Whatever ultimate constitutional aspirations various people have, as part of a shared future I hope there will be some shared loyalty to Northern Ireland as a region or province, depending on what your preference is for nomenclature, which we have in common. And such loyalty can be part of the multiple identities which most individuals have, so within these islands I think it is rare for people to have single identities, people think of themselves as having a variety of different national and indeed regional and cultural identifications.
“I think there needs to be some working assumption that the constitutional status quo – what we currently have – is what we will work with as long as a majority so wish; that, after all, is part and parcel of the terms of the original 1998 Agreement and it hasn’t actually been changed by the subsequent semi-agreement – if it turns out to be an agreement – at St Andrew’s in Scotland last month.
“Now all the above has to be allied to the recognition that it would neither be in my view realistic or right to attempt to create some sort of bland ‘neutral homogenous identity’ within Northern Ireland.
Role of government – balance needed: “Regarding the role of government in all of this, I think a balance is needed. Government action, and indeed even on occasions legislation, can sometimes have a valuable role in signalling and therefore nudging society in the direction it should move. In other words, it can encourage social attitudes to shift, though I think fundamentally government cannot really change attitudes. And yet we do need to be very careful. World history in the 20th century demonstrates limits of social engineering and how attempts to build heaven on earth often lead in practice, as it were, to the other place being attained.
Lessons of history: “In any case a particular identity is very much part and parcel of who each of us are so it may well be that it’s simply morally wrong for governments to attempt to re-engineer individuals in such a radical manner. The 20th century historical record – using that again – in various European countries also shows that increases in social integration between, for example, ethnic and religious groups – which after all is what we are concerned about in the Northern Ireland context – are no guarantee that communal violence will not subsequently occur. Compare, for example, Tito’s Yugoslavia where there was considerable integration of Croats, Serbs and Muslims, and that did not stop the subsequent bloodbath that came about during the disintegration of Yugoslavia after 1991. The more positive way to look at the lessons of history, and indeed European history of the last 100 years, is to see that it is possible to have a somewhat pillarised society – ‘pillar’ as in door pillar – that is between the various confessional and sectarian groups in society and yet also have a peaceful society. Good examples of this were provided by Switzerland and the Netherlands between roughly the 1880s up until roughly the 1950s.
“By that stage secularisation would have somewhat but not entirely removed the former entrenchment of the pillars – Protestant, Catholic and indeed then also the non-religious socialist trade union pillar – in each of those continental countries.It might well be objected that we are not the same as those continental successfully pluralist societies. True, but in a sense that’s precisely my point, because any prospect of a shared future in this part of Europe – Northern Ireland, that is – has been undermined precisely because we have what is unusual relative to Switzerland and the Netherlands: a 4-decade or so terrorist campaign plus chronic instability between constitutional options.
“And I fear the latter, the instability regarding Northern Ireland’s constitutional destination, has not yet been removed.
Shared Future document: “To make some more detailed comments on the Government’s ‘A Shared Future’ document which was published in March 2005. Now there are some things in that document which I can agree with, and indeed my party can agree with, so I am only going to highlight a few areas – areas where my party and I have particular concerns.
Support for a shared society: “Page 4 of the document, one which Duncan didn’t quote, says: ‘there is overwhelming support for a shared and inclusive society’. I hope that is true but I have to wonder if everyone has the same understanding of what that society might entail.
Flags: “Then when it comes to actions through public policy, the first one to be mentioned in the document is the removal of – as it terms it – ‘visible manifestations of sectarianism and racism’. Particular stress is placed on flags flying in our streets etc. In the first instance there will be attempts, the document says, to remove these through local agreement. Failing that then the police will step in and try to bring the flags down. Now the document claims that two-thirds of people want to see paramilitary flags, i.e. flags relating to the IRA, UVF, UDA etc, removed. I would certainly support that. Like many others I find such flags, including those relating to the loyalist groups – some of which actually have in the past hung in the street where my house is – deeply offensive.
“The document does also note, and rightly so, that there is additionally a tradition of what it terms ‘popular flag flying’ in Northern Ireland. I assume that’s a reference to the flags and bunting that go up before the 12th July and so forth. I would add that whilst I do not think street lamp-posts should be changed into flagpoles – in that I am with the policy – it is, I believe, and my party would say, proper and right to have regulated flying of the national flag in Northern Ireland – which is the Union flag – from government buildings
Education: “A shared education, that’s another theme in the document. Now here the terminology used is, I believe, significant. It does note the existence of the so-called integrated school sector – about 5% of secondary level pupils at the moment – and yet it places, and I would say rightly so, most stress on attaining more integration within the existing school sectors be they State schools, Catholic Church schools or indeed now the growing Irish language school sector.
Higher education: “Now at one point, I wonder if the shared future document is being too complacent. It simply in a sense, it seems to me, assumes that higher education – that is the universities – are already highly integrated. And I wonder if we can take this for granted given that there has been for many years now differential migration between the two main communities in Northern Ireland at age 18. In practice, Protestant school leavers are much more likely to leave Northern Ireland to study at universities in England, Scotland and Wales. There are a variety of reasons for that but this is now being reflected in the student bodies of the two Northern Ireland universities – Queen’s Belfast where Colin and myself used to teach, and indeed the University of Ulster as well.
“There’s already in those two student bodies an increasing disproportionate Catholic composition of the student body, and it may well be getting towards the tipping point at which that becomes cumulative and self-reinforcing. I think that’s bad for community relations, and bad in a number of other social and economic and indeed political senses.
Sport: “I also wonder if the document was being more optimistic than realistic when it talked about the potential to use sport as a means of binding people together rather than dividing people.
Language: “Similarly, the document’s emphasis on so-called ‘language diversity’ – we would suggest that the UK Government sticks to its obligations under the European Charter for regional or minority languages with respect to the role of the Irish language and indeed the Ulster-Scots language in Northern Ireland.
“Any attempt to foist a level of bi-lingualism, or indeed even official tri-lingualism, which is not justified by the level of real demand amongst the population will, I believe, only divide our society further.
Constitutional status of NI: “Finally now, going back to the politics – because I think this will fundamentally determine whether the Shared Future policy actually works – the notion of a shared future only works if there is a party political consensus that the future to be shared is within Northern Ireland as it is. If however one section of the electorate – the 40% plus represented by Sinn Fein and indeed the SDLP – believes that the future is to be shared within a Northern Ireland which is being nudged out of the United Kingdom and into a so-called ‘united Ireland’, then the logic underpinning ‘A Shared Future’ strategy will unfortunately prove to be very dodgy indeed. Put bluntly, you cannot have a shared future against a background in which the political parties continue to squabble over the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.
“Now I do not wish to imply that the strategy is entirely wrong. Let me quote from one government minister in the Spring of this year (Lord Rooker): ‘by creating a culture which is both generous and co-operative, Northern Ireland will attract new investment, tourism and newcomers. The growing diversity of Northern Ireland is to be welcomed, not feared’. That view is entirely correct but my fear is that the Shared Future strategy in practice may represent on the part of Government a deliberate and long-term exercise in social and political engineering. It may be that the Government – or I should say the two governments, London and Dublin – are actually trying to create an environment in which an all-Ireland constitutional and economic framework is given preference over Northern Ireland which is unambiguously recognised as an integral part of the United Kingdom until such time as a majority of people freely express otherwise.
If that is the case, then it may transpire that the Shared Future strategy – for all its good intentions – will create rather than resolve problems. Thank you very much.”
Colin Coulter: “Thanks very much, Esmond. Our third speaker is Caroline Wilson who is working as a Good Relations Officer with Belfast City Council.”
3. Caroline Wilson (Good Relations Officer, Belfast City Council):
“Thank you very much for the invitation and for coming out this evening. I have worked with the City Council for three and a half years now on the Good Relations programme. Traditionally, community relations within local government, within district councils, has been fairly peripheral and, as Duncan alluded to, would have been seen as the soft end. A community relations officer in an unnamed district council a number of years ago – about 6 to 8 years ago – when she first started, she was told that one of the main things that she had to fund out of her quite restrictive budget was the Christmas lights. And she wondered ‘why would I fund Christmas lights?’
“And the answer back was ‘well because Protestants and Catholics both look at them and it kind of creates a feel-good factor in the city’! And that’s the way community relations may sometimes have been seen in local government.
Deaths from the Troubles: “Within Belfast, the kind of bleak picture that Colin talked about, Belfast would have suffered disproportionately in terms of the conflict. About 50% of the total deaths in Northern Ireland were located within the Greater Belfast Area, and of those about 80% happened within a kilometre of an interface wall or a peaceline. So the moral case for Belfast to look at what is a very lived experience for people is quite astounding, it’s in your face a lot of the day.
Segregated service delivery: “One of the effects of this has been a conflict management tool of segregated service delivery. Where Belfast City Council has delivered one community centre on one side of a wall, it has had to open another community centre on the other side of the wall. Similarly for leisure centres and for different workforces within the city.
“And this has been the way, right across the public sector, they dealt with the conflict. They segregated and lived with the reality of people living in segregated communities.
“So that’s the bleak picture.
Belfast City Council. “There are 51 members in Belfast City Council. 4 of them are members of the Alliance Party and they hold a balance within the Council. The other 2 groups would be fairly evenly split: I think it is about 25/24 between the unionist parties and the nationalist/republican parties. In 2001, Belfast City Council decided to make promoting good relations a corporate objective. And promoting good relations looks primarily at good relations between people of different political and religious beliefs and different ethnic backgrounds.
“S. 75 was a piece of legislation which came out of the Northern Ireland Act in 1998, out of the Good Friday Agreement, and that brought a new impetus to good relations, really trying to move it away from the softer end and moving it into the harder issues.
“One of the things about Good Relations within Belfast City Council is that it’s both internal and external. It’s not something that the Council does on to the community, it’s something that the Council is challenged internally to do. How does it promote good relations within the building as well as out of the building?
Steering panel: “Some of the things the City Council has engaged in. They set up a Good Relations Steering Panel which is unique within the City Council committee structure, and it is 6 elected members from each of the different party political groups in the Council as well as 12 civic representatives. And it’s a semi-private space within the Council, to really start to talk through some of the more sensitive issues. My boss would talk about the ‘too difficult’ tray. For many years in Belfast City Council many things were filed in the ‘too difficult’ tray. We couldn’t go there because it would end up in an argument in the Council chamber. So the Good Relations Steering Panel is a place to start to work through some of the issues, particularly around flags and symbolism and cultural celebrations in the city.
St Patrick’s Day: “One of the pieces of work that we have been involved in has been the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in the city which traditionally have been fairly controversial over whether we should fund them or not. So through various discussions with the communities, with the political groups, we were able this year – for the first time in a number of years – to fund an outdoor festival event. And that really sends out a very big symbol of hope for the city.
“There were still difficulties, I mean there were still a small number of tricolours flying and there were still people who felt that they couldn’t participate, there were still some issues around anti-social behaviour, but it was a massive step forward for the city
Bonfires: “Similarly this year I worked on the Bonfires project in Belfast. Each Eleventh Night, the 11th of July, a number of bonfires across the city would be lit as part of the Twelfth celebrations. And these have often included paramilitary symbolism, they have included the burning of the Irish tricolour. One of the good things that we have managed to do through engaging with communities is to say ‘why is it necessary to burn the Irish tricolour? What needs to change in the city for that not to be important any more?’ And it is a very different conversation, we are not in any sort of solution yet, but at least it is being spoken about and that’s for me a symbol of hope.
Suffolk/Lenadoon project: “Some of the other things that we would fund within the city are a number of community projects. One of the projects is at Suffolk and Lenadoon. It’s a project where a very small Protestant/unionist enclave [Suffolk] of about 600 families, with Lenadoon which would be a large Catholic/nationalist community across the road, and between them they have managed, through some very difficult times, to negotiate a shared space at the interface.
“They have interface workers on both sides, in both communities, trying to develop a sense of citizenship within the communities but also a sense of shared citizenship. They have a building now that has a number of shops in it, they have a café which both communities use, they have entrances into both communities so neither community has to walk into what they consider to be not their territory, and it is a meeting place which is really very important in a city where there are few meeting places.
North Belfast forum: “We have another project in North Belfast called the North Belfast Conflict Transformation Forum. They are a group of community activists from both sides of the interfaces in the north of the city and, as Duncan and Colin both said, north of the city was again disproportionately affected. And these are people who have contact particularly at times of tension to work across the interface and to communicate with one another and to look at ways of trying to reduce levels of tension and reduce incidents at the interface. They are now looking at a more pro-active role: rather than just managing conflict and fire-fighting conflict they are looking at how do we start preventing conflict in the first place? What work needs to be done with young people in those communities? What work needs to be done with the broader communities, the adult community because often – I’m sure Jeremy will talk about this – often times it’s all about young people and it’s really a question of asking ourselves as adults ‘what is it that I have to do to change things?’ So the North Belfast Conflict Transformation Forum is doing that sort of work. One of the interesting things is that they have really challenged the statutory sector in how they engage in the north of the city and how as a statutory sector they, in some way, leave the status quo as it is in terms of segregation and in some ways reinforce the segregation. So it has been a very interesting dialogue between the statutory sector and this group of community activists, looking at what a Good Relations strategy for the north of the city would be: what are the agreed points around economic regeneration, environmental regeneration and the youth strategies?
Belfast City Hall: “Within City Hall, one of the things we looked at is the memorabilia in City Hall. We had a group of experts who came in to City Hall and they looked around and they said that predominantly the symbolism within City Hall was ‘white, male, unionist and middle class’. But one of the key things in changing the City Hall was that to take anything away, some people would feel a sense of loss. And it was important to guard against that, that people needed not to start feeling that they had to defend their right to be symbolised within the city institution. Equally, there needed to be a place for people who were not represented within that symbolism. So, between the party groups there was a lot of discussion about how we could address that. And it goes to Duncan’s idea of zero sum – if you win something what am I losing?
“So the strategy they came up with was balancing up: that no symbolism within City Hall would be removed but new symbolism would be introduced. So one of the recent statues that was put in, was a bust of Mary Anne McCracken. And looking at what has been the untold history of Belfast in terms of her work with women, with young people, with the working class in the city.
“So that is the challenge internally to City Council.
Need to learn how to share: “The Chief Executive of Belfast City Council is very supportive of good relations, and he would often say that 80% of decisions within Belfast City Council are taken without a vote between all of the parties yet it is the other 20% that we see in the media. And it’s really about building that consensus and building the civic leadership within the city. We have to learn how to share, it is new.
“We don’t know what sharing feels like but it will be a progress over time. And it’s about keeping the faith, and knowing what is safe. As City Council we can’t suddenly say ‘right, there’s going to be one leisure centre and everybody’s got to share it.’ It’s about developing a dialogue around how do you make it safe enough for people to share, how do you take into account people’s very real lived experiences in the city, and what we hope to be a new shared future for the city. So it’s bringing it to the surface and talking about it.
Legacy of conflict: “I suppose there are a couple of challenges for the city in terms of a shared future. One is the very real legacies of conflict – in terms of trans-generational trauma of young people, children and young people who have not had any direct experience of the conflict but who are displaying signs of the stress of conflict, people who have very flawed relationships because of the context within which we have lived.
Territoriality and new communities: “And that includes territoriality. If it’s ok to say ‘this is my area and I will expel anybody out of this area if they do not belong to my group’ where do the new Polish migrants live, where do the new Lithuanian migrants live in the city of Belfast? Belfast needs those new communities to rebuild the city and really bring it into the future. So that’s a key issue.
Shared space: “We also have issues around securing shared spaces in the city. What does a shared space look like? Is it neutral, is it devoid of any symbolism, is it harmonious because nobody feels offended by anything? Or how do we start to introduce symbolism where people feel that they can belong and they are not unwelcome at best, and under threat at worst, in a particular area because of the symbolism?
Separation not sustainable: “Finally, the key message of a shared future is that separation is not sustainable. And whether that is in terms of the new Europe or whether that is economically, Belfast City cannot survive as a segregated city. But the challenge is how do we learn to share? And enabling that process requires political leadership, it also requires community support. And I think it is a collective task for the city of Belfast.
Hope for the future: “But in terms of a bleak picture, Colin, I would be very hopeful about some of the work that is going on, both within the Council and very definitely within the community. This summer was the most peaceful summer for many many years and that did not happen on its own. That happened with an extraordinary amount of work, at 3am in the morning, with people going out on the streets and making sure the summer was peaceful. And my hope is that the City Council takes that on board and together we can build a shared future for the city of Belfast. Thank you.”
Colin Coulter: “Thank you. Our final speaker is Jeremy Gardiner who is community relations development officer for Youthlink which represents the four main Christian churches in the North.”
4. Jeremy Gardiner (Community Relations Development Officer, Youthlink):
“Hi, now the heavyweights are over you get me to lighten it at the end – and I don’t mean by weight! I’m Jeremy and I am a youth worker in Belfast.
Ballymena: “Just to give you a little background about Ballymena – I worked in Ballymena for the last two years as a youth pastor in a Presbyterian church. I am just going to give you a little background about what my work involved there in the last two years obviously in regard to a shared future. Ballymena is predominantly Protestant: the split is roughly about 70:30. In the past few years it has largely been unaffected by the Troubles which has actually made it a town which has never had to ask the questions in regard to community relations work. In fact, to be honest with you, the loyalist community within Ballymena don’t even recognise that it is a shared space. They see it as Protestant, and when you have to work in that that’s quite difficult for moving forward.
Catholic community a ‘community without a voice’:“As Duncan said – and when he said it he actually put a light on – Ballymena has been comfortable in the conflict that it has engaged in for the past 30 years because it has never had to ask the questions. In regard to the Catholic community, the 30%, it really has been a community without a voice.
“And I remember talking to one of the parishioners from a Catholic church there and they said: ‘when it comes to July what we do is we put our heads down and don’t even say anything’. That’s the environment they live in, they didn’t want to put their heads above the parapet because they were just so afraid of getting it shot off or whatever. This is reflected in regard to the Council within Ballymena. The Catholic community don’t have a lot of representation. They have a few in regard to SDLP and one Sinn Fein councillor. But it’s predominantly DUP, it’s predominantly Protestant. They don’t have a lot of representation with regard to the town itself.
Dissident republicans and identity issues: “Over the last 4 years, Ballymena has seen an influx of dissident IRA republicans which has brought its own problems. Last summer, the summer of 2005, Ballymena had its first republican march in the town which definitely brought out a lot of contentious issues in regard to the loyalist community. Even to the Protestant community they didn’t know, it was a very contentious time. The actual march went off quite well but there was a bit of reaction which I will tell you about later. I think the dissident IRA, or the dissident republicans who have moved into Ballymena at this stage, are really trying to find a voice for the Catholic community which hasn’t had a voice in the past 30 years. That’s creating tension. It’s creating loyalists trying to find identity in their town again and trying to work out who they are. So there’s a lot of identity issues going on there within the loyalist communities and Protestant communities.
Harryville chapel graffiti: “In regard to my work, I worked in a church called High Kirk Presbyterian up until about a month ago which is in Ballymena itself, I was a youth pastor there. And over the last two years of working within Ballymena I obtained a few nicknames particularly within the loyalist community. Some of them I’ll not be able to tell you but one specifically – I am known as the ‘chapel cleaner’. I don’t know if you remember, it was in the summer of 2005, in July, there was some graffitti written on the Harryville chapel – I am sure you all know of Harryville chapel, a Catholic church within a loyalist estate – and there was some graffiti written on the church and myself and a few other people out of our church decided to go down and clean the doors of the church. So that was a Protestant church reaching out to a Catholic church within Ballymena. And if I had known how contentious that would be, I don’t know if I would have done it, I have to be honest with you, because it was such a contentious issue. And the area of Harryville was so contentious that it sparked a whole discussion.
“And one of the things that came out of that was, particularly within the Christian community, the church-going community, it really engaged them. They asked questions specifically around the issue of sectarianism. And one of the things that came out was that within Ballymena sectarianism is not just rooted within the loyalist, within the working-class communities. We have a mindset that it is. But specifically within Ballymena, it’s in the middle class upper communities. Sectarianism can be dressed in suits. And that’s what we really found from this. I had a number of people come to me who go to church and whatever else and they said to me ‘we will never forget you for what you have done’. When you are working with that in that community, it’s quite unique. How do you say something like that and hold Christianity hand in hand? I don’t know.
“But that’s the real community in which we live, and that’s what Ballymena is.
Shared future: “In regard to a shared future, as Duncan said, when I think about this and read it, it’s almost an impossible task when you consider the uniqueness of areas, specifically like Ballymena.
“And it’s not a one-size-fits-all strategy. It is a strategy that is going to need to find local solutions to local problems, it’s going to need to find community leaders coming together, church leaders coming together, the police and Council members coming together and trying to find solutions to the problems within the local community. That’s how this is going to play out. The unfortunate thing about it is is that everyone has to buy into it. It’s not just one person, we are all going to have to buy into it.
“And when I think about Northern Ireland, with what’s happening politically and everything else, I really see that we have an opportunity. Some people say to me: ‘you must be really devastated working within that community and having to go through those types of things, and those types of comments that are made about you’. And I have to say that I’m not, I am actually quite positive about it because at the end of the day we have an opportunity. Northern Ireland is changing whether you like it or not, and people are going to have to change, and the demographic change in Northern Ireland, the way it is happening, is forcing people to mentally change. And I think that’s a good thing.
“So right now there’s an opportunity for that to happen. And I think that how this is going to actually physically play out is that for everybody to engage with it and not just use the words ‘tolerance’ and ‘mutual respect’ as buzzwords at conferences like this, but actually that they become words that describe the communities and towns in which we live. I think that’s what we are aiming for when it comes to a shared future. Thank you.”
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS [summary of main points]
Q.1.Gerry (Belfast): ‘A few questions: 1) “In the Northern Ireland context what would define resistance – to policing and the problems of policing? 2) Is there a possibility that the armed struggle and the resistance which we have suffered over the last 35 years has now produced so-called ‘political heroes’? A question for the panel. 3) How much longer do we have to suffer this indignity in this robust statement about the ‘two communities’? I just think there is only one community. 4) Is there a possibility that religious leadership has fallen behind the political leadership in Northern Ireland, because …. no matter what happens there is no condemnation or criticism from the churches for any of the recent atrocities. 5) Has the Chief Constable betrayed the people of Northern Ireland by his appeasement and playing to Sinn Fein regarding policing? Thank you.”
Colin Coulter: “Duncan, do you want to start us off? There are half a dozen questions there, so maybe you want to just try and blend them together in some way?
Duncan Morrow: “A very complicated set of questions and I hope I will do justice to them.
Two communities: “I will start with the question of one, two or six or eight communities. It depends in what sense you are talking. In one sense or another the entire population of Northern Ireland lives in Northern Ireland and therefore is a community. Part of the difficulty we have had politically is that it has split those who were happy with that and those who were not, and that had profound political and social results because people lived so close together, people went to school together. So it is almost as if we live in this world in which what you mean by Northern Ireland depends on where you lived and who you were and of course that is all then splintered down by locality, by class, by all these different things. You can say that there are lots of exceptions to this, but one of the persistent facts about Northern Ireland is that politics created two political groups/tribes/communities within which the question was the very profound one ‘to be or not to be?’ and that was not the basis of the division anywhere else on these islands. It really wasn’t.
“There was never that depth of a discussion and once violence [erupts]… you have got into a place which was: “we can’t actually live beside these people or we won’t actually live beside them”. It was whatever combination of that ‘can’t and won’t’. It starts to feel like you are living in separate places, the thing you need to know is: is he one of them or one of us? So…you can say historically it is one political community divided into a “them” and “us”, or two political communities sharing the same space. …..
“Re Peter Shirlow’s book – he didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know before. He interprets it depressingly, I think…. But the point is that he is now seeing something else happening which is that there are working class poor people left behind deeply divided and middle class people forgetting about them.
“Another way of looking at what has happened in Northern Ireland is that the outcome in practical terms on a day-to-day basis is you are either in or you are not. …That is certainly true if you look at what is occurring in some of the urban areas. The way you live life in the city of Belfast now depends very much on your economic and class position, because the working class are stuck in the middle of it and the middle classes are walking away.
Colin Coulter: “What about Peter’s arguments … re rising house prices, which would be very familiar of course in this part of the world?
Duncan Morrow: “Somebody said to me in terms of house prices … that house prices are now rising so fast that what will really change is that the middle classes will have to buy houses on interfaces because it is all it is left with and that is what is going to transform us! Now, that may be true but I don’t know. I have to look at the economics of it.
Political heroes and criminals: “… I think that the reality of a divided society is that history turns into a story you tell yourself, and it is the story of all the awful things that happened to us and all the things that we did to defend ourselves. And at various levels of distance to that, heroes – the same people who would be more or less our heroes are the same people who are regarded as criminals on the other side. That is a real big problem that is happening now, because another thing that is emerging is as people memorialise the past, then that is becoming a way of physically locating community and territorialism even deeper than it ever was before.
Policing: “But one of the issues around policing, I suppose the big question around policing – and I totally accept the thrust of Esmond’s point which is that without an agreed behavioural code, without the rule of law, you cannot move forward here …. but we also need to move into institutions and policing which are owned by everyone and to which everyone buys in. So I think the key question is not whether Sinn Fein comes in. I very much hope they do, but the price that everybody pays to get there, that at the end of it, we have a really clear legal order, which then binds us all. So for me, the question is that engagement itself is not appeasement. The core question of bringing people in and finding a way to create a new law in fact is certainly a critical core to any possibility of a shared future, because we have to know the basis in which we meet each other.
Esmond Birnie: “Thank you for those questions. I am also going to have to struggle in a sense that there are a lot of strands interwoven there. How many communities? It is certainly clear it isn’t a simple bipolar Protestant/Catholic, unionist/nationalist structure. Arguably it was never as simple as that and certainly it isn’t as simple as that now, because of the growing and in many ways welcome increase in ethnic diversity of Northern Ireland, following migrant worker, immigration and a number of other changes.
Justification of violence: “You refer to the creation of heroes and I think that is an important point. If we are now moving from what was sadly a ‘shooting war’ we may now be in the phase of our politics where it is going to be a war of arguments and of course in some ways that is better because at least people aren’t being killed. But the war of argument will be very much about to what extent was the violence – both from a republican and from a loyalist source – to what extent was it justified.
“As somebody who believes very strongly in institutional and entirely democratic politics, I think it is very important that this debate …. is won by the side which will argue that the violence was never justified, but of course many people in the IRA and Sinn Fein and the loyalist movements will if only to try and psychologically maintain their self-esteem now, they are going to have to try and argue very desperately that what they did can’t be rationalised, almost as some sort of “just war” scenario. So that is a debate we have started to have and we will carry on having.
Churches: “The point about the leadership of the main churches, if I understood you, were you saying that they didn’t do enough to condemn. Is that what you were asking or stating?
Questioner (Gerry): “In the last two months there were three murders. Two of those were committed by migrant workers and the third one was obviously local … but we have had no condemnation, nothing, no support for any of the families. The churches have condemned sectarian but not race-related killings.
Esmond Birnie: “I am glad you said that because I didn’t really understand the point you were making. You are saying that whereas during the periods of the so-called ‘Troubles’ – which hopefully we are moving beyond (though there have been killings by the paramilitaries in the last year) – you are saying they were condemned but now that we have race related killings, they are not. I am not sure what the factual position is. It is quite possible that church leaders have made statements either at the province-wide level or indeed at the local level and the media has simply not covered that. This is an occupational hazard which politicians are also familiar with. You are often criticised for not speaking out about something and then you say to somebody, ‘well here are my press releases! There is a telephone book thickness of them!’ The number actually covered by any newspapers, often you know it is a tiny fraction. But I am sure you are right. More could be done. We are all moved by the concrete example given by Jeremy.
….Civic society groups and the political parties haven’t always done enough.
Policing: “Finally, your point about policing and the Chief Constable, Hugh Orde. My assessment for what it is worth is that Sinn Fein will join the Policing Board. It’s only a question of timing and obviously they are playing a game – just as to some extent the DUP are doing from their point of view in a different direction – to get the maximum reward for playing their final chips or cards into the game, the political game. Given that they are going to join anyway, certainly as you might expect from a unionist background, I would be very reluctant to see further concessions made. My view is that the Patten reforms, both good and bad, should be the line drawn under the reform of policing, except for any obvious managerial, efficiency and administrative changes which should happen from time to time. … I think everybody in Northern Ireland – like I am sure many people here in the Republic – have a deep worry about rising levels of crime. That should be an issue that the Chief Constable and other senior policing people need to address urgently. Thank you.
Jeremy Gardiner: “In regard to the churches’ involvement, I can only talk about it from my own perspective within the local Ballymena area, specifically about Shirley Finley who was the girl who was killed. A Polish guy has been charged with that in recent days. We were involved in that as a church. There were a number of churches involved in that and of speaking out in a local capacity but also helping with her father and foster mother and stuff like that.
“So we definitely had contact there. So maybe it has not reached national press but it has actually been said at some level. That is really all I can speak for.
Policing: “In regard to the policing aspect, I shouldn’t really speak about this as a church person. But I think we are going to have real problems in regard to policing because we have put it out that it is just Sinn Fein and republicanism that are the ones with the issue. But I think loyalism has also an issue with policing which is going to play out at a community level because they don’t trust them and that is the fact.
“I think the issue – what was said earlier about trust being credible – I think that is really what is going to happen. Hopefully, the new development announced today on the news in regard to community officers etc, maybe that is a way forward, I don’t know.
Colin Coulter: “It is quite startling to look at the Police Ombusdwoman’s report, the one that came out during the summer. There were substantially more complaints from people from unionist backgrounds than nationalist backgrounds. ….
Caroline Wilson: “In terms of the two communities I would like to just reiterate what Duncan said. Belfast City Council has to draft a good relations plan for the city under A Shared Future. One of the ideals that all of the parties have agreed on is this notion of a shared city which is moving beyond the two communities model. However that has to be balanced as well with people’s need for safety and what their experience of living in the city has been. It has not been a shared city. So it has to be done sensitively and it requires a change within civic leaders to start talking beyond the two communities model. One of the things that interests me about the ‘newcomers’ to the city of Belfast is that we have lots of groups who want to talk about racism now and they don’t want to talk about sectarianism because they see that as completely different, completely separate. Nor do they want to talk about travellers, because they see that again as completely different, completely separate to racism. So I am cautious as to how the new communities within Belfast are going to be the dynamic for change. Ultimately the root of sectarianism and the root of racism is the same. We have to address those whether it is about our Protestant neighbours or whether it is about our travelling neighbours.
Political heroes: “In terms of political heroes, I think this is just part of a conflict transformation process. In one of the projects that we supported recently, there was great discussion about an invitation being issued to an individual who had served time as an IRA bomber. It stimulated great discussion where people felt that he should not be invited whereas other people were saying, ‘well, he is a representative of a festival committee and therefore is a legitimate person to receive an invitation.’ I suppose for me it is a process of dialogue – that both of those feelings are valid within different communities and it is about enabling dialogue on that very, very sensitive issue.
Churches: “As for the churches, maybe at the visible level they haven’t been seen enough. But within the city there are innumerable projects where the churches have been involved in a very grassroots level building good relations. Maybe it isn’t as vocal as it should be and it may be because as Esmond said, it is just not picked up in the media. But some of the work has gone on in the Good Relations steering panel where we have representatives of the four main churches. Some of the work that goes on in local communities where they are working to rebuild relationships within communities, that is again all a process. …
Policing: “Going back to what Jeremy was saying, one of the projects that we have funded in the north of the city is looking at rebuilding relationships between loyalist young people and the police. It is a very gradual process and people are depositing this dilemma around policing with republican nationalists and it is also very, very alive within loyalist communities in Belfast.
Q.2. Arthur (Trim): “Assuming that there will be a settlement, we all hope there will be, will the Orange Order gel with the then situation? We hear very little lately since Drumcree quietened down. Will they gel with the new situation, or will they join with the Ancient Order of Hibernians and all march together?
Colin Coulter: “Can we have another couple of questions?
Q.3 Paul (Dunshaughlin): “I found your discussion very interesting, the points that were made, and thought-provoking. A couple of things came across. One is the concept of social engineering. It seems to be almost abhorrent to members of the panel, yet it strikes me that every law that every government ever produces before the statute books is an attempt at social engineering as they attempt to modify our behaviour when we are not free to modify it ourselves. I am wondering has the panel considered maybe a more aggressive way of considered social engineering/legislature programme to make it possible for people to have an environment where they can integrate? There is social precedence for this in the southern states [USA] where the Federal Government imposed conditions on federal money for housing projects unless they were on integrated projects and it has taken a long time. It does work.
“The second thing that I have thought about, what Duncan said earlier on, he described the alienation of the working class people and the poor people because they are not seeing the peace dividend and I just wondered, looking at the political structure today compared to what it was at the time the peace process was initiated, have the politicians in some way fed into that? Because we have seen the extremes of loyalism and republicanism where they have always tended to the extreme whether it is the DUP or Sinn Fein. The losers have been the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP …..Somebody else said, ‘well if the Shinners get something we will get something in place of that.’ It is playing into the extremist’s view. It would be interesting to hear your comments.
Colin Coulter: “Can we get a third one in there? We can run back in the opposite direction through the panel. Is there another? Anything else that anybody wants to ask?
Q.4. Geraldine Horgan (Dunsany) “I would be interested in hearing a little but about how Caroline and Duncan have worked together if at all.
Duncan Morrow: “Yes we work together!
Geraldine: “It strikes me that both of you are working on the same kind of issues and I would just be interested in hearing something about that.
Colin Coulter: “Ok thanks very much. We will start at the opposite end, alright?
Caroline Wilson: “In regard to social engineering, somebody accused me once of being a social engineer and I said, ‘yes, if it means engineering this society out of what it has been, then I am a social engineer and proud’. In terms of behaviours and attitudes – this is a kind of ongoing tension particularly within the City Council regarding the training and learning strategy we are looking at for all staff members. The underpinning question is what right does the Council have to change people who happen to work for them, to change their attitude? I suppose our starting point is about changing behaviour. If the behaviour is contrary to good relations then we will engage in training around that. I suppose we don’t have a right to change attitudes. My personal, individual hope would be that if the training is good enough it will ask people to reflect on their own attitudes and prejudices. But as a public authority we don’t have that responsibility. Politicians – that would be a P45 if I were to answer that question about politicians! … Politicians are often blamed as the reason that we have a segregated city. That simply is not true.
“Politicians do have a civic leadership responsibility. They are also of the community and of the city. They live amongst their constituents on a day on day basis. So I have a great deal of respect for politicians within the Council.
Community Relations Council: “In terms of the work that Duncan and I do together, Duncan sits on the Good Relations steering panel and the Community Relations Council would have been instrumental in a lot of the changes that Belfast City Council has gone through. The support in terms of policy development, the support in terms of additional funding – the work that we did with bonfires was funded through the Community Relations Council.
“A lot of the private dialogue work that I have just spoken about in terms of cultural symbolism, Duncan has had a key role in facilitating some of the dialogue that we have done. At the moment we are dialoguing about parading in the city. The loyal order parading in the city is one of the key community relations issues for the city. The Good Relations steering panel at the moment is doing some kind of ‘Chatham House’ discussions around what are the principles of cultural symbolism in the city. So, absolutely, the Community Relations Council has been key to our progress.
Jeremy Gardiner: “In regard to social engineering, I think it would be mad to think that it doesn’t happen. Even in regard to integrated education, it was a response wasn’t it? Even now in education, it has brought in citizenship as a programme that everybody in school has to go through, active citizenship. So politicians and everybody are responding and in a sense socially engineering what the outcomes going to ultimately be.
In Ballymena, because of the Michael McIlveen situation that happened earlier on this year, the nine post-primary schools, the headmasters and headmistresses of the schools, have come together to work together in collaborative learning specifically with fourth years. They share on cross-community issues and sectarianism, leadership, stuff like that. So again that is an element of social engineering.
In regard to the working class not seeing the dividends of the peace, I agree with that. There is no doubt about that. I know there is the issue in North Belfast right now – nine or ten guys who got issued with punishment beatings…. We were speaking to Fr. Troy about it. Again it is local issues. I go back to the coalface: local solutions to local problems. It is the only way forward in regard to community relations. It is not a ‘one size fits all’ strategy and unless we engage with the local issues, then we are not actually going to come up with local solutions to the problems.
Esmond Birnie: “I think there were two questions there. One about Orange marches, parades and the parades generally, and the other about social engineering. I should say to start off with that I am neither an Orangeman nor a member of the AOH. It would be an interesting solution if the two merged, but it’s not going to happen. That might be the sort of bland homogenisation policy which I don’t think anybody here is ultimately recommending and it won’t happen in any case. The figures – there are 3,000 parades every year in Northern Ireland of which roughly 1% are contentious. That is 30 out of 3,000! But of course those 30 cause great problems, and you referred to Drumcree which remains a running sore. What I would say is that the shared future which we should aim for – part of it should be that the public space which obviously should include roads should be available within certain broad limits for those who wish to express their civil and religious liberties by parading. Now it may seem a pretty quaint tradition to those who are not from that background. But those who are involved with it say that is part and parcel of who they are and indeed of ultimately their personal and religious identity. So there should be literally and metaphorically space for that.
Rights come with responsibilities: “But of course with rights in a properly functioning society come responsibilities. There are responsibilities on the Orange Order and I would not be uncritical of the policies they have adopted over the last dozen years or perhaps even before that, but notably over the last ten or so years with respect to Drumcree and so forth. I think quite literally they walked into a trap, a trap some degree engineered by Sinn Fein in terms of creating resident unease and then creating perpetual community unease, but the Orange Order should have used tactical flexibility and recognised that. What the responsibility on them is on certain occasions, whilst I believe they have a right to walk down public roads, perhaps they shouldn’t always exercise that right for the greater good.
Scottish experiences: “I had an interesting experience a month ago. I visited Scotland to investigate how various issues around sectarianism notably in the city of Glasgow are dealt with there, and we talked to the Orange Order in Scotland. In recent years they have greatly reduced the number of parades which they have, and indeed in many respects I wish that the leadership of the Orange Order in Ireland showed as much wisdom as their counterparts across the North Channel.
Social engineering and education: “Social engineering, now that is a fascinating question. It is really quite a question of political philosophy. You could be here all night. I would love to debate it. You are right to an extent but there is a crucial question of degree here. Probably today everybody in this room – there might be one or two exceptions – would accept social engineering in the form of government legislation to force us to wear safety belts in the car, seatbelts in the car, although when they came in they were controversial. Some people said, ‘this is an infringement of my liberty’. But I think there is a difference of degree between that and using state action to strongly direct people where they should live, who they should socialise with, what type of school should their children go to.
“You gave the example of the United States. Many of the American examples are quite fascinating. Obviously, yes, in the mid ‘50s the United States through the Federal Government did attempt to integrate their public or state-funded school system and indeed they used measures like bussing, use of the Federal guards, the United States Army etc., to enforce it. I really would argue most strongly that that is not the correct model for us to go down with respect to our schooling system. Northern Ireland has four different types of schools as you probably well know: State schools, Catholic Church schools, Irish language and of course the integrated school sector, the most recent. Whereas we probably all agree that it is immoral for schools to be segregated on racial grounds, I think we have to accept – and this is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – that it is a right for parents to determine the ethos of education of their children. Given that, whilst it is right for there to be an integrated school sector in Northern Ireland, and a considerable sum of money has been spent on developing it and starting it and providing it new buildings etc., the State also has an obligation to continue to provide for those parents who remain the majority at this time, and arguably will remain the majority for some considerable time to come – perhaps for many generations to come – who wish their children to be educated either in the State school sector or the Catholic Church school sector. So that is the case where I would see the limits to social engineering. Thank you.
Duncan Morrow: “Thank you very much. I will go through them in my own order here.
1) Politicians: “The first one is the politicians. You know one of the things after World War I was that because they made the German Liberals sign the deal, the people on the edge were able to say it was a ‘stab in the back’. There is something very important about getting the people who have led the view which is there is an alternative which is “we win” to the deal which says “we share”. So I don’t mind that. I also think it is fascinating that we are at the stage now where Dr. Paisley comes out and says ‘Ulster is at the cross-roads.’ I nearly died! This is about two days after he met [archbishop] Sean Brady. So it is over.
“It is also true that the big issue is: when are the IRA going to join up with the police? That’s a great problem to have now on the basis of them being the police rather than being the army/IRA! So I am very happy that these things are happening and looking at what people do, not what people say and let’s make a new community. There is a danger that it will only move glacially slowly, because everybody’s actual interest is to stop change. They are doing it. There is a great line which conservatives use… ‘for everything to stay the same everything has to change.’ So we have to go till we keep the same. So let us see. Anyway it is the same in a different way. I want to stay optimistic not pessimistic. I fairly much believe that maybe Sean Brady and joining the police were two things I wanted. So, hey, let us take them!
2) Parading: “On the issue of the Orange order, I also think you are hitting something very important which is a discussion on culture and where we will go with that in a shared future, this remains a ragged edge. I understand, because I have heard it many times, Esmond’s position, the liberal position which is that people should have a right …. and I understand that, but here is the other side: what it means is having ex-members of the Shankill Butchers walk down the Falls Road bashing drums on which there are images of people who shot people in Ardoyne. Now I don’t think that will do. That is what the Whiterock march looks like if you are Catholic. I don’t think it will do and I don’t think that the Orange Order can pretend that that is not part of their parade. It is the band bit, which is somebody else where responsibility is disowned. So for my money, there is something to be said about how we are in public together. There is a discussion about how we are and who we are in public together which is probably the most profound of the lot. I think we are in culture wars. I think you are right, and I think it has got to be resolved on a shared future basis and I think there’s a big discussion about parading to be had and to be sorted.
3) CRC and Belfast City Council: “The third one is co-working with Belfast City Council. If Caroline hadn’t said that I would have had to make that claim in the sense that they are one of our most important partners! Over the time we have developed a lot of different things. Caroline mentioned funding…. We can add a certain bit which takes it in the direction of good relations. For example on the bonfires, the political parties could take it as far as health and safety. We said, ‘ok it is more than health and safety. It is really about how do you take a tradition and stop it from being something which antagonizes and move it into something which is part of our tradition and our culture? How can we work on that theme?’ So we were able to do that together as a joint project with the Council leading up because I think in the long run it is important that the Council have the ownership, precisely because of the politicians. …
4) Politicians: “I agree with Caroline and Esmond – politicians represent their communities and they represent their communities’ fears and so when they articulate those fears, it is important somehow or other that they are worked through because what the community is looking for from their politicians is that they know that it is safe. So it is part of the negotiation that we have to do and work with.
5) Social engineering: ‘The final bit is on social engineering and I suppose I have two points to make on it. One is the word ‘engineering’ – it is too hard. It treats people as objects. People are people, but have no doubt whatsoever that the geography of Belfast is engineered by violence. Where people can live is not currently choice …. it is choice under threat. If there is no threat, I’ll tell you what will happen. People will move randomly into areas and we will get a much more mixed and variegated pattern of distribution of where people can live and do live. That will be the outcome. The current pattern of rigid segregation is rigidly enforced by gatekeepers and paramilitaries and violence. So anybody who believes that we have current free choice and I am an engineer, I absolutely reject. Number two. The issue about whether we put incentives in, which is different from force, whether we offer incentives and penalties on certain behaviours, I don’t think can be avoided. I think it is the question how far you go.
“But I do believe that ensuring that employment is equal has been useful in taking the workplace out of the issue in many ways. I do also think that we have choices here. We have huge redevelopment plans coming in. There is a redevelopment at Crumlin Road, I don’t know if any of you know that. It was a working class heartland which is an interface. The question is, do we try to do something which keeps it as an open space or do we just redesign the interface for millions? Now I am against redesigning the interface for millions because I think it is a waste of money. I am for trying to generate something new which drives a different economic future for north Belfast and a social future for north Belfast. I think those choices matter.
“To come back now to engineering. Sometimes it is about engineering. It is about bricks and mortar and how we build houses and those choices we take about houses put into stone where people are for generations. So you need to think very carefully about how you do your Titanic Quarter.
“Is it just going to be another blooming great lump or are we going to think and try to make that planning somehow turn it into a different type of a place? Because if we don’t think about it, it will happen.
6) Schools: “And the last one then, the very, very last one is that on schools: I don’t believe that you can bus or force. I am actually a diverse schooling person too. But I do believe that no school, no school in Northern Ireland, should be allowed to let any child leave who is not prepared for a diverse future and that means about how they are themselves and how they reflect on the culture they come from, but also how they relate to others in that society and that that needs to be planned. It needs to be planned in the curriculum. It needs to be looked at in structure and that needs to be ordered. Otherwise it does not happen.
“So I don’t know if that is called engineering. I actually think it is about recognising a problem and trying to use the resources appropriately and honestly and fairly to ensure that we don’t simply reproduce that problem…. And that is what a shared future is about actually. It’s about putting that at the front and saying ‘ok what does that look like?’ It looks like an experiment, and I will give you a final example of that. There are two schools in Fermanagh, a Protestant village school and a Catholic school, and they are not viable …. Now you have to shut one. You can bus them both eventually creating the residential pattern on the ground exactly, or you can create some kind of useful experimental model which allows the parental stuff and allows for parents to be able to bring their children up with whatever is important for them to be brought up. But it looks at experiment and change and that is why it is a step by step process so that fear is not in it and so that we actually take creativity as a positive possibility within a shared future rather than just simply a set of laws. Thanks”
Closing words and thanks: Canon John Clarke (Rector, Navan): “As a member of the Church of Ireland in our local area here, I spend most of my time on community relations in this area. So it falls upon me to say thank you to our panel this evening and I say a special thank you to Colin for chairing our meeting here this evening. I also thank Duncan and Esmond and Caroline and Jeremy. They have given us a wonderful evening here. We have not been disappointed. It has been wonderful, giving us a window into the work of a shared future, very valuable to us here. Finally I would just like to thank all of you very much for coming along. We need this sort of number attending our public talks. Anything less than this sort of number makes it very hard to have the enthusiasm of organising the public talks. So please keep the momentum going. We are at a very crucial time as expressed by our panellists here this evening in terms of the way forward and we don’t want to stop now. So please keep up the good attendance and thank you very, very much indeed for coming here this evening. Finally, I would like to thank the Columbans for their hospitality here and of course there is cup of tea available immediately afterwards as well. Thanks very much to the core committee for organising tonight and a special thank you to Julitta for pulling us all together and getting us here.
Meath Peace Group report 63 – 2006 ©Meath Peace Group
Taped by Judith Hamill and Jim Kealy. Transcribed by Julitta Clancy and Judith Hamill. Edited by Julitta Clancy
Biographical notes (in alphabetical order)
Esmond Birnie has been an MLA since 1998 (representing South Belfast for the UUP). He is currently Party spokesperson for Finance, Family and Children, North-South, British-Irish Council and Community Relations. During 1999-2002 he was chairman of the Assembly Committee for Employment and Learning. Prior to membership of the Assembly he was a Lecturer (later Senior Lecturer) in Economics at Queen’s Belfast. Educated at Ballymena Academy, Cambridge University and Queen’s Belfast. Married with 3 children. Esmond previously addressed a Meath Peace Group talk on April 10, 2000 when he appeared with the former Taoiseach, John Bruton, and others.
Colin Coulter is senior lecturer in the Dept of Sociology, NUI Maynooth. Originally from Belfast, Colin has published on various issues including Northern Irish society, social change in the Irish Republic, political conflict, social theory and popular culture. His publications include Contemporary Northern Irish Society: An Introduction (1999, Pluto) and The End of Irish History? Critical Reflections on the Celtic Tiger (2003, Manchester University Press). His forthcoming book Northern Ireland after the Troubles? A Society in Transition was co-edited with Michael Murray (Manchester University Press 2007). Colin has appeared regularly on television and radio and has been a contributor to various media debates on the Iraq war. He has also written on the issues surrounding the war in Iraq in a major report entitled ‘The Irish Republic, the United States and the Iraq War: A Critical Appraisal’.
Jeremy Gardiner is Community Relations Development Officer for Youthlink, an umbrella body representing and serving the four main churches (Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist and the Church of Ireland). He was formerly a Youth Pastor for High Kirk Presbyterian in Ballymena. Jeremy is also a committee member of Community Voice in Ballymena. ‘My work in Ballymena was focused on the young people within the church itself. However to effectively do this you had to understand the environment in which they grew up in. This lead to work in the local community and essentially stand up against issues such as sectarianism. My work now involves educating young people for youth work and community relations work.’
Duncan Morrow is the CEO of the NI Community Relations Council (CRC), the body with primary responsibility for funding and development of inter-community relations practice and policy in Northern Ireland. In recent years, the CRC has taken a leading role in promoting dialogue to underpin ‘A Shared Future’, the government’s long running strategy to promote improved relations in Northern Ireland. Previously, Duncan was active in many areas of community relations work as a member of Understanding Conflict and as Co-Director of Future Ways, a unique active learning agency within the University of Ulster. His interests included political education, organisational development work with public agencies and voluntary groups, community development, mediation and the facilitation of difficult conversations between people and groups in conflict. At the University of Ulster he was also a lecturer in politics with a particular interest in ethnic conflict, religion and violence. He has written numerous reports, books and articles including ‘A worthwhile Venture?’ (with Karin Eyben and Derick Wilson),’ Northern Ireland Politics’ (with Arthur Aughey) and ’Churches and Inter-community relationships.’ In 1998, he was appointed as a Northern Ireland Sentence Review Commissioner, the body responsible for implementing the early release of paramilitary prisoners agreed as part of the Good Friday Agreement. A native of Belfast, Duncan is married to Susie. They have three children.
Caroline Wilson is currently working as Good Relations Officer with Belfast City Council. She is responsible for the implementation of the Good Relations Strategy which aims to co-ordinate the Council’s work in the promotion of good community relations and the celebration of cultural diversity. Prior to this post, she worked with the Student Movement in Northern Ireland and a number of other youth organisations. Caroline is a Council Member of the Community Relations Council (CRC) and sits on their Victims and Survivors Core Funding Programme Committee. Belfast City Council Good Relations Unit: “Our vision is for a stable, tolerant, fair and pluralist society, where individuality is respected and diversity celebrated, in an inclusive manner.”
Both Caroline Wilson and Jeremy Gardiner visited Dunshaughlin Community College earlier in the day, to talk to 3 groups of transition year students as part of the Meath Peace Group peace education programme
Meath Peace Group Talk No. 63
Taped by Judith Hamill and Jim Kealy.
Transcribed by Julitta Clancy and Judith Hamill.
Edited by Julitta Clancy
Acknowledgments: Meath Peace Group would like to thank the speakers and guest chair for coming to address this public talk and for giving so generously of their time. A special thanks to all who came to the talk (some from long distances), those who took part in the discussion afterwards and all those who have given their continued support, encouragement and participation through the years. Thanks also to those who assisted in the planning, organisation, publicity and recording of the talk, to the Columban Fathers who have hosted most of our public talks, to the Dept. of Foreign Affairs Reconciliation Fund for financial assistance towards the running costs of the talks and school programmes, and to the staff and students of secondary schools who have taken part in our peace studies programmes
Meath Peace Group Committee: Julitta and John Clancy, Batterstown; Anne Nolan, (Treasurer), Gernonstown, Slane; Rev. Canon John Clarke, Navan; Judith Hamill, Ross, Dunsany; Philomena Boylan-Stewart, Longwood; Olive Kelly, Lismullen; Leonie Rennicks, Ardbraccan, Navan; Fr Vincent McDevitt, An Tobar, Ardbraccan
©Meath Peace Group (report no. 63)