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 (report no. 63)