Meath Peace Group Talks
No. 65 – ‘A Shared Future: Challenges and Realities in Interface Areas’
Monday, 12th February 2007
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park,
Navan, Co. Meath
Chris O’Halloran (Director, Belfast Interface Project)
Dr Neil Jarman (Director, Institute for Conflict Research)
Frankie Gallagher (Ulster Political Research Group)
Seán Brennan (North Belfast Developing Leadership Initiative CEP)
Michael Reade (LMFM)
Introduction: Julitta Clancy
Questions and comments
Concluding words: Anne Nolan
Appendix 1: Extract from ‘A Shared Future’
Appendix 2: Biographical notes
©Meath Peace Group 2007
65 – ‘A shared future: realities and challenges in interface areas’
Monday 12th February, 2007
“Reducing tensions at interface areas must go beyond the ‘band-aid’ approach. It requires a combined short, medium and long-term approach that is earthed in encouraging local dialogue and communication, the sharing of resources, which is set in a wider context of social and economic renewal.” (A Shared Future:Policy and strategic framework for good relations in Northern Ireland, OFM/DFM, March 2005. para. 2.3)
Introduction, Julitta Clancy: “On behalf of the Meath Peace Group I would like to thank the speakers and guest chair and all of you for coming to tonight’s talk which is the second in our series on the ‘Shared Future’ document. The first talk in the series [MPG talk no. 63] was held on November 13th, and a full transcript is available on our website. We hope to have a third talk on this theme on 21st May. Tonight we focus on interface areas of Belfast (touched on briefly in the November talk).So I will hand over now to our guest chair, Mike Reade, presenter of the ‘Loosetalk’ current affairs programme on LMFM radio….”
Chair: Michael Reade (LMFM)
“Thank you for having me, it’s always nice to be here and I regret not having been able to attend the last couple of meetings. I was particularly anxious to come to the meeting tonight – ‘Shared Future – realities and challenges in interface areas’ which for me translates as ‘living with the enemy’… We have four speakers here, you can read more about them in the handout. Each speaker will have 10 to 15 minutes which will give us around an hour for questions and discussion. Our first speaker tonight is Chris O’Halloran.”
1. Chris O’Halloran (Director, Belfast Interface Project)
“Thank you all very much and thanks again for inviting me along. My name is Chris O’Halloran and I am the Director of a project called the Belfast Interface Project. I have a slide show here – what I am aiming to do over the next 15 minutes or so is to give you a quick outline of four different things: 1) who we are: who the Belfast Interface Project is, 2) what is it that we do – I am going to deal with those two quite quickly. 3) Then I am going to give you some information about interface areas, what they are and some common features about interface communities, and 4) I am going to finish with a conference we had last year where quite a number of interface community activists came along and gave us a clear picture of some of the things that they think need to change…
Slide presentation of interface areas…..
“We commissioned the Institute for Conflict Research – Neil here beside me – to draw up a list of all of the NIO [Northern Ireland Office] identified interface structures in Belfast, and then we commissioned another photographer to go and take photographs of each one, from each side. ICR estimate that there are 41 distinct stretches of NIO-built interface walls and barriers in Belfast. Actually when you look at those in more detail, it comes to a total of 48 separate stretches, separate sections of NIO-built interfaces….
Belfast Interface Project: “The Belfast Interface Project is a membership organisation. We aim to promote the social and economic regeneration of interface communities in Belfast. We have a membership of just over 40 interface community groups from both nationalist and unionist areas, and we’ve got about a dozen or so associate members and a smaller number again of individual members.
“You can find out some information about us in the information packs we have left on the tables over there. There are four quite distinct things which we aim to do:
Our first aim is to enhance the knowledge base about interface areas. There’s all sorts of mythology about interface areas and our aim is to increase the knowledge base from a simple way of just letting people see what they look like and a number of other means.
Our second aim is to lobby for change to benefit interface communities
Our third aim is to consult, develop and support our membership. We work to a management committee that’s elected from among our membership. We have three full-time and two part-time staff, and our management committee is elected from within our membership and they tell us what they would like us to be doing.
Our fourth aim is to assist interface communities in addressing issues relating to conflict.
“Ok, so that’s what we do, and I’ll tell you a little bit more about that later.”
Definitions: “What is an interface? We define an interface as ‘the boundary between two residentially segregated communities’. In Belfast that tends to mean a Catholic/nationalist/republican community and a Protestant/unionist/loyalist community, and an interface community is the community that lives alongside one of those boundaries.
Types of interfaces: “There are different kinds of interfaces:
“An enclave community is an island community within a sea of the other community. So in Belfast there are enclave communities such as Suffolk, which is a Protestant/unionist community within Catholic west Belfast, and Short Strand, which is a Catholic/nationalist community within Protestant east Belfast. There are a number of enclave communities in Belfast.
“There are also what we simply define as a ‘split’. The Shankill/Springfield is a pretty good example of that where one community lives on one side of a very long wall and the other community lives on the other side.
“We have a final kind of interface which we call a ‘buffer zone’, which is where a mixed community acts as a buffer between the two other communities, and one of the features of that kind of buffer zone is that it can move up a road, and in Belfast many of those buffer zones are proceeding up roads with a growing mostly Catholic/nationalist community behind the buffer zone.
“So there are different kinds of interface communities and there are many of them. Although the slide show shows 48 separate interfaces, those are just the walls and fences: there are many more interfaces between communities where there is no wall or fence. You can cross an interface by turning a corner, by passing a landmark, by just crossing a street, and for many people who don’t know those areas in Belfast, they might not even recognise that they are passing an interface but local people know exactly where they are and exactly where it is safe and exactly where it isn’t.
Common disadvantages: “So there are different kinds of interface communities that can change over time but they tend to share three common attributes, and this was shown by some researchers – Brendan Murtagh and later Dr Peter Shirlow, both of them are academics, Brendan Murtagh is at Queen’s, Peter Shirlow is at the University of Ulster – and basically what they showed was that most interface communities are characterised by three kinds of disadvantage:
1) “High levels of inter-community tension, intimidation and violence, and the trauma that is associated with those over many years. Thankfully, the levels of violence are reducing and have been reducing very significantly in recent years but for many interface communities people still live with intermittent violence, and in almost all interface communities people live with the trauma of years of extreme violence. So that’s the first attribute which interface communities tend to share.
2) “High levels of social and economic disadvantage coupled with environmental blight. Neil, I think, is going to talk about how things have changed and are changing in recent years in terms of new and emerging interfaces, but many interface areas are characterised by low levels of educational achievement, low levels of car ownership, high levels of unemployment, all the standard indicators of socio-economic disadvantage, and if you look at those pictures behind me you will probably appreciate that many of those areas aren’t very visually attractive.
3) “A common problem in terms of difficulties in accessing facilities and services where those services are on the other side of an interface, so that in many interface communities people have a difficulty crossing the interface, travelling from their nationalist area – if that’s where they are from – into or through the unionist area on the other side of the interface in order to go to a shop or go to college, or go to their place of employment or go to the pub or get a bus, whatever it might be. And that’s a particular difficulty for people who live in enclave communities, those island communities, because, for people who live in that kind of community, virtually everything that they might want to access would be perceived as difficult and at times of tension it would be perceived as dangerous, positively dangerous, for them to access.
Patterns of violence: “The next thing I want to talk about is patterns of violence. There is often a perception outside of interface communities, and sometimes even within interface communities, that it is the interface communities who are at war with each other – ‘if only they would stop fighting with each other we would all get on fine’. And what people who live in interface communities commonly report is that when there is violence in their area – which historically would have happened particularly over things like Drumcree or times of political tension – what people report is that when violence erupts at their interface, typically people travel from quite far afield to their interface. In other words the interface is the site of violence rather than the sole source of violence. And it’s important to understand that, understanding that is a big part of the key to unlocking the problem in terms of how to address interface violence.
Youth-led violence: “In recent years, particularly since the ceasefires – this was put to me best by a fellow on the Cliftonville Road, he described the situation in Cliftonpark Avenue, he was saying: ‘it used to be the kids would come out and they would riot, then the bigger kids would come out and they would riot, then the men would come out of the pubs and they would riot, and then the gunmen would come out and the streets would clear, and now the gunmen don’t come out’. Against that backdrop of the gunmen not coming out, we have had an ongoing problem for some years where there is a huge problem of youth-led violence, where young people have been socialised into sectarian clashes, I suppose that’s the best way of putting it. For many of those young people it is a sport, what we would call ‘recreational rioting’, for some of them it is a way of showing their loyalty to their community and their actions in their eyes of defending their community. And it is a problem, not simply in terms of the actions of those young people. When we interviewed interface communities a few years ago, their number one concern was about the future for their young people, that’s against the backdrop of social and economic disadvantage, restricted access and high levels of violence. That was their number one concern, and their concern wasn’t just about the role of young people in violence, their concern was about their young people as victims of violence. So there’s been an ongoing issue in terms of addressing the issue of youth-led violence.
“In recent years, thankfully, there has been a growing capacity to address violence in interface areas, a growth in mechanisms like mobile phone networks, conflict transformation mechanisms and forums, but it is important to recognise that some of those difficulties that interface communities have, they aren’t all within their gift to address.
“For example, that issue of mobility and access. The interface community on the other side of an interface can only do so much to help that interface community to access employment that might be quite far away, that is within the gift of other people beyond the local, and it’s important to understand that.
Interface conference – identifying what needs to change: “We had a conference last year, Interface Communities. The people who attended were pretty clear in terms of what they think needs to change. There’s a lot of fragmentation across interfaces and they feel there is a need for a more shared vision, interface communities to be working together jointly. They feel there is a need for standardised mechanisms in terms of addressing violence. There’s a common recognition of this issue about young people and the need for much more focused work with young people. There’s a lack of partnership work and they don’t see any champion of interface communities on the horizon, certainly in terms of government and the statutory agencies. They are recognising the change in terms of paramilitary attitudes to interface regeneration, they’re acknowledging the need for more effective policing, they are virtually as one, united, on the need for much more effective means to increase people’s educational achievement right across Belfast.
Shared Future: “And if there is one thing that I think they are all pretty much keen on promoting, it’s this one document, and that’s where I’ll finish. This document was produced by government last year, it’s called the ‘Shared Future’ – it’s probably one of the most significant new policies to emerge from government in Northern Ireland in many many years. And what this says for the very first time is that every Government department, every single Government department in Northern Ireland, whenever it’s planning what it is going to do over the next three years, everything that it says it is going to do it has to say how doing that thing will promote a shared future – that is something that no government department ever had to do, and that’s something that we are all placing a great deal of hope in. Thank you.”
Chair (Mike Reade): “Thanks Chris. I think we are going to have another power point presentation next so that will take a couple of minutes to prepare…. I suppose the final part of what Chris had to stay will be interesting in terms of questions and the future. The background that he gave is particularly interesting for me as I am from a working-class area. If often think that the problems which people endure in working-class areas are always the same, and how they respond can be different and unique in Northern Ireland. We will hear more of that later. Now our next speaker is Neil Jarman…
2. Dr Neil Jarman (Director, Institute for Conflict Research):
“Thank you and good evening everybody….. It is very nice to be here again. It was I think probably about 1996 the first time I was down here [MPG talk no. 22: ‘Parading Disputes’, 1 Oct. 1996]…I remember some of the people here and it is certainly very nice to be welcomed back here.
“I am going to try and complement what Chris said – we tried to synchronise what we would say over the phone the last couple of days, I’m not sure if we have, but I am going to cover some of the same ground but I am going to make slightly different points of emphasis.
Broader definition of an interface: “I have a slightly broader remit of the notion of interfaces than Chris does. The definition of an interface as ‘a conjunction or intersection of two or more territories or social spaces, which are dominated, contested or claimed by members of different ethno-national groups’ is something I came up with in a paper I did for the Community Relations Council a couple of years ago. And the difference, I suppose, from what Chris said is that I am not limiting it purely to residential communities, that interfaces occur – in terms of spaces that are contested and fought over – in other types of environments in Northern Ireland. There are shopping centres which get used by one community rather than the other community, there are leisure centres, there are different types of spaces that people use which are not necessarily linked purely to their residence. So interfaces are mainly found in residential communities but not exclusively so. And part of that is a factor of the segregation which has underpinned life in Northern Ireland since urbanisation, since the early 19th century, two hundred years in Belfast in particular. So they are mainly a factor of the residential areas of Northern Ireland, and they are mainly a factor of the urban areas, though not exclusively an urban phenomenon. Interfaces occur in many of the communities in Northern Ireland.
Segregation: “Segregation is a prominent theme in residential and social life in Northern Ireland, it’s not an exclusive theme. There is a selection of our reports and publications on the shelf over there and one of the recent reports has started looking at mixed residential communities and areas which are not segregated in Northern Ireland, and trying to open up a debate, so that they’re not all about interfaces, it’s not the only thing in Northern Ireland.
Number of interfaces: “So, having said that they are not only residential, or that they are not only in urban areas, we can move on to the point that Chris made about counting the number of peace lines and so forth. We can count the number of NIO-built peace lines in Belfast and acknowledge also that they exist in Derry/Londonderry, in Lurgan and Portadown as well. But we don’t actually know how many interfaces there are because they are very vague and they are very general. Some of them have got fences and barriers that mark them out and make them very obvious, but many aren’t [obvious]. Some of them are marked by other forms of buildings. For example, my own office is on an interface, and putting a commercial development on a contested space is a way of regenerating that environment but also trying to provide the sort of buffer zone that Chris talked about as well.
Open spaces: “Some of them are marked by open spaces. A lot of the parks in Belfast you walk along won’t look like an interface because there will be trees, there will be vegetation, there will be open space, but that in itself is a buffer, it’s a way of keeping the communities apart.”
Flags: “Flags can also demarcate interfaces at certain times of year. At other times of the year they may be perfectly normal looking areas but at times – in the marching season and the like – flags go up and they clearly start to claim that territory, to contest that territory for one community over and above other people.”
Barriers in people’s heads: “The barriers that exist are also sometimes in people’s heads … you can cross the interfaces, some people do ignore them, and they tend to affect some sections of the community more than others. It’s not only a class thing, I would say it also affect males more than females and younger people more than older people, insofar as older women are more able to cross interfaces and access resources on the other side and feel unthreatened by it than a young male is. Because the same sort of patterns of contest and challenge and access and linkages to territory and gang association occur in Northern Ireland as they do everywhere else, they just have another dimension which is the sectarian divide between Protestants and Catholics which is mapped on top of that. So they exist in people’s heads, it’s what tells you at times that you can’t cross over this road, or you’ve got to walk up that side of the street, or it’s not safe to walk down one particular area.
Violence: “The violence is, or has been, a persistent and recurring problem and it is one of the things that has marked out interfaces as, I suppose, a theme which is attractive to the Meath Peace Group to want to talk about in Navan. The violence has often been associated with things like parades, but there are lots of other things that have provoked violence around interfaces:
“football matches have increasingly come to the fore, not actually football matches that take place in Belfast or in Ireland but Rangers versus Celtic matches that take place in Scotland have provoked violence in interfaces in Belfast.
“flags – I mentioned earlier that putting up flags can provoke tensions and lead to disorder.
“The night-time economy – people coming back having had a few beers, walking past an interface, deciding to sing a few songs or throw a few bottles over a wall – whereas it becomes a nuisance and is anti-social behaviour in other towns and cities, in parts of Belfast it can provoke sectarian tensions and it generates a response because it is ‘them’ doing it to ‘us’ and they are doing it to us because they don’t like us rather than because someone is drunk.
“And a lot of it is associated with the presence of young people and the boredom of young people, and the fact that throwing stones and starting a fight around the interfaces can be exciting at certain times of year.
Violence – statistics for North Belfast region: “There are very few statistics as to how much violence occurs in interfaces. One of the few sets of statistics that I have got is from the North Belfast region – this is from 7 interfaces out of the 41 that Chris has mentioned which have got barriers marked:
April 1996 – April 2004 (North Belfast):
Disturbances: 1, 021
Assaults: 1, 343
Criminal damage: 3, 883
Rioting: “Just look at that figure. When you think about how often rioting occurs in Ireland, when the riots occurred in Dublin last year they were headline news. Belfast has come to accept or to come to normatise rioting at times and the amount of disorder that occurs. Those statistics give you an indication that it is a persistent and recurring problem over a long period of time in which people have come to accept it as a problem, and to some extent have had to put up with it, and to some extent it has been the motivation for work to try and reduce it. And a lot of that work – and I will talk about it in a minute – has come from work on the ground, some of the people who are here tonight. A lot of the responses to that violence and disorder have come from grass-roots activism rather than from the State.”
Contrasts in the peace process: “Where are we in relation to interfaces within the peace process? Since 1994 we are into thirteen years since the ceasefires. Over that period, none of the interface barriers in Belfast or the other towns in Northern Ireland has been removed. That’s a fairly depressing fact. The Border crossings all opened up very quickly, but the border crossings, the closures in Belfast, haven’t started to come down. In fact, of those 41 barriers, that fact that 20 of them are either completely new or have been extended or enlarged or strengthened in some way during the peace process gives you an indication of some of the contrasts that are going on in the peace process – that violence carries on at a low level at the same time as the peace is carrying on.
Permanent barriers: “The barriers have also, to some extent, been made more permanent. The earliest barriers, in the late 1960s or early 1970s were barbed wire or sheet steel. They have now become aestheticised, you won’t notice them very much so obviously because they are designed – they’re brick, they’re steel, they are colours, they have been harmonised into the environment. And that conveys a sense that they are really part of a permanent structure here, they are not just thrown up on a temporary basis and going to be pulled down again.
Sense of security: “And they are there, in some senses, because they do offer a sense of security for people, they provide a sense of safety and security from the threat or the reality of violence. Although it doesn’t necessarily stop it, it provides some sense of safety about it, and they also provide a sense of security against social change, that people’s territories, the environment in which they live and in which they identify, is to an extent fixed and permanent and it’s not going to change.”
Change: “Having said that, interfaces are not static areas, they do move, they do change. There are a variety of forms in which interfaces have emerged, new interfaces have come into being, maybe not with barriers and so forth but they are changing. There is a sense in many communities that what is happening in the working-class communities, there’s a ‘greening process’ – places that had been predominantly Protestant working-class communities are becoming steadily Catholic working-class communities. The process doesn’t seem to operate so much in the reverse – Catholic communities becoming Protestant communities – it tends to build up a pattern, or has built up a pattern, in Belfast and elsewhere that there is a greening process.
“And you can see that in the overall demographics of Belfast, that it has become a majority Catholic city over the course of the ‘Troubles’.
Immigration: “We also see the current wave of increasing diversity with migrants coming in and new communities establishing themselves in Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland. Sometimes those people go into interface areas, or move into interface areas because the housing is cheap, the housing is available, and they get caught up into the tensions and the changing dynamics of those communities.
Suburbanisation: “There has also been a pattern of suburbanisation going on as people move out from the inner city areas to the satellite towns and the Greater Belfast Area. That brings with it some of the patterns of Belfast, and some of the contests that were in the inner city areas have now started to be reproduced in some of the satellite towns, particularly through the activities of young people accessing resources and facilities and gathering on street corners and engaging in rivalries.
Redevelopment: “Building redevelopment, regeneration – a factor that has come through the peace process – can often lead to the creation of new interfaces by building up on brown field sites which have been almost deliberately left as brown field because they were too dangerous to build on and redevelop. And you start to create new houses and new properties, and the conjunction of the new properties with the old properties can create interfaces as well.
Displacement of violence: “And also sometimes the work that has been done in trying to control and limit the violence can actually in turn end up in displacing the violence, as the people who want to engage in some form of rioting, or some forms of disorder, can’t do it in point ‘A’ so they move up the area to point ‘B’. An area which wasn’t particularly contentious in one period of time starts to become more fought over and contentious.
“So there are a whole number of factors – some of the interfaces have been there for 20/30 years, some of them haven’t, and there are processes of change going on, so it’s a very real and a very live issue.
Responses: “The responses to the interfaces which I would emphasise as being the most significant over the last ten years have really come from the communities on the ground and the people working in those communities as conflict intervenors, forms of conflict management. Chris mentioned the work involving people linking up through mobile phone networks to provide communication and coordinate responses. A lot of the early work was really about fire-fighting, reactive responses to violence and disorder. It has steadily moved on to being more predictive, of knowing that the problems are likely to occur in certain places and at certain times and having people out on the ground to manage that disorder and prevent it happening rather than to respond to it happening. You then see the increasing process of intra-community dialogue and inter-community dialogue: debates within single-identity communities of the need to address the problems and debates between groups within the two communities coming together to coordinate how they are going to respond to the disorder and how they are going to manage it. And now in most of the community interface networks certainly in Belfast, you have got quite a wide range of cross-community networks, of groups coming together to manage their interface and the problems in their communities, but from that building on to work on other issues. And that has also served as a means of building communication, building dialogue, building trust, building relationships which can then convince people to engage in other issues that affect those communities, not just the hard edge of conflict.”
Sharing resources: “And then, moving on from that, is where we are starting to go now, where we are just starting beginning to engage now – the point that Chris was talking about – we start to think about how you plan and how you develop strategies for sharing resources. Because for a lot of the communities the interfaces cut through resources, so that a barrier goes up, access to a shop is no longer so ready, access to a bus stop, access to a doctor’s surgery, any kind of facilities that people want can become more problematic. So people are beginning to think more constructively now over the last few years, about how you can start to plan and to share resources, to share the facilities.
Positive phase: “I think realistically the interface barriers are going to be there for some time yet, a lot of them are very solid structures, a lot of them have only just been built, and there’s no real indication yet that people have got to the stage where the barriers are coming down because they do provide that sense of security. But I think people are increasingly talking around the problem of the barriers, and around building relationships to start to continue the work where the violence is not so much of a problem, and the relationships can continue and the spaces can start to be shared and utilised together, and the violence won’t keep interrupting that dialogue and setting things back. So I think we are looking at a fairly positive phase over the last two or three years in terms of the management of violence, and we are beginning to move into a phase of constructive engagement with documents like what Chris talked about – the Shared Future. Thank you”
Chair (Mike Reade): “Thanks Neil. Can I just ask you – do you think in the future if it will make a difference to the unionist community if they are looking to nationalists who serve as police officers for assistance, at times such as when they need a crime investigated?”
Neil Jarman: “I don’t think people necessarily look to see what community background that police officer is from at the moment, increasing numbers – I am not sure of the figures ….”
Mike: “No, but in time, when people find themselves not just interfacing but when they actually realise that they are looking to a nationalist for assistance in a crime that has been committed against them, surely that would break down some of the barriers?”
Neil Jarman: “I think people would say, I think probably the police would say that they are not a nationalist police officer or a unionist police officer, they are a police officer. That police officer has to stand outside that role, and I think historically, certainly people in unionist community haven’t tended to see police officers as nationalist or unionist.
“Probably the Catholic community tended to see them all as unionist, pro-unionist, whereas the unionist community hasn’t tended to characterise. There’s been a resistance on behalf of the police in trying to go down that line, and there were certainly discussions when the police reform process was up about recruiting police from a locality to police that locality and therefore having a more cantonised form of policing. I don’t think it’s going to go down that road, quite honestly.”
Mike Reade: “You don’t think people will notice, or be bothered to notice?”
Neil Jarman: “I don’t think they will want to notice. The issues might come up occasionally if things go wrong. I don’t think it will have an effect. I don’t think people will look at the police officer in terms of their community background at all. One of the interesting things I suppose at the moment is that at the last police recruitment I think 12% of the applicants were Polish so that creates another dynamic for policing in Northern Ireland…”
Mike Reade: “Yes, plenty of Catholic police officers because of that! We’ll move on [tape break] … Our next speaker is Frankie Gallagher:
3. Frankie Gallagher (Ulster Political Research Group):
“I want to thank Julitta and the Meath Peace Group for bringing me down again. 1998 was the last time I was here, with some ex-prisoners and their families [at the MPG talk no. 29: ‘The Good Friday Agreement’, 5 May 1998] and I think we broke down some barriers that night, not just here in Navan but also when I went back to east Belfast, went back to Belfast and within the constituency of the UDA. Because we had seen how difficult it was to break out of the stereotyping, the demonisation, the criminalisation which my community and my people have been put into which is a large part of the problem, of trying to get out of the trouble we are in at the moment.
“I’m not here as any expert. I have two of my comrades here with me – Ronnie Black and Isaac Andrews. Ronnie is from north Belfast and Isaac is from west Belfast, probably two of the areas with the most interfaces and contentious parades in the whole of Belfast, probably in the whole of Northern Ireland. I brought them along tonight so that when we are talking after this, they can answer questions as well. And it’s another opportunity for us, and I’m thanking the Meath Peace Group for giving our people an opportunity to break out of our enclaves and come and speak and test our own theories, so I want to thank you for all of that.
Class discrimination within unionist community: “We are talking about interfaces and nobody one has mentioned ‘class’ yet, not one person has mentioned class. Ronnie and Isaac live in north and west Belfast, and I live in east Belfast. East Belfast has got one interface or so they say. But I can tell you, I live in east Belfast and there are as many social and economic interfaces where the middle classes and the unionist ascendancy, the unionist hierarchy etc, discriminated against me as well. And that had a profound impact on a lot of the people, certainly within the Protestant community that would be in the Ulster Defence Association right across Northern Ireland.
“I come from a place called Ballymacarrett. Ballymacarrett in the Great Famine of 1845 was not part of Belfast City Council, it was in County Antrim across the Lagan. There was a book brought out, I don’t know if anybody here has read it, called The Hidden Famine, and it was about the Ulster-Scots, the Scotch-Irish people who were over with the absentee Scottish mill owners, and they just left their workers to rot in Ballymacarrett. And the people in Ballymacarrett at the time, in 1845, walked to a farm called Tullycarnet, and I happen to live in Tullycarnet now, but it used to be a farm. And they used to go out to the farm and they used to collect the rotten turnips, take them back down to Ballymacarrett, boil them up with pigmeal and that’s what they survived on. And they were all Protestant, Presbyterian dissenters. And that is a legacy which we have not forgot, but which we failed to get across or people failed to talk about whenever they talk about a unionist family. The legacy for us was that we were discriminated against as well, between the established churches and certainly within unionism.
Anti-social behaviour: “So when you are talking about interfaces, I believe there is a class issue and that class issue has to be addressed as well, many of the issues that we are seeing at the interfaces at the moment that everyone has spoke about so far. There is the fact that there is recreational rioting going on, there is rioting being arranged now through the Internet, through texts on mobile phones. And we think it is anti-social behaviour, we think it is recreational and it is nothing actually to do with sectarianism. And that is one of the thinkings we have within our approach, trying to deal with these issues. So, how much of it ever was about sectarianism and how much of it was about class, how much of it was about the social ills of deprivation within our areas? Because, if there is still rioting, they’re still at it, and we’ve all come to terms politically and all the rest of it – as I hope we do when they go to the polls on the 7th March – then why are the kids still doing it? Why are people still doing it? So we have to look way beyond the normal, and it says it in the Shared Future document, you have to go beyond, into the wider context of social and economic issues, around neighbourhood renewal etc. So that’s very much where we are.”
UDA contribution to creating stability: “But what we are also saying is that we have been a part of the problem and we want to be part of the solution. And I would say that certainly in the last four years, with the removal of Johnny Adair, with the removal of Jim Gray, with the removal of the Shoukris, the McClanes, who were all drug dealers – they were criminals, they were opportunists who had worked their way in whether by stealth or whether they were put there by our governments. They managed and controlled our communities. It was them who sent kids out, for example one young lad in north Belfast who was sent out with a fuse on a pipe bomb that was already tried and tested, it went out – that same lad blew his arm off and died. He was only about 19. So these are the people who wanted to keep our communities locked in this sectarian, or so-called ‘sectarian’ situation. But then who was running them, who put them there, who managed them? And you can see what is being played out in Northern Ireland with that.
“So my community within the UDA, within east Belfast and across Northern Ireland and the areas where my comrades come from, we have been exploited by those same forces and we want to move on. But what we are trying to do now is we’re trying to create stability. I think we have done that to a degree.
“I don’t hear anybody, and I haven’t heard any of the two speakers mentioning the UDA once, yet I believe it was UDA that stopped the pipe bombs being thrown in north Belfast. I think out of all the changes, the UDA has been accredited with the most dynamic change and the most impact on the ground, but that is not to take away from the work that the lads have been talking about earlier because we need everybody to work at it.
New environment: “And the other thing I believe I think we have done is we have created a whole new environment. One of the main things, as I said earlier, is we got rid of criminals, criminals who were being run either by themselves as opportunists or people within the State, to control those communities. One of the most important impacts so far we have created is we have created a stable political environment. Now you may not think at the moment it is stable with the two of them shouting at each other and all the rest of it, but I think what we have done, we created the environment where … politicians, if they were in a corner or couldn’t get out of an impasse they were in, went around to the local criminal, the local drug dealer, whoever, and said ‘listen, bit of interface trouble here, get it going, we need off the hook’ – and I can tell you, I would accuse Sinn Féin straight to their face of doing the same. We stopped that. Now it’s up to the politicians in Northern Ireland. Outside of blaming the bully boys, the paramilitaries and all the rest of it, it’s down to them now, and what we are seeing played out now is politicians who have no longer anybody to blame, they can’t get off the hook and they are wriggling all over the place! And it’s brilliant to see it, and I hope they continue to wriggle, and that they wriggle their way into government because it’s the only place we are going to get continued stability.
Hypocrisy: “I think the UDA has to be accredited with that. Nobody has accredited them with it and that’s one of the problems of the peace process – they are demonised, they are criminalised, they’re ‘no good’, they’re ‘bad people’, yet they have brought about more change than anybody else. And this is the hypocrisy that you get in Northern Ireland. We get more recognition when we come down to Meath, when we come down to Glencree, when we go to Brussels, when we go everywhere, people recognise us – bar the people certainly within our own community, and certainly unionist so-called leaders. Maybe they’re scared of us, maybe they don’t want us because of the underlying class issues, they don’t want us addressing those types of issues.
“But what we have tried to do in all this five or six years’ development, at great risk – and it was only two years ago that they tried to murder me, they put me in the boot of a car. Thank God, the people that were told to put me in the boot of the car were sitting beside me and they said ‘Frankie what will we do?’ And I said ‘well, don’t put me in the boot of the car… ’
Confidence needed:“So, it went on from strength to strength there, but we have got to start giving credit where credit is due, whether they are the perceived monsters and all the rest of it. Sinn Féin could not do what they are doing – and this is one of the ironies of the peace process which I think is very healthy, it’s a political process that is very healthy in Northern Ireland – you could not have got Sinn Féin and the IRA to move unless they were strong, they were confident and they could make decisions, and competently make decisions to go away, because only they could make themselves go away. My people need to do that as well.
Interface trouble: “…. You may ask ‘what’s this to do with interface trouble?’ It’s everything to do with interface trouble because that’s where it was played out, that’s where the charades were played out, that’s where the shenanigans went on with everybody to get off the hook of not finding political stability. And if all it took was one of the republicans to do with the Provisional IRA to come out with 1 pipe bomb, as soon as they threw 1 pipe bomb the UDA came out and threw 20 pipe bombs. But when they were getting the 20 pipe bombs, the IRA would phone up the press and the TVs so, by the time they were throwing the 20 pipe bombs, the press was coming down and the only pogroms and the only morons that they could see on TV were the Protestants attacking the Catholic community. It totally distorted the whole picture. I believe that’s true because in the short space of about 4 years, we are here in relative stability, we are talking about things and issues that people actually don’t want to do these things, it’s the normal things, the social ills, about football, about low education, about no jobs, low self esteem – that’s where we are going with all this.
“That existed then but somebody else was playing games with it. We have changed that environment. We don’t get no credit for it but we are going to go on. ….
Conflict Transformation Initiative: “And I wanted to come here and not whinge about the interface areas and all the rest, and how downtrodden we are. We are doing something about it, we’re doing something about it through an initiative called the Conflict Transformation Initiative. And it’s to bring that stability. It was based on the question ‘is the war over?’ And if it’s not, then what will we do next? And if it is over, where do we go next? So we went through these last 4 months, into those areas that we are talking about, where the interface fighting went on, and we asked over 4,000 people from December, 4,000 men, all in the Ulster Defence Association, those questions. And everyone of them said: ‘the war is not over but it has changed, it is about the real enemies in our community, social issues, deprivation, the lack of jobs, the lack education, the lack of confidence.’
British identity: “They also believe it’s not over because the IRA have not given over their aspiration for a united Ireland. Well, why should we give up our aspiration to remain British, as part of our British identity? Not an English identity but a British identity which is much broader than an English identity, which I think people get mixed up with. So, everyone to a man has decided they want to move on, they can no longer sustain the status quo. They have all got confidence through the actions we have taken. So we are trying, and one of the admissions was that we, through the interface violence, where those people who came out, the gunmen who came out, the pipe bombers and all the rest that Chris talked about, was that they wanted to move from a position of defending and to end it… because first and foremost they admitted that they had harmed and hurt their own community, and it had to stop. So they wanted to help mend their own community and move on and maybe mend the whole bigger picture , within the nationalist/republican community, Roman Catholic community, and any other communities that may well have been hurt.
Managing change: “But to do that they have also said that they had to face up to the challenge to manage change, and that’s where we are at the minute. And I think the interface trouble and the interface issues have totally changed now, they’ve changed because of what the UDA has done. Now they didn’t do it on their own, they can’t do it on their own, but I think they were certainly one of the last pieces of a big jigsaw that fell into place to create that stability.
Dialogue: “So I am hoping that continues. I think that what we are also doing now is that we are giving confidence to people within our own community to respect the dead, to respect other people’s dead, to try and create dialogue. And one of the things in the Shared Future document was that dialogue had to be sort of ‘earthed’ in local dialogue etc. Well we are doing that, and hopefully if we can do it within our own community we intend moving out quickly into other communities to talk and try and do it. And the important thing is that we bring people with us to do that.
Post-traumatic stress – time bomb waiting to explode: “So we are trying to do this, we have worked hard and we are going to continue to do it but one of the problems we have, and I suppose that everybody has, is that people who have demonised people within my community for so long think they can just go away, they think they can stop it overnight, they think all you have to do is down tools and go home. It doesn’t happen like that. We just buried a comrade in west Belfast on Saturday morning. That guy was at the front of the fighting, he took the war to the IRA, for all the right reasons that he believed in, whether the violence was wrong, we are coming to terms with it. And I definitely hope that another Irish republican never dies for Ireland, I hope they live for Ireland and their united Ireland, but I also don’t want to see another loyalist die for Ulster. I want them to live for Ulster. And one of the problems we are having now, and the demonisation and criminalisation process is heavy on our hearts, that that person is suffering from what we call ‘post-conflict traumatic stress syndrome’. And nobody actually recognises that back home. And if you go into a loyalist community, because of the lack of loyalist leadership, because of the lack of recognition within our unionist community and our unionist leaders, it’s a time bomb waiting to explode – there are hundreds and hundreds of people within the loyalist community who have went and have murdered, who have killed their enemy as they see it, and have been killed by their enemy. And it’s ready to explode. And they are all living on the interface areas.
New phase: “So we are moving to a new phase we believe. We think we have stabilised in large the interface areas. We believe people think this is the end game, you know this would make a good documentary, the end game in Ireland. What a load of nonsense! We believe this is just the end of the beginning. They have put in the physical structures, they have done some economic stuff, though not enough, all the physical stuff has been done. What we are saying now is it’s about people, it’s up to my community interfaces to get the capacity, to get the training, to get the support and the confidence to be able to walk across that divide and go and speak to people in Ardoyne, to go and speak to people on the Falls Road, and bring them over to us and do the same. So it is all about people now.
Time bomb within loyalism: “But nobody is listening, nobody is listening to the time bomb that is happening within loyalism. Because we believe there are hundreds and hundreds of our volunteers who are ready to explode, and they are killing themselves at a terrible rate, and they’re not even recognised.
Conclusion: “So I hope that what comes out of the Meath Peace Group and the talk tonight is that this is not the end game, this is only the end of the beginning. There’s other issues, there’s social ills that we have to address. But let’s not fall into the trap of sectarianism. Let’s fall into the position of recognising there are class issues. Yes there are political issues and religious issues but there are other issues being hidden. And let’s try and stop demonising each other within Northern Ireland. And maybe if we can get the understanding of the people in the Republic – you know I think we have far more friends down here now who are arguing our case and the arguments are coming back up into Northern Ireland. And it’s ironic that we are coming down here for to try and get a voice, but we are going to continue to do it. The Meath peace Group has given us the opportunity again. What I hope is that we continue our progress, I don’t want the credit for it or anything else but I hope that the volunteers who were ex-combatants, who fought the war, who are now trying to establish peace in Northern Ireland, get the credit, because they need the confidence, they need the help, they do need a pat on the back at times. And I think this is where it starts. So I am hoping that we come out of this with something positive because there is a time-bomb just waiting to explode on the interface areas and I think we have to address it. Thank you very much for listening.”
Mike Reade: “Thank you. There’s plenty to react to there, I’m sure we will have plenty of questions. Our final speaker is Seán Brennan.”
4. Seán Brennan (North Belfast Developing Leadership Initiative):
“Good evening and thank you for inviting me here. I’m supposed to be Conor Maskey [of Intercomm Belfast] but unfortunately Conor wasn’t able to make it so I’ve been sent down in his place.
Community empowerment programmes: “I am going to endorse everything the other three speakers said. I think they’ve all hit on the main points. I’ll start off by just explaining who I am and what I do. I work for the North Belfast Developing Leadership Initiative Community Empowerment Programme – a bit of a mouthful. The Community Empowerment Programmes grew out of the consequences of the Holy Cross dispute. And just to follow on from what Frankie was saying, following the Good Friday Agreement, or the Belfast Agreement, whatever you want to call it, in 1998, a lot of people decided that that was it, it was over, and a lot of the communities in interface areas were just ignored and forgotten about, primarily for the reasons that Frankie has outlined, they didn’t need them to go and kill anyone anymore so they were just left to their own devices. This created a series of problems within north Belfast and community people have tried their best to move that on, especially within the Protestant community, but they just got nowhere, and, unsurprisingly, interface violence erupted and we had the Holy Cross dispute and the consequences of that. In a way it was a good thing because it forced government to address the needs of interface communities. … Quite often people point fingers at interface communities and say, ‘it’s your fault and if only you’se would all get on with each other, why don’t ye and … everything will be grand?’
Dunlop Report: “So the community organisations had tried and tried for years and nothing had come of it but because of the Holy Cross dispute the government commissioned the Dunlop Report. And the Dunlop Report looked at interface violence, especially in north Belfast, and it came up with this strategy to address it. Now you have to remember that North Belfast is a patchwork quilt of interface communities, and not only, as has been mentioned here earlier, the physical interface communities but also what I call the intellectual interfaces, between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’- who think they’re doing ok and they don’t want the ‘have nots’ to get anything. And that’s of course in contrast to north Down where you have the ‘haves’ and the ‘have yachts’! So there are people who did extremely well out of the conflict in Northern Ireland, let’s not forget about that.
Murder triangle: “But in north Belfast you have to start to imagine what it was like. North Belfast was known as the ‘murder triangle’, proportionately it had more people killed than any other part of Northern Ireland. Last year Pete Shirlow did a piece of research which discovered that the majority of people who were killed in north Belfast were killed within 9 feet of their front door! So that means that trying to get anyone to move out of an interface community is virtually impossible – people were living with their doors blocked up, their windows had grills on them, their lights were turned out, their back gardens – instead of having plastic oil tanks, they have metal oil tanks. So they were basically living in cages, and they would come out during the hours of daylight and they would be back before it would get dark and then they didn’t answer the door.
Health and social problems: “You had a range of social and economic problems there. Not surprisingly, people were taking drugs, and that’s not even without going to the illegal drug dealers. People were going to the doctors, the children were on all types of medication and the parents were on all types of medications. And if anybody knows the kind of cycle you’ll understand what happens. And it usually happens to women because they are under more pressure than anyone else. So the mother goes to the doctor, she gets all these tranquillisers, then she finds it hard to get up in the morning, she doesn’t get the kids out to school. The kids don’t go out to school, the kids hang about the streets all day long, they get a bit of a bad name.
“Other parents come to the mother complaining about the kids, the mother goes back to the doctor and the doctor gives her stronger medication. The kids stay out late, stay up drinking, start taking drugs, start creating anti-social behaviour. Then the paramilitary guys come around and say ‘you’ve got to start looking after your kids’, the mother goes back to the doctor for more medication and the cycle goes on and on and on. And not surprisingly people drink a lot and smoke a lot in those interface areas, so there are huge health implications as well. Now that’s without even going into the political situation.
“You can imagine the difficulties that people have even trying to organise to address those kinds of issues. It’s difficult to come out your door and try and form a group and try and campaign against a specific issue if there’s nobody in the street or you’re terrified of going out or if you think that something’s going to happen to you.
North Belfast Community Action Unit: “So, as a consequence of all that, the government formed this group called the North Belfast Community Action Unit, an organisation within government, set up within OFM/DFM [Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister] so it has direct ministerial support. And it’s made up of representatives of different departments who come together to address specific issues within an interface because government has now recognised that it needs a multi-agency approach but it also needs the community. And because of the difficulties in north Belfast, community organisations had to be empowered to facilitate the change. So what was encouraged was a series of empowerment partnerships where you had small little groups dotted about areas. They were brought together in this large umbrella organisation of an empowerment partnership. Then government would ask the local people to identify what specific issues were affecting their area, and identify strategies, and they would provide small pieces of money to address that. And from that we now have 14 community empowerment partnerships in north Belfast, and north Belfast being what it is, it stretches right across from Carlisle Circus right out to Newtownabbey. Because government thought as this stretches across two local district council boundaries that there was no point stopping it in Belfast and then the kids in Rathcoole rioting against the kids in Belfast. So it had to stretch right out. So not only does the interface issue cover Belfast and the different areas in it, it also covers Newtownabbey, so you have two local district council areas. And that is known as the parliamentary constituency of North Belfast.
Difficulties in Protestant interface communities: “So, as Neil has said, within that range of interface communities, sometimes it’s better not to look at it as Catholic against Protestant. They are the buts where both sides fall out and hit each other. Within either side of those interfaces there are stresses and strains. Frankie has made a point towards that, talking about some of the politicians within the Protestant community. In actual fact, it is probably better to be in a Catholic community than it is to be in a Protestant community, especially if you are at working-class level because the political struggle is still going on, and the DUP are still arguing out issues and that sort of reflects within Protestant areas where it is difficult to get grassroots regeneration going because some local councillors don’t want to be seen within the company of [some people].
Common social and economic issues: “So there are a range of issues ongoing. Within the interface communities, through the empowerment partnerships, people started to come together to look at the issues that affected them most. And, as Frankie has already said, when people sat down and started talking about the things that affected them – not what affected the people on the other side, but what affected them – they were near enough all the same things: lack of education, lack of health, lack of social amenities, lack of employment. If you come from one of those interface communities the chances are that once you put your postcode down, you are not going to get that job. And that’s what we call ‘postcode discrimination’. But I am trying to change that to ‘post-conflict development’, to try and sort of put a positive spin on it.
Developing leadership: “So, through these community empowerment partnerships, we have started to work to address specific issues. One of the things that our community empowerment partnership does is develop leadership. That sounds a bit vague I know, but, as Frankie has already said, especially within the Protestant community, people have found it difficult to get community representatives to come out and then when they do come out and somebody says ‘oh he’s a loyalist’, or ‘he’s a paramilitary’ and then they don’t want to know you. And that whole demonisation process goes on. So it is extremely difficult to get people to step forward and step into the spotlight. But it has progressed and the work is going on. In the Developing Leadership Initiative we work across a range of issues with all the other community empowerment partnerships. One of the things we do is around developing leadership skills, and I’ll touch on that in a minute.
Regeneration process: “The other thing that we do, and hence me being the Edward De Bono person, is that the Edward De Bono Foundation has a plan to take over part of Crumlin Road Prison. Crumlin Road Prison is an old 19th century jail, some of you may have heard of it, some of you may have even stayed in it. It’s now derelict and it’s up for regeneration, and it’s on the Crumlin Road. And the idea is that the Crumlin Road regeneration process will kick-start a wider regeneration process in the whole of north Belfast. North Belfast has got some of the most beautiful scenery, some of the most beautiful houses, but it’s also got some of the worst. So the government plan is to use this regeneration process to kick-start and lift the whole of north Belfast, bring in further infrastructural developments and grants and turn north Belfast into a vibrant community.
Demands on land and new immigrants: “One of the difficulties with that is – and again it has been mentioned – the spatial demands on land. Within nationalist north Belfast, it’s overcrowded, it’s got a very young population, they’re trying to look for houses, they’re trying to stay in the area. On the Protestant/unionist/loyalist side, they’ve got an older population, people don’t want to live there, the housing stock is degenerating, and – I don’t want to say too much about the South – but a lot of southern investors have come up and bought houses in Protestant/unionist/loyalist areas, and they’re renting them out to new citizens. So on top of the traditional sectarian divide, we now have new immigrants coming in – Filipinos, Pakistanis, Lithuanians, Poles etc etc. So these are putting further demands onto the local community because a lot of these communities don’t have a tradition of going to the police, they have a tradition of sorting it out within their own area. And if you’ve got 8 Polish guys on a Saturday night unwinding after a week’s work, they don’t really understand what’s going on sometimes, the language may not be good, so there are tensions that arise from that there. And these are things that we talk about through our work.
Centre for Constructive Thinking and Citizenship: “So the prison project hopefully will help to address that. However, being north Belfast it is never easy. Girdwood Army Barracks then became available, and government decided they would use this – it backs on to the back of Crumlin Road jail. So you now have 27 acres of land for development in an inner city area. If you’re a developer you’ll be rubbing your hands. The local community is hoping that they are going to get something into that but because they’re divided, it’s a patchwork quilt of communities, it’s difficult to get consensus on what’s going to go on that multi-purpose site. So we are hoping that we are going to get part of that site and create an international Centre for Constructive Thinking and Citizenship which will become a global centre and attract people into Northern Ireland to look at the whole concept of conflict resolution, problem solving and new thinking.
Conflict resolution skills training: “So that’s one element of what I do. And, at grassroots level, I then sort of take those training skills out to the interface communities and to the emerging leaders, to enable them to start articulating what they already know and to start developing ways to engage with the intellectual interfaces, engage with the statutory organisations, engage with elected councillors and use the conflict skills that we are all picking up in our everyday work to try and resolve those kind of issues. It’s no good being able to get on with your Catholic or Protestant neighbour and then go back to your local politician and have a blazing row. You’re not really using your conflict resolution skills there. So, within north Belfast, we’re trying to address those kind of issues.
“Now I’ll give you an idea of some of the practical things that we do. As I say, the Developing Leadership Initiative enables other groups to realise their full potential. So, people will come and work with us, or we will work with them, to develop training, to develop networks, or to enable networks that already exist to move forward.
Mobile phone network: “One of the things talked about earlier on is the mobile phone network. The mobile phone network developed through interface workers who thought this would be a good way of trying to reduce conflict. Because what would happen was that a rumour spreads: ‘they’ – whoever you want them to be – ‘are coming down to attack us’. And the rumour goes through the area and before you know it you have three or four hundred people on the street, for nothing. And then one side sees three or four hundred people on the other side, so how do you resolve that? Through the mobile phone networks interface monitors can then phone each other and say ‘listen, I hear there’s an issue happening, I hear there’s a dispute happening, is this true?’ And then you can tell that person ‘no, that’s a lie’, or ‘yes, we’re trying to resolve this, don’t worry things aren’t getting out of hand’. And that kind of starts to act as a basis of trust. And what we say is, ‘I can only lie to you once, after that you are never going to believe me again, so if I tell you that something’s happening and it’s not happening, you’re not going to believe me, but if I tell you it’s happening and it is happening and I can resolve it, then you are going to believe me.’ This is where the mobile phone network has started to grow because people started to develop trust.
North Belfast Conflict Transformation Forum: “What we also have in north Belfast is a bank of experienced conflict transformation practitioners, people who have been doing this for years and years. We decided that, rather than go outside and bring someone in from San Francisco or Australia or London or Helsinki to tell us how to resolve our conflict, we decided ‘we are the experts, let’s start using our expertise, let’s start valuing that’. And from that an organisation has developed called the North Belfast Conflict Transformation Forum. And this forum is an open space for conflict transformation practitioners to come and discuss issues and discuss solutions, and also to build up trust. Because if we start working with each other on everyday issues, as Frankie said, then we start to realise ‘well, it’s not because you are a Catholic, or you are a Protestant, or because you are a nationalist or you are a unionist, or you’re a republican or you’re a loyalist, it’s because your family doesn’t have any work and you’re trying to identify potential employment opportunities, your family doesn’t have good housing and you’re trying to address those kinds of issues.’ So on the basis that two heads are better than one, we start to work on those issues. And that also cuts out the middle man, and again going back to the intellectual interfaces where a lot of statutory agencies will tell you ‘oh, we’d love to help you, we’d love to do this but we can’t because the other side …’ So they play one off against the other. And to get round that, the Conflict Transformation Forum then shares experience and shares practice.
Training: “Now one of the other things that we kind of realised from that was that, given the level of expertise within the wider group, it would be better for us to start identifying our own training needs. We all have different training providers, we have training budgets etc. But we started to look at the things such as: ‘what would make you as an interface monitor, an interface worker, a better practitioner?’ So we’ve all had those kind of Harvard law classes and courses, we’ve had people flying in from Harvard, huge amounts of money, flying in to deliver this course and then they disappear again. And we started to use that expertise and we started to apply it in an everyday setting. And what we formed out of the Conflict Transformation Forum was an educational sub-group, and what that identified was that interface monitors needed specific training in specific issues.
Youth violence: “Again this is where it comes into this ‘post-conflict development’ phase where what we are saying now is that we have moved beyond a process of inter-community violence to a process of interpersonal violence, so a lot of the time it’s kids, as Frankie said, get on Beebo, arrange to meet and hey presto you have a riot. Although some positive things have come out of that. A few months ago, at the interface up in Rathcoole, the two sets of kids had arranged to meet and the Protestant side came up and there was no Catholic kids so they got onto the mobile phones and started texting them saying ‘where are you, I thought we were meeting for a riot?’ And the Catholic kids texted back and said ‘we are in the youth club, we’ll be down after the youth club closes!’ So then the Protestant kids went back to their people and said ‘why can’t we have a youth club?’ So then that starts putting pressure on their local politicians and their local community representatives. So it’s not always looking at the bad things that come out of the conflict, we have to look to the positive things and try and sort of work with that there.
Interface monitors: “Through the interface monitors we are able to meet and discuss those kinds of issues. Ronnie [Black] is here and Ronnie is one of the interface monitors. He would look after a particular area in north Belfast and his nationalist counterpart would phone him up and say ‘Ronnie listen, we’ve heard that there’s…..’, and Ronnie would go down and have a look at that and assess the situation, find out whether it’s true or not and try and resolve it. Likewise, if there was an issue on the other side of the interface, Ronnie would phone and say ‘listen, we’re hearing that there’s a group of guys gathering’, so the nationalist interface monitors would go round and look at that. Nine times out of ten, the police contact the interface monitors before they contact the politicians. And you have this strange bizarre scenario at times where the police are sitting in their jeeps, drinking coke and eating Mars bars, and the interface monitors are down telling their sides to ‘get back and stop this messing about’. And that’s resolved so much easier. …
Prevention: “We now can calculate that if you arrest a young man, and they are predominantly young men, if you arrest a young man on the interface and process him through the criminal justice system, it costs an average of £89,000 a year. What we are saying is that we can do that at a far cheaper rate – not put that young man into a criminal justice system and ruin his career. One of the things that the Conflict Transformation Forum did last year was to develop a poster campaign – to go around the schools to try and highlight to young men: ‘this is what is going to happen to you if you get arrested; you’re going to be prosecuted, you’re going to have a criminal record, you’re not going to be able to get a job.’ So we’re trying to get through to the young people on that level. We’re not giving them all this fancy community relations stuff, we’re putting it to them exactly how it is: ‘if you get caught rioting this is what is going to happen to you, and your life will be extremely difficult from here on in.’ And this is grassroots community activists who are doing this, these are not fancy ideas thought up anywhere else, these are people in their own communities who recognise what’s needed and try and develop the solutions that can resolve them ….
Building trust: “The level of trust that has grown has enabled the growth of a trust bank. So, if I say to you that this is going to happen, I have to deliver, and if you say to me that this is going to happen, you have to deliver. Or you have to come and say to me ‘I can’t do this’ and that’s ok too because we know that we can’t do it all, but as long as that trust starts building then we start forming relationships.
Learning Consortium: “And from that Conflict Transformation Forum we developed the North Belfast Learning Consortium. That is now designing training programmes that the interface workers can use for themselves to develop and enhance their own practice.
“We have developed a relationship with Queen’s University Belfast to accredit the people who are going through that course. And just to give you a flavour of the things we are talking about:
“first of all we are looking at understanding conflict in a divided society, so we all realise what the issues are, why we get involved in conflict,
“the next thing we are looking at is understanding grassroots peacebuilding because what we now see ourselves as is peacebuilders, local peacebuilders,
“then we are looking at – ok, so we know how to build the peace, how do we sustain that? So we have to identify leadership skills required to sustain new activity.
“And then the other thing is we have to learn processes of governance so that we know who to go to, which statutory organisation, which MP, which MLA, which councillor, and get them on board. And it may be that that councillor does not really like me, or like my politics, or I don’t like that councillor or his or her politics, but we recognise that we have to work together.
Support from politicians: “And increasingly we have support from all politicians. We designed this programme last year, Rebuilding Civic Society, where we took long-term unemployed people from interface communities and gave them a job for one year and we told them ‘you’re just like me, I’m on a two-year funding contract, my contract is up on the 31st March and then I am unemployed. I have to sustain my employment by identifying funding, you have to do the same thing, you have to identify the training you need, you have to identify the qualifications you need to sustain your employability’. We had Nigel Dodds [DUP] support us in that. This was a cross-community venture, Nigel Dodds took us to Stormont. Then all the other councillors starting coming on board because Nigel Dodds supported us. Then we were hosted by Belfast City Council, they all loved it. Then we were hosted in Westminster, they loved it even more …. and then they took us to Brussels. So that was a cross- community programme that took long-term unemployed people from all sides of the divide and brought them together and gave them an opportunity. And out of those 14 people who went on that scheme, there are 13 of them still working.”
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS
Q.1. Chair (Mike Reade): “Seán, I am conscious of the clock but can I ask you, it is great obviously that people from different sides of the community come together and are working together on a daily basis but I presume that in the evening after work they are going home to their houses on the traditional sides of the divide? And I presume that despite the knowledge we have of recreational rioting and situations being exploited for the benefit of others, that it is not necessarily safe to say that it would be safe to cross the divide and to venture out into the other community late at night?”
Seán Brennan: “It comes down to local tensions. Some interfaces you just wouldn’t want to be seen out after dark but increasingly other interfaces now, people are moving across, people are starting to make contacts and communications. The younger generation is a different generation to me. Places that I would have gone to or not gone to, the younger generation, they don’t understand it, they just go wherever they want. So, there’s an age thing here as well, and, no disrespect to my colleagues but we are all a certain age, the younger people, they will just move about willy nilly, they will go wherever they want. One of the other things we have done is we brought representatives from both sides to the Somme last October and we are going to be bringing them to Dublin in March to have a look at where we both come from historically. And one of the conversations that came out of that was that all the people’s children, their kids move about, Catholic areas, Protestant areas, that kind of dynamic is starting to change. That’s not to minimise the potential for conflict at interfaces but there is a widespread change going on and sometimes it can be extremely fraught with danger but also it can be an extreme area of opportunity.”
Chair (Mike Reade): “I wonder if there is anyone in the audience who would be conscious of where they would park in Northern Ireland or would you give it a second thought, a registration from the Republic? I suppose the point I am trying to make is that we are a long way from normalisation – would anyone disagree with that? And Frankie, if I could go back to you, and I am going to then start taking questions… you were talking about an attitude amongst loyalist paramilitaries that the war has changed. Who are they fighting if the republicans at least have given up on the war?”
Frankie Gallagher: “We sort of try to create stability and take a step back instead of taking a step forward. We have always been a very reactionary people, and it didn’t take much to get us to react to do that. We have tried to reverse that. We told most of the people we worked with in the beginning that ‘the IRA, Provisional IRA, Sinn Fein are still getting away with murder and they haven’t even fired a shot’. And that’s maybe not necessarily true but it was trying to get it in our people’s heads that there’s another way to fight this argument, this struggle, and people are entitled to their struggle but we are equally entitled to ours. And we said to them, ‘look, let’s go and get the IRA’, the way the Ulster Freedom Fighters might have done years ago which I hope never happens again, we said ‘we’ll go and we’ll face the IRA, we’ll face Sinn Fein etc’. And I can tell you through six years we still haven’t seen the eyes of the IRA or Sinn Fein because we are still struggling against unionists who are what we see as barriers to peace. There’s a middle-class or working upper middle-class – people from working-class areas who think they are middle class – working in the civil service etc in Northern Ireland, and I’m sure this is the same the world over, but they seem to be gatekeepers rather than providing us with opportunities etc. Unionist Protestants and middle class Catholics are the barriers at the minute, we haven’t even seen the face of the enemy yet.”
Chair (Mike Reade): “You need two sides to have a war. I know I am being very simplistic, and purposely so, but what is the need for weapons and military structures or forms of policing if there isn’t a visible enemy?”
Frankie Gallagher: “Well, what we are saying is that there is so little infrastructure within our community. People want paramilitaries to go away, everybody within our community has said ‘ok, that’s reasonable, let’s make that happen’, and we have had the good will of everybody so far saying ‘let’s move forward, let’s move to the day when there are no paramilitary activities, no paramilitary organisations and no criminality associated with that’. One of the things we are saying to other people is look, say for example you go an estate like Tullycarnet, where I come from, where 99% of the people through 35 years of conflict have been associated with the Ulster Defence Association at some stage of that period of time, ‘you tell them to go away, where are they going to go? Are you going to send them all to England?’ The truth is you cannot send them away, they’re part of this community, part of this country, part of this island, and what we are saying is that we have to transform. So if we transform, and make sure any structures that were there, that were pertaining to military tactics, military strategies, military options, violent options, that that option has to go…..
Mike Reade: “…. gangsters who give up their trade, and the drug money, will they need to be compensated?”
Frankie: “No no, I’m asking the government to give up their criminals in their structures … what we are saying is that there is nothing wrong with the structure that is there, if it’s transformed, working for the good of the community, fighting the social ills of unemployment, lack of education, lack of confidence. There can be no gun in the equation in any future settlement.”
Mike Reade: “So why have they not disarmed?”
Frankie: “Because they are unable to, they’re not strong enough to. They haven’t got the cohesion, they haven’t got the confidence and their community hasn’t got the confidence. One of the things that Sean was saying earlier, about the mothers, and the paramilitaries came round to the door – and this is a cycle that happens in our communities – and they said ‘keep your children in check because they’re wrecking the place’.
“They’re doing that because there’s no effective police service, or they’re unable to do it. And one of the problems we’re having at the minute, of trying to make the UDA go away, transform into something that is positive for our communities, that our communities turn around and say ‘but if the paramilitaries go away now, just like that, the drug dealers are going to come back in, the criminals are going to come back in, the kids are going to run riot and we are going to be left in ghettoes where most people are not registered to vote, where the people will then disenfranchise themselves daily and where the politicians won’t care anyway. They will ring-fence that area, and as long as the people don’t come out of that area and affect the middle-class, or affect the Cherry Valleys, or the Belmonts and all the rest of it in Belfast, then they are ok. But if they come out of that ghetto, we will put them back.”
Mike: “But didn’t the Provisionals decommission in a policing void?”
Frankie: “Gerry Adams says he had to decommission people’s minds before he got to the point where he is at now, and I think, whether you like them or loathe them, they have moved one hell of a position from where they were, to now. I still don’t see them as friends, but they had to decommission their people’s minds who were well educated, who were well motivated, were articulate, were innovative. Our people have been decommissioned years ago through what we call the unionist legacy, through 80 years of lack of leadership within unionism, they have had no education, so instead of decommissioning minds we are going to have to recommission minds – giving people confidence, and we are going to have to make sure that people have the skills to be able to move on and forever take guns out of politics, but I think Isaac wants to say something there….”
Isaac Andrews (west Belfast): “On the question you were asking, you know about why the UDA do not give up their arms, there is still the perception in the UDA and certainly in our communities that there are republican organisations out there, dissident republican organisations still hold weapons to this day. There are 3 or 4 we could mention. In one of our main interface areas I would say there are more dissidents in it than there is Provisionals. The dissidents seem to be taking over certain areas now. One of the reasons I would say why people are still holding on to these weapons there is still a threat there against them, and until that threat is totally away, I can’t see the weapons being took out of loyalist areas. Everybody thinks this is it, we are on our way now but in my eyes I see that we could have maybe a worse summer coming up with dissidents. What are the dissidents going to do coming up to the parading? Are they going to try and get at Sinn Fein to do something about the parades, creating more riots, creating more tensions? So I think there is a lot to work on before the summer.”
Chair: “Ok, now I want to open it up for questions from the audience….If you wouldn’t mind I will come down to you with the microphone, if you could just identify yourselves…”
Q. 2. Paddy Martin (Crosmaglen): “I would like to just endorse what Frankie said there, that the danger here is from the fellows who are traumatised by the trouble. I recognise that on both sides of the border there, at Crosmaglen. And it can be very dangerous and very explosive. I don’t’ know whether the victim of the killing or the perpetrator of the killing is the worse off because it takes a really hard man eventually that it doesn’t come back to haunt him. And one of the problems you touched upon there was that during the troubles both governments recruited very unsavoury characters to work as agents for them, and those fellows – the damage they did and some of the things they did have never come to light. And the reason it hasn’t come to light is that it is not in the governments’ interest. And both governments should be held accountable for what their agents did. It’s been blamed mainly on the loyalists or on the IRA, but it was a government agent that often killed and that is why we have the situation now when they are having inquiries into inquiries, they don’t want the truth about the Dublin/Monaghan bombings to come out. And the obscenity on top of it all is that barristers, solicitors who are appointed to inquire into this, are getting €300 or €400 euro or pounds an hour. That’s an obscenity…. Those are huge amounts of money. And who are the victims? Ordinary Protestants and Catholics….”
Chair (Mike Reade): “Perhaps we could put that into a question. Would anybody like to see the collusion that Paddy speaks of on either side investigated independently, perhaps at a European court?”
Frankie Gallagher: “The problem with collusion is that it will be the ordinary man who went out and perpetrated the act who will be the patsy here. He will be the one who will take the fall whereas the people who we should be really moving at is the people in power who managed it, and they managed both sides. And you could ask yourselves after the hunger strikes in 1981, that if the republicans died on hunger strike and they knew it was over then then why did it go on for so long after? We all have our theories about that. But what we are saying is that yes, these inquiries are fine, these are good because it’s all going to come out but at the minute it is just looking for the scapegoats at the bottom rung of the ladder, the person who pulled the trigger, when it’s the ones at the very top of the tree and in between that we should be looking for …”
Mike Reade: “You have all spoken about two communities which are pretty much mirror versions of the other yet when they look each other in the eye they see a monster. You spoke about the work you are trying to do to change what people see when they look at somebody from the other side of the divide, but is there something additional to what you are doing needed to be done? A truth commission or investigation of some sort or should it just be a question of chipping away at it, trying to bring people together through employment or some of the other projects now that are ongoing?”
Seán Brennan: “That’s a difficult one for me especially. In an ideal world I would love to see a truth commission and we would all find out what happened, but in reality, as Frankie said, they are just going to go and get the people at the bottom rung of the ladder and they are going to blame them. And increasingly whenever you look at it, and certainly I would sit and read the Internet and read comments and that, and you start to wonder who actually ran this? Which governments? And not just the British Government, I think there’s a number of governments that were involved. And increasingly you’re starting to hear ‘oh he was a British agent’, or ‘he was an agent’. And then you start to find out that the people who were doing all the killing were agents. And …last year when we were talking about the Disappeared, up around the border and stuff like that, a friend said to me ‘you shouldn’t be going to the loyalist or republican paramilitaries, you should be going to the British Government and asking them because it was their agent that killed them.’ And when people say that to me I find it difficult to say no to that. All right before that there was this whole kind of thing that this was a conspiracy theory, but now I’m starting to say, hold on a minute was this a conspiracy, and if it was what kind of a conspiracy was it?”
Frankie Gallagher: “Two top loyalists were talking …. one a colleague that works on the interface etc…. He was on a panel along with a top Provisional IRA man who had another hat on as a community worker, and they were asked ‘what do you think of a truth commission?’ And the loyalist turned round and said ‘I don’t think it will work because it is too fresh, it’s too hurtful, our community has still got a long way to move out of this. Because if you try to tell about things that happened somebody is going to go around and get a knife and they are going to say ‘that’s the one who killed my father’ and they will stab them, they will kill them.’ And the republican said: ‘how can we have a truth commission when we can’t even tell our own people the truth now?’ And that pretty much sums it up for me.”
Chris O’Halloran: “I must say I am just reminded every now and again just how old our conflict is. It didn’t start in 1969, it didn’t start in 1869, 1769, probably not even 1669. Our conflict is something not far off 400 years old, some people might say it’s older even than that!
Chris O’Halloran: “Ok, it’s a very old conflict. So there’s a few things that follow from that. One of them is that the emotions that we have about the conflict are very very deep-seated, they are generations old. And there’s another thing … like Seán, I would hear stories about young people from interface communities here mixing with people from the other interface community often in the city centre, and they are throwing away a lot of the baggage, or doing their best to. Although I would hear lots of stories like that that would sound very heartening, sometimes I hear from people who have been profoundly damaged through the conflict.
“Maybe they have lost people or they have been injured or something extremely bad happened to them or people around them, for some of those people I hear them saying things to me along the lines of – and I am not trying to blame Tony Blair wanting to get his legacy, there’s nothing wrong with that – but whether it is for reasons like that or it is political expediency, whatever it is for some people out there…. there’s almost an unseemly haste to put the troubles behind us and to tie it all up with a neat little ribbon and say ‘that’s that over now, now we can forget about Northern Ireland’. And I think for a lot of people in Northern Ireland, and perhaps in the South of Ireland too and elsewhere, it just isn’t that easy and it’s not going to be that quick. Some things just take time, quite a lot of time, and we can try to rush them and we might rush some of them but we won’t be able to rush all of them.”
Neil Jarman: “I would join the general sense of scepticism about a truth commission. We have often held up the example of South Africa as the model and looked to that, and Northern Ireland and the peace process is very different, the process is very different and the outcome is very different from South Africa. And I for one don’t think the British Government would enter into it with any degree of honesty, I don’t think the republican structures would enter into it with any degree of honesty, and I don’t think the loyalist structures would enter into it with any degree of honesty. It might be a PR exercise. And we can look at what’s been done with Bloody Sunday: you’ve got a bit more of the truth than you had beforehand but you haven’t got anything like a sense of the truth and a sense of closure… I think that’s where it would go and I think it probably does need time, I think it needs a bit of time to settle. We are still in a process of conflict here.
“Also, on another point, like Frankie said earlier on, any inquiries into collusion, as we saw with the Police Ombudsman’s report a few weeks ago, it points the finger at a few names, a few people get named in the media and a lot of people are not going to be held to account for their actions, particularly within the State services and the State forces and so on. And I think that’s a problem when you start to uncover these things: it’s easy targets that are picked on, and the people, the puppet masters if you like, who controlled the situation will walk away from it. Having said that, there may be agents out there, and there undoubtedly are agents out there, but the conflict wouldn’t have carried on for that length of time and to the degree it did if there wasn’t a lot of hostility, antipathy, anger, fear, violence between the two communities. It wasn’t all manufactured and manipulated. We need to accept that as well, that people fought for the reasons they fought for and not just because they were being manoeuvered into it, although those things happened as well.”
Q. 3 Arthur O’Connor (Trim): “… I would like to ask the panel what do you think of the outcome of the elections? Do you think they will go off peacefully or will matters be worse at the end of it? Shouldn’t it be proportional representation, you’s have a better result?”
Frankie Gallagher: “I think they will go off peacefully because I think they have all agreed it, and done and dusted it and they are acting it out at the moment. We predicted that certainly in the literature we’ve put out in the last few months to try and stabilise our community because one of the things they traditionally do is play the Green card and the Orange card, and they’re both good at it. So we tried to predict about 4 or 5 months ago that this would happen, and it’s all happening as we predicted and it’s in black and white in a magazine that was produced. And that was to try and help our community. And we went on TV and different media to let people know that ‘look, it is done and dusted, it is all about politics now, don’t fall into the trap of these people turning around and saying it’s about them Fenians over there, or them Prods over there and all the rest of it.’ They’re both pro-State, they’re both pro-establishment, and they’re going into a government.
“I also think the English-dominated government in Westminster has achieved its goal of creating a mechanism in Northern Ireland by which they can vote themselves out into a united Ireland. Their consent – that never existed before because there was never a written constitution, there was nothing in black and white from the Act of Union in 1800 all the way through. If they wanted to vote themselves out of Northern Ireland they couldn’t have done it because there was no mechanism. Now it’s there because of the Good Friday Agreement and the St Andrew’s Agreement tweaked it a wee bit here, so there’s stability as well as I think the English-dominated government has got its goal as well, their interest is back there as well. There will be no trouble, touch wood.”
Mike Reade: “Whatever about trouble is it possible that some of the rejectionist candidates will be mandated and the mainstream parties may lose out, or will it all be Sinn Féin, SDLP, DUP and UUP?”
Frankie Gallagher: “No, I think it will be Sinn Fein and the DUP, but let’s be honest that’s who should be in the chair. It’s about time they were in the chair because they’ve had the pleasure of opposition for 35 years or whatever and it’s about time they were there to deliver. I think the SDLP will struggle, I don’t think they will go down much more, I don’t think the Ulster Unionists will go down much more. I think, by and large, they’re going to end up – there’s a figure of 22% being bandied about … but you put that into RPA which is Reorganisation of the Public Administration, they’re going to shave off 22% of their councillors and different things anyway, so you know it’s all mathematically worked out!”
Mike Reade: “What about these ex-prisoners, or Republican Sinn Fein candidates, or others who would be opposed to St Andrew’s?”
Frankie: “A refreshing thing for me, my people don’t believe it yet. The refreshing thing for me is that I believe genuinely in my heart that Irish republicans in Northern Ireland now believe that violence to achieve a united Ireland is absolutely futile. And I took that phrase I said earlier from Irish republicans who said, ‘I never want to see an Irish republican ever lose his life again for a united Ireland’. I think they are right.
“And that’s why I argue that we have to go beyond consent now, we have to go beyond consent because we are going to make the same mistake as we did when we formed the State of Northern Ireland. Because there was a sizeable population within Northern Ireland who felt alienated, didn’t feel a part of it, and that’s going to happen again no matter what happens if we just leave it to consent. We have to go beyond consent, we have to give each other national recognition, national self-determination, and that’s where I said nine years ago [MPG talk 29, 5 May 1998] ‘we have to be guardians of each other’s rights’. And I think we are on the way to do that. That’s why I think the conflict now is about people, it’s only the end of the beginning. But I’m frightened the British Government is going to try and get off cheap, the Irish Government is going to try and get off cheap, and they are going to do, as Chris said, try and get it done and dusted in a nice little bow and move on. We cannot let them do that because the hurt and the pain we’ve inflicted on each other has to be addressed. We are up for doing it within the Ulster Defence Association, the UPRG and all the other elements to it, that’s what they want to do. I trust and hope and believe there will be no trouble over these elections.”
Mike Reade: “Neil, if you could just comment on that. You said we are still in a conflict situation. It remains a conflict situation at the interfaces now. If that’s true and Frankie what you said about people voting for peace, it would appear to me to be a chicken and egg situation, and I’m not sure which comes first – the politics or the change on the ground?”
Neil Jarman: “I think the thing about the peace process is that you can’t really talk about it in the singular over the last ten years. I mean there has been at least two very distinct parallel peace processes one of which is operated at the level of political parties, and one of which is operated at the level of grass-roots activists. I think probably for the last four or five years the peace is being embedded in Northern Ireland from the grass-roots upwards rather than from the top downwards. And that’s why I don’t have a sense of the people with guns really having a sense of disrupting anything. Elections very rarely cause trouble in Northern Ireland. We probably have more of them than anywhere else… I lose track of them. When you have had European, Assembly, Westminster, council elections and you had a referendum, we have had fairly regular elections and they are never about changing the house, they are just about changing the wallpaper or changing the curtains, minor details…
“I think the one thing that is interesting in this election for me is the candidacy in South Belfast of Anna Lo from the Chinese Welfare Association standing for the Alliance Party who stands a chance, I think, of getting elected because South Belfast does have a liberal vote within it, we had a Women’s Coalition candidate elected a few years ago.
“If Anna got elected – and I have a lot of time for Anna, she has done a lot of good work in the Chinese community – she would be the first Chinese politician, Chinese national background politician in Britain at that level of politics which I think would be a nice sign from Northern Ireland to have done that and to have got that position first. And for me that makes it one of the interesting things to look forward to in this election, of something starting to break the mould and starting to chip away at it. Otherwise it’s shades of wallpaper and different curtains really.” [Editor’s note: Anna Lo was elected to the Assembly on 7 March]
Q.4. Judith Hamill (Dunsany): “I would just like to thank the speakers very much… it really made a lot of sense to me. But in relation to what you were talking about, Frankie, post-traumatic stress, what is being done or what needs to be done for ex-paramilitaries? …. You talked about an ‘explosion’ – are you talking about more outward violence or are you talking about suicide? What exactly are you talking about there?”
Frankie Gallagher: “It is being effected now by suicide but these things have a way of developing and they could explode outwards, especially with weaponry still out there. And even if people decommission there’s still going to be weaponry out there, I don’t care what anybody says there is not a person in the republican movement, the Provisional republican movement, who doesn’t have a personal piece hid somewhere for their protection maybe if they need it in the future. But by and large what I am saying, it has not even got to the point of being recognised. Loyalists are not recognised. And it happens in the republican community as well. They went away to deal with it and they have been good and skilful at gaining the necessary skills around them as a safety net. Once you open that Pandora’s Box, you open somebody’s head like that there it is a Pandora’s Box, and unless you have somebody round there to catch the person, it’s dangerous.
“We don’t even get to the point of being recognised as human beings who may have this. We are still demonised as criminals, as gangsters, and that’s the problem, lack of recognition.
Judith: “Is that from your own community?”
Frankie: “Well no, not in our own community, but certainly within unionist politicians. The DUP can’t recognise the efforts of the Ulster Defence Association or the Ulster Freedom Fighters because it wouldn’t be politically correct because that would mean they would have to recognise the IRA, and the republican struggle and movement, or so they think. So even though many of them are probably members of the UDA … they have turned round and will not recognise people with those types of difficulties. It is a dangerous situation. We are demonised, we’re not even human beings. I know you all talked about different things here but I know for a fact – and Chris may want to comment on it – that what the UDA done 4 years ago in closing down the interface violence perpetrated by those criminals, had, I would say, the most massive impact on interface violence and it has allowed the lads here to develop more ways of moving out of it. So we are not even recognised for that. And that is a major major difficulty.”
Chris O’Halloran: “Just to add to what Frankie said. This is a very crude way of putting it but, generally speaking, apart from violence coming from interface communities, as far as politicians are concerned, or as far as the British Government is concerned, maybe even the Irish Government, the only way that they are really interested in interface communities is in terms of violence there. If violence stops there, they move on, that is the end of their interest. The issues that Frankie has raised in terms of post-conflict stress syndrome, the legacy of trauma, difficulties in accessing employment and facilities and the ongoing low level violence and the difficulties that creates for young people which we discussed earlier – those are largely by the by. So part of the issue, I would guess probably the four of us may have in common is a concern that with the ending of interface violence it doesn’t mean an end to the attention that needs to be focused upon interface communities. Because otherwise we are just leaving problems hidden there that just haven’t been addressed.”
Judith Hamill: “…. What is the next step?”
Seán Brennan: “I suppose a process of normality, that’s next. If you look at these elections you have to remember that any election in Northern Ireland is not about Catholic v Protestant or nationalist v unionist, it’s nationalist v nationalist and unionist v unionist. The struggle that Frankie is talking about – the problem within the Protestant/unionist/loyalist communities is that that struggle is going on and if the DUP will use its political process to sustain its control over the Protestant/unionist/loyalist right, then that’s their democratic right to do that. People do vote for them, and vote for them in large numbers. Whether I agree or disagree is irrelevant. But for Frankie, Ronnie and Isaac, people like that, the struggle that they have trying to get basic resources in those interface communities is huge because everybody recognises that there’s a problem there but, for political expediency, one political party is not going to let Frankie take the credit for bringing employment into east Belfast. That’s politics. And we have to get round that. And I think he’s right what he says about the kind of – I don’t think you’ll see a major change in the kind of ups and downs of the DUP and the Ulster Unionist Party. You’ll see a few people leave in the DUP but I think by and large, given our traditional sectarian voting systems, the vast majority will vote for the main political party – whatever that is. So if you are in a particular constituency that it is the SDLP, the SDLP will get the vote, if it’s Sinn Féin, Sinn Féin will get the vote. It will be interesting to see how some of those dissident republican candidates fare out but, ultimately, when you hear them talking, they are going to accept the political process, they are recognising Northern Ireland, they may not go to the Stormont Assembly but in theory they are recognising the Northern Ireland State by taking part in the elections. So there’s a whole lot of things that are going to happen there.
Mike Reade: “Just go back to the interface and facilities, what is the difference between these communities on the interface and working-class communities anywhere, other than a few traumatised gunmen? Realistically, I mean politically there is the lack of awareness and urgency and so on that you all point out in every working-class estate across this island anyway.”
Seán Brennan: “Yes, but that’s the problem, that you can’t allow that to go back, because as Frankie said, there are people there who know how to do things…”
Mike: “But does it justify everybody holding guns? I mean they don’t hold them in the working-class estates of Navan, or Drogheda or Dundalk….”
Seán: “Well they do, they have the drug gangs….The same thing happens right across the western world, it’s just that in Northern Ireland we have a wee bit more attention. Things are changing. One of the things that I have picked up from most people is that nobody wants that violence anymore, nobody wants to live like that.”
Mike Reade: “And obviously everybody is right they do but they don’t claim to be political organisations…”
Frankie Gallagher: “You are definitely going on the decommissioning act now, but I can’t remember Craig giving in the UVF guns after 1912, and I can’t remember De Valera giving in any guns either and certainly Michael Collins didn’t before he was murdered. So the issue of guns is a red herring but what I would say is, that you’re right to a degree, what’s the difference between an interface area where all those social ills and the deprivation is going on and those areas that don’t have interfaces where it’s the same? The difference is that, certainly in the murder triangle of North Belfast for example, there was something like 700 people murdered in something like a 3 mile square. That means there’s an awful lot of traumatised people. The people on the interfaces are traumatised because people from the hinterlands … they travel down from Tullycarnet and everywhere else down to the interface, they wreck and ruin, traumatise the people who live there, and then go home and get a good night’s sleep and leave the people there. So they are traumatised. Plus it’s also another fact that they are and have been a political gauge whenever there has been political difficulties, an impasse that these so-called leaders have been unable to fix and they have manipulated those areas for to hide their difficulties. There are all the reasons why we have to address them, and address them specifically so working-class people can’t be exploited no more in those areas.”
Mike: “Chris, I can see you want to come in but I think we will take another question first and join the two…”
Q. 5. Ronnie Owens (North Meath Communities Development Association): “I would like to compliment all the speakers for the wonderful presentations they made. To me you are kind of heroes to be working at the coal faces in these ways because it indicates the very hard thankless kind of work that has to be done with individual local people to make them aware that they themselves can manufacture their own destiny by asserting themselves to a more enlightened understanding of what it is that is going on around them. The question I would just like to ask all the speakers is: do they think that Sinn Féin finally accepting their responsibilities in the police force will be a major aspect of the solution, as opposed to the kind of work you are doing – which is from the bottom up with each individual? Do you think that that top-down recognition of everybody’s responsibilities within the community – how important do you think that is in the process coming up?”
Chris O’Halloran: “I think it’s absolutely crucial. I’m answering first because I’ve got a wee bit of an answer that I wanted to get to on the last question, about why interface communities are so important and then I’ll answer your question. Part of the reason why interface communities are so important, quite apart from the different kinds of disadvantage that characterise them, is that they are where the communities meet. They have a huge symbolic importance: they are the only places where the communities meet. So that’s the answer to that question.
Re Sinn Féin and policing: “If Sinn Féin sign up to policing which obviously they have, it is hugely, massively important. I’ve met republicans who have said to me in the past: ‘I can’t wait till we’re on that Board, telling those bastards how to police our area.’ I am speaking about people who have hated the police with a passion but in the midst of that they have recognised that if the police were better administered, managed, organised, then their areas would benefit from that. So I am pleased to look forward to the future where some of those people, or the people who they would support, are going to be in those positions.
“And they will be telling the police how to police their areas and hopefully their areas will be policed really effectively. And that’s important, not least because there’s been a huge issue in many nationalist areas in terms of the vacuum caused by the absence of effective policing – in terms of anti-social behaviour, crime, youth-led violence, vandalism, hooliganism. All the standard stuff but it’s been happening within a vacuum because it’s very difficult to have the police address it, or for those communities to feel that they can go to the police about it. And so a changed situation where people feel quite happy to go to the police about it, and their communities are represented within the police, I think that’s a hugely positive change.”
Neil Jarman: “I agree, I think it’s an important step.I think though that it’s a shame it was not done six years ago when the PSNI was set up. The police reform process has been a train in motion for six years, it’s not in the station any more. They have lost a lot of opportunity. ….And the points about wanting to shape policing. Policing is not in the same place it was. It’s more confident now than it was six years ago, it’s more assured about where it’s going and it’s going to be harder for Sinn Féin to shape it in the way that it wanted to do than it would have been if it had been involved earlier. It’s important though that they are there but I think they have missed an opportunity by not getting in there sooner. I would also say that I think there’s still a lot of room for people outside the police to continue the work that they have been doing on the ground over the last ten years. And there needs to be a way of integrating some of that work with the formal policing structures in the same way that the restorative justice programmes that have been developed at grassroots level over the years have been recognised as being valuable and they’re looking at ways of integrating them within the formal criminal justice system. I think the same sort of thing has to happen, or could beneficially happen, with some of the grassroots policing-type activities. It’s happening in other countries and I think it’s a way of working with the people…You’ve raised this issue ‘what’s the difference between interface communities and working-class communities anywhere?’ – working-class communities anywhere don’t get on with the police. The police are there to stop some of those people doing what they want to do so they’re not going to love the police. Some of the people within those communities are in a better position to work with the people in the communities and move them on and deal with some of the problems and I hope that that work doesn’t get lost in the transformation.”
Mike: “thank you, we’ll go to another question…”
Q 6. “I want to ask Frankie this question: in the very beginning you mentioned about the Penal Laws and Presbyterianism and Roman Catholicism. And the Penal Laws did affect both religions. And you also speak about the class struggle in the Protestant areas of Belfast. Now I presume you are a loyalist. I don’t know how you equate loyalism – to the monarchy, I suppose, love of the monarchy – to your working-class socialist views? You come across as a James Connolly to me, and I liked a lot of what you said, you made a lot of sense, apart from the fact ….
Frankie: “Can you record that!”
Questioner: “…apart from the fact that you said you were British. Now I’ve nothing against that at all …. It’s all the same to me really, we are all working people whether you are British, English, Scottish, it doesn’t give a damn at the end of the day. But when you look at the royal family, it’s the pinnacle of the class system, right up there, it’s a left-over. I don’t understand why…”
Frankie: “I’m a loyalist?”
Questioner: “I don’t understand how you can be a loyalist and yet hold such socialist views, I would say, you come across as a James Connolly. Please answer that for me.”
Frankie Gallagher: “I think your question has lots of assumptions in it that loyalism is – that we are all royalists. Because during the Penal days etc, the Loyalists, the Red Coats etc would have had that abbreviation to them. Certainly in the 1798 rebellion etc, the red coats and stuff. I would have seen myself as a Dissenter as much as a Protestant, coming from the Protestant family. I’m not a Presbyterian but I would see myself in that ilk. And I suppose I would identify with the ideas and ideals of what happened in 1798 because we were being treated so badly as human beings.
“I have a serious problem in terms of the argument of being British because you have got an English-dominated Westminster who have hijacked the word ‘British’ even though English wasn’t really invented until the 11th or 12th century. I feel I am part of an ancient Celtic people, and being Francis James Gallagher, I think I have a wee bit of entitlement to claim a bit of it. I see myself as a part of an ancient Celtic people who were part of the Pretani, part of the British Isles prior to English being invented. And no disrespect to anybody who is English, but I have a problem because they treat us all like Paddies. And then, when you go to Dáil Éireann, and they all fiddly dee and rub their thumbs and they all say ‘sure they will wise up after a while, they are all Irish anyway and when the English are away they will all see the sense, you know, of the way we are going. That’s not going to happen. Waken up and smell the roses! I see myself – and we are trying to structure arguments around this to move on – I’m not Scottish but I have got Scottish cousins, I don’t see myself Irish but I see myself as having Irish cousins. And I recognise those relationships. But I am something in between, I’m different, and I want to define my own self what I am culturally and how I feel as a people. And I have refined this argument, I mean my people, a lot of them would be royalists, you know, for the Queen etc but I see myself as a person who wants my own national self determination. I am quite willing to recognise the Irish nationalists’ national self-determination and protect that for them, but I want that back, and I don’t want to be put into, when consent comes about, to be put into an equation of ‘you have only one choice, you go into a united Ireland’, whatever that may be, whenever that may happen. So my loyalism is to the people, to the Ulster people, I see myself very much as an Ulsterman, part of an ancient Celtic people. And I even believe in the pre-Christian church, before Patrick and different things like there, I recognise all that. I want to explore all that and I want to add that to the diversity of this island. So I have a job to do: to convince my own people about our own background, which is fact. You may go on about Cuchulainn that he is mythical and all the rest but things that happened after that, it is pretty certain that they did happen. So I want to argue that, so my loyalism is to the people, my Ulster people.
“I believe in the Union as well by the way, I believe the ancient kingdom of the United Kingdom is a good thing, I think it is positive, I’m not sure where they’re going with Europe. I would rather have a United Kingdom than a united Europe but I’m quite willing to explore the idea of being a European as well. What I don’t want is everybody turning round and telling me what I am going to be, either English or Irish.
“So my loyalism is based in and around all that. Yes I would be a socialist, I’m also a democrat, I also would see myself as a Dissenter. And I have learned all about Jacksonian politics which formed the democratic politics in America, I would see myself as a Jacksonian as well. Quite complex, but I think many of our people within the Ulster tribe of people, if you want to call it that, have to be left and allowed space to define who we are and how we are. And we are loyalists, as opposed to unionists in terms of political and economic agreement. We see the Union as something much more different – we see it as a cultural thing as well as a social and economic thing, or a political and economic thing. So in all that, that’s what I see my loyalism is.”
Mike Reade: “I’ll move on to the next question rather than ask other people…. We are already over time. Maybe if we could have more general-based questions. I think a lot of us have been fascinated at Frankie being here and the questions like our last one that might be unique to yourself, but maybe if we could get a couple more general type questions.”
Q.7. Fr Pat McManus (Columban missionary): “Listening to all the speakers, it’s clear there is a tremendous need for forgiveness, and healing and reconciliation, and that really is to be found in the Christian Gospel which we all have in common. And the absence of the Christian churches in all your speaking was really – it kind of shocked me. So I’m just wondering if you have given up on the churches? A Protestant friend …. described Northern Ireland for me when things were at their worst. He said ‘it’s all religion but in the end no religion.’ I don’t mean disrespect by that. But, really, we can’t ignore the Christian Gospel as the source for healing and forgiveness and reconciliation. And you talked about the privileged class and the working class being forgotten. I don’t doubt that for one moment. But the Gospel speaks to the individual person, and it is in the Gospel that the individual person will find affirmation and healing and self-confidence. And I can’t see how the people of Northern Ireland are going to heal without the Christian Gospel at its best.
“And, as you pointed out rightly, it’s the individual person that matters and that’s where the Gospel stands out because the Gospel is interested in the individual person. So, I congratulate you, I worked in Northern Ireland for two years and you’re great workers, you remind me of the Jewish people – I worked in America too with Jewish people and they were really great workers I couldn’t but notice it, and the Northern Ireland people remind me of the same, both sides. But with all these blueprints, and all the rest of it, and your doubts about both governments, you really have to take charge of your own lives and of Northern Ireland. And you talked about, you are interested in history, and Christianity before St Patrick, have you given up on the churches? Because if you have, don’t give up on the Gospel.
“And if I could just draw a parallel with the talks that have gone on for the last years and years, and it’s going on tonight and it has a purpose, but they wont solve things by themselves. For example, since the Vatican Council ended we have had talks and meetings and meetings, since 1965 and it’s still going on, but the reality on the ground is we are dying out as Columban Fathers, nobody wants to join us anymore, family life is deteriorating here in Ireland, the conflict is really in the family too and marriage is being seriously threatened. People don’t bother going through a marriage ceremony, they just live together and hope that will work out, and the drug culture, it is really quite something. And the violence –I’m talking about the South of Ireland – it really is quite something. And the Gospel does say ‘by your fruits you shall know them’. So what I would say to you, with the best will in the world, don’t rely on talk shops to solve the problem that’s up in Northern Ireland. We’ve all got to go back to the Gospel…”
Mike Reade: “There was that historic meeting between Archbishop Brady and Rev Ian Paisley as well…”
Sean Brennan: “Many times, when people talk about Northern Ireland, the first thing that comes up is religion. I feel I am a deeply religious person, I believe in God, I don’t have a problem with that.
“What I do have a problem with is that sometimes people misconstrue the church and the administration of the church. And I think that, with the deepest respect to anybody who is an administrator in the church, that the church has moved on beyond the administrators sometimes. That’s not to say that the message is lost. I read quite a lot of Gandhi to make sense of conflict, and the point that Gandhi made was that ‘Christianity is a wonderful thing, it’s just a pity there aren’t enough Christians’. And I am also aware of the Brahmin tradition that says that ‘truth is one the sages know it by many names’.
“So I don’t think that we should be restrictive into a specific Christian or Muslim or Hindu or Jewish faith. I think we are all the children of God. I say to people that I am a child of God on the basis of ‘blessed be the peacemakers’. Now that’s not for me to decide whether I am doing a good job or not, but that’s where I come from, and I just think that sometimes the religious can sometimes inhibit. So we move forward as best we can, whether we are right or we are wrong. And I always say to people, because I am a human being, the first law for me, the first commandment, is ‘thou shall not kill’. And that is what I try and practise, and I find that that’s true across all religious beliefs. So for me it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Christian or a Roman Catholic or Anglican or whatever, it’s the goodness in you and I try to see the goodness in people whether they are trying to kill me or not. …”
Frankie Gallagher: “I’m not sure if I believe in God or not. I know when I was going to get done in there, killed, a couple of years ago, I prayed. Because I was sitting on my own, in the house, and it was my family I was worried about, that nothing would happen to them. So with this big you know socialist and all the rest, why did I pray? Because at the end of the day there was nobody with me, I was on my own, and I thought it was the right thing to do. But I am totally turned off the churches, most Protestant churches, there’s a lot of people in there, they’re ‘good living for a living’. They look down their noses if you are from a poor background. And it’s happened to me – all the way through my childhood you were made to feel lesser than everybody else. And I think the churches have a lot to answer for because they are part of the State, whether it is in Northern Ireland or the Republic, because how did they let their State get away with the killing and the murdering, the collusion that went on? I can’t understand that. I also find believing in God hard because there are so many people getting away with murder, getting away with stealing, robbing , and you’re saying to yourself, ‘see if you do all those things, you get away with it’. And then this is the irony, ‘blessed are the peacemakers’: blessed are the UDA then… they’re trying to develop peace! But you can’t say that.
“So it is pretty confusing, the religious picture. I think there’s a constant fight between light and dark, I don’t know if that means one thing or another, but I think we have to be strong and fight against all these things. One of the things I found, my thoughts praying that night, was that I reckoned by shining a bit of light on the people who are doing these things and exposing them was actually enough in the end, and by and large that’s what we have done in the interfaces, we exposed those who were using the structures and stuff for criminal ends and that type of thing. So I don’t think I’ve give up on it but I have to be honest with you, I’m not sure. Having said that, working in a place like this [Dalgan] and going abroad with missionaries and stuff, I see it better as a religious way of working than going sitting praying in a church. I don’t see myself ever going praying like that, I couldn’t do it.”
Chris O’Halloran: “Just very quickly, I agree with everything Seán had to say in terms of the importance of a value base for me rather than subscription to any particular denomination. Like Frankie, I don’t want to get into theological discussion – is there a God? From my experience in interface areas where we have worked, something I have noticed about the churches is that the churches are good at working with the churches, churches seem to work with other churches quite well, that’s something that has developed quite a lot over recent years – there are quite well established structures of engagement now between churches and between church congregations. I don’t se anything like as much presence on the ground between the churches and the communities, and I see virtually no engagement, in terms of my work, in terms of the churches and inter-community structures or peacebuilding structures. There’s very few of those except on a church with church basis. So maybe those are areas of work that the churches could perhaps put a bit more work into.”
Neil Jarman: “I’m an atheist, I have been as long as I can remember. I know a number of Christians who have been involved in elements of the peace process and some of them have done some very good work. I suppose that of all the groups, the group I have the most respect for are the Quakers. I think they have done some good work and they continue to do some good work …. I don’t hold other people’s Christianity against them, it’s not a plus factor for me – if they are doing good work they’re doing good work.”
Fr Pat: “Thank you very much.”
Q.8. David O’Gorman (Dublin): “What about in the South? Do we have any responsibilities in terms of contributing to solutions in interface areas of Belfast or elsewhere in the North, or do we get a free ride?”
Mike: “Before a response, I am very conscious of the time and I will take a question from this lady as well…”
Q.9 Geraldine Horgan (Kiltale): “I think it is very appropriate that you have a final question from a lady! Thank you very much for your input. As you were talking I wondered whether two groups were being left out. I was very heartened by what Neil had to say – if I heard you correctly – that there’s a possibility of a Chinese woman being elected. If she was elected, how well do you think that that would reflect the new Northern Ireland? To what extent is there a policy among your different organisations and your working areas to have a gender balance and also to make a special effort to include immigrant communities in your work? Is that an issue that’s emerging? It is certainly an issue that we are trying to deal with down here…”
Mike Reade: “I suppose they combine very well throughout the whole island, the question of demographics, gender, integration, immigration and the future for the island of Ireland. If I could ask each of our guests this evening to respond to the two questions in their closing statements.”
Frankie Gallagher: “In answer to David, We’ve had some chats long into the night, down in Glencree and stuff. You know my views on some of this, I think the government of the Republic of Ireland has a responsibility, it has a responsibility to embrace diversity up in Northern Ireland that’s coming from my community. It’s got to help try and create a space for that diversity to grow. And I think that will nurture the ideas of those people. One of the problems we are having, and I have tried certainly to embrace – and the Meath Peace Group and Glencree is another place where I would go, where you are allowed to grow, your diversity, and talk about it and get the right words to describe what you are talking about. Because it’s only through that practice that certainly I found how to do it. I feel that the Republic of Ireland has got a joint strategy with the British Government and it’s about harmonisation, it’s about trying, before that consent comes – whatever mathematical equation they come up with – that by the day that comes we will have harmonised the economics, we will have harmonised some of the political issues, the social issues and all the rest of it and they are going to get us to see sense and when it comes we’ll all say ‘brilliant, sure we are all Irish anyway’. That’s wrong. They’re going to recreate the problem that was created in 1921/22, the State of Northern Ireland – there is a sizeable population who seen that State as alien and there is nothing on God’s earth that is going to get them to see different, they were totally alien to that and look at what has happened since. That’s what’s going to happen.
“I think people need to start looking for a new Ireland. We are trying to develop a new loyalist thinking, we’re trying to put these arguments out among our own people. And they do sound socialist at times, and we sound very like other people who have fought against a state, but, let’s be honest, we’re working on the premise that the island of Ireland was never united in the first place except under Queen Elizabeth I. She configured, you know, with the 9 counties of Ulster, and took out one of the smallest kingdoms which was Breifne…. We need to grow, we need to find out where we fit in to a new thinking, and we have to have the space to do that. At the minute I think it’s a mistake being made that they’re trying to harmonise us. And that’s wrong because Westminster, whatever shape it is going to be after it gets rid of Scotland and after whatever it does with Wales, I feel they are going to make a mistake and it’s going to be our problem and we are just going to recreate the problems.
“And if the Irish people are serious about oppression and freeing themselves from the bonds of English rule and all the rest of it, then they should look up to the Ulster people and give them space and don’t do to them what they clam an English dominated history has done, what they claim has done to the Irish people. So I hope they give us space, but we need people to lobby down south for this to happen, defuse what’s going to happen in the future. It will be a new Ireland, but it may well be determined by all the people on this island and I hope it does, someday in the future.”
Racism and gender: “As far as racism and women are concerned, I live in a community that’s based on machoism, and that’s one of the complex reasons why people are killing themselves as well because they can’t go and talk to anybody, because they were the fighters, they can’t be seen to be weak and all the rest of it. And there’s not even a place, to be honest with you, for a lot of women in loyalism or, I believe, even in Sinn Fein’s republican politics as well. I know they’ve got women and all but I don’t know how much that has really got down to the bottom. I think women are still not on the agenda down south in the Republic of Ireland. I don’t think it’s there. In terms of racism with women, we have to get to the women issue to get to the racist issue. We are filled with all sorts of conspiracies that it is the Roman Catholic Church bringing all the Poles in and all the different migrant workers in because they are going to be able to vote in 3 months or 5 years, and they’re going to vote us into a united Ireland, Sinn Fein are working hard to embrace them. So we have a big big issue within my community to address that, get the truth out and shine the light on it, and get the proper facts about it, embrace people who are different from ourselves. Because we are actually claiming we are different and we need to recognise that with us, so when we do the Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland – and you have to remember as well that it was the UDA that writ the first Bill of Rights, Sammy Smith. And for his troubles he was shot dead by the INLA in 1975, because it didn’t suit somebody at the time to have a Bill of Rights then. Well, hold on, these troubles are going to go on for another 30 years, that’s too soon, you can fix it too soon. I know that’s all mixed up but that’s the way we think at the minute. We need women, certainly within our camp. We can get 12 men to go and do this, 12 good men – that sounds like a jury – but women are not even there. We are going to have to make an effort but …we don’t have the support. We are not even recognised as people ourselves to go and do these things so we have lots of issues and we want to try and address them.
Chris O’Halloran: “In terms of the Irish State, I suppose I would feel that the Irish Republic has been party to the conflict so therefore it needs to be party to the resolution. It’s not a bystander, it’s an active participant in that conflict transformation process which I suppose means that there is an onus on the Irish state to come up with suggestions and solutions and not just ask all the time. But in terms of asking, I guess part of the answer is, as Frankie was saying, to walk with people, to walk with us from the North and from England, Scotland and Wales, and see what we are thinking of this process as we are working it through, and where that might sit with the Irish Republic.
Gender and race: “In terms of gender balance and women, I appreciate that in terms of the panel maybe we could have done better in terms of gender balance and minorities! In relation to ethnic minorities, it is clear to us that there is an issue in some interface communities in Belfast. One of the features of some interface communities is that there is more dereliction, there can be more empty houses, more turnover of houses than in more settled areas which is part of the reason why in some interface communities, there’s been reasonably high numbers of ethnic minority groups moving in, and those have tended to be more in Protestant and unionist areas than in Catholic and nationalist areas. We were carrying out some interviews with community groups recently and in nationalist areas they were saying ‘we don’t have a big problem with racism’ Because they don’t have many ethnic minorities. In the unionist areas, some of them were saying ‘actually we are having a growing problem with racism, and we have a growing number of ethnic minorities’. So there seems to be a bit of a disparity there. In terms of ourselves and our project [Belfast Interface Project], we’re carrying out a piece of work to try and find out what are the experiences of ethnic minorities living in interface communities, because we are picking up that they might be almost in the worst of both worlds in some interface communities. If you imagine a Chinese family – take that as an example – are living on a front line where to the community opposite they are perceived as being different to them and so they are attacked because they are different to them, and to the community they are living in they are attacked because they are perceived as being different to them.
“So they’re just not at home anywhere. And that’s the picture we’ve had from one or two families, but we are carrying out a survey now to find out just what are the experiences of ethnic minority groups.”
Neil Jarman: “Our organisation is not quite balanced in the workforce but it is very balanced in the Board, and it has made a conscious decision to maintain that. We have also over the last seven years done a lot of work on racism and racist violence, we have done studies on migrant workers and the arrival of migrants and the impact that those communities have, and a number of areas of study relating to the growing diversity. And we have been pretty much in the forefront of trying to raise some of those issues, and other issues such as issues relating to the lesbian and gay community, and there’s a report over there on some of those issues. They are real issues and they need to be addressed in Northern Ireland.
“In relation to the Republic, I would say very much what Chris has said. I take issue with Frankie in that I don’t think there’s going be a united Ireland, I just don’t see it happening for practical reasons in a formal sense. I see it happening in an informal sense in the way that the border disappears and people move across, and a sense of building relationships between those people, and a sense of understanding, and losing any sense of threat that each has from the other. And I think there are lots of steps that you can see to start moving towards that. I think that needs to carry on. I think the point Chris made – it’s not up to us to start telling you what to do, it’s for people up here to see what they can put into. It was interesting a couple of weeks back, I think, Bertie Ahern announced investment in infrastructure of the north. I think … the boundaries in some sense are blurring on some issues. I don’t think it’s going to happen in terms of Northern Ireland leaving the United Kingdom. For one thing, I don’t think the Republic wants a Northern Ireland as part of the Republic when push comes to shove. We saw the problems that happened with German reunification. I think there are even bigger issues in Irish reunification. I just don’t see it happening but I do see a much closer sense of relationship building up over the next generations, and meetings like this and other projects are part of that process of building a sense of common understanding and making the border seem irrelevant.”
Sean Brennan: “I suppose I should start off by saying that what a lot of people don’t remember or realize is that the Belfast Agreement in 1998 was an agreement between the two government of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. They have made peace with each other. What we do probably is irrelevant. I think that has a major dynamic, an impact on how things are going to change over the next few years. Do I think that the British Government is going to be hounded out of Northern Ireland and with it 800,000 Protestant people? No. But what I think will happen is that we are in a new dispensation, driving down here today and watching the road coming right up, creeping up to the border, there are big changes coming here, we are a small island, five and a half, six and a half million people.We can’t afford to have hospitals on either side of the border. We have to start sharing resources. We are living in a global village that is increasingly getting hotter. Fortunately we may be a bit cooler for a while but not that much longer. I saw a report last year that said that by 2060 white people will be in a minority on this island. So, there are a lot of things happening. I think the Dublin government has an essential role to play in what happens on this island – how that happens that’s for us to decide over the next course of years. I certainly wouldn’t want to force anyone into a political situation that would then have the repercussions we had in the North for 60/70 years. I think the other thing that a lot of people haven’t realised is the increase in east-west links, between the people on the island of Britain and the people on the island of Ireland. I was at a wedding last year in England, and it was on the day that England played in the World Cup. And I didn’t see one Union Jack, and I think if you look through that whole World Cup of 3 weeks or whatever, the only Union Jacks you will see were on the Australian flags. Now that is strange. So I think we are in a completely new and different era. Physical violence that we have seen over the past 35/40 years will not return to the levels that it was at, but I think increasingly people will find the relationships – and as Frankie says, he is getting a better response here than he is in the United Kingdom political system. For him to survive he’s going to have to work with that.
“With the emergence of Anna Lo – I love Anna, Anna and I have known each other on and off for a few years and she has always talked about this and I have always said to her ‘yes, go for it’. Now South Belfast is a slight anomaly in that it is the university area, you would have a whole range of different ethnic and national identities. Probably some of the smartest people on this island live in that area ….
“So I think Anna’s going to get a good shout, I think it may create a false dawn in that people will then think that Northern Ireland is going to see stability, that we are all going to be Hindus or Muslims or whatever. No, we are still going to have the sectarian divisions that we have, but I think that places like South Belfast, you will see Anna coming through. And interestingly enough, I was just reading her article on the Internet before I came here – the first Chinese person in the UK! They’re coming from China and Hong Kong to interview her! This is a new phenomenon for us on this island. When we think about the different people who have come here from Poland, from Lithuania, from Nigeria, just to name a few, the dynamic on this island is going to change. At the minute this is predominantly white, western, middle-aged society. That’s going to change, and we are going to have to find a way of accommodating that change. And if we don’t learn the lessons of Northern Ireland then – this is a question I ask people that I meet and I’ll leave this one with you – if we don’t learn the lessons of Northern Ireland we will then be wondering has Northern Ireland turned into the rest of the world or has the rest of the world turned into Northern Ireland?”
Mike Reade: “I’m sure you will agree, it was fascinating to hear the views and share the discussions tonight with Neil Jarman, Chris O’Halloran, Frankie Gallagher and Sean Brennan. Thanks very much…. And we will probably take up some of this tomorrow on the ‘Loosetalk’ programme [LMFM radio]. Thanks for having me here as well and congratulations to the group for another wonderful meeting.”
Concluding words: Anne Nolan (Meath Peace Group): “…Just to try and finish up, it’s been a bit of a marathon session tonight, but I think we have all heard great things here tonight, and I really want to thank Mike Reade from LMFM for his constant support and for tonight, and particularly our speakers who have not only given up their time tonight but have given up their time in the past to come down and educate us and teach us. Tonight they were talking about a shared future and transformation, and going forward, and I am reminded that one of our earlier talks – over 13 years ago – was about building understanding, and so we have come an awfully long way. And I want to thank them for all they are doing on the ground and at the coal face and coming back and teaching us that there is more than one perspective. This is what we have to understand – this diversity of this island, and going forward it is all about diversity, and understanding that we can’t label and box people, that we are all individuals. So thank you very much….”
Mike Reade: “I just want to thank as always the Columban Fathers for their room tonight and for the tea and refreshments. You are all welcome to speak with the guests over a cup. Good night.”
Meath Peace Group report 65 (2007). Taped by Judith Hamill, Oliver Ward and Jim Kealy
Transcribed and edited by Julitta Clancy ©Meath Peace Group
Appendix 1: Extract from ‘A Shared Future’: Interface areas (para.2.3)
“Reducing tensions at interface areas must go beyond the ‘band-aid’ approach. It requires a combined short, medium and long-term approach that is earthed in encouraging local dialogue and communication, the sharing of resources, which is set in a wider context of social and economic renewal.” [2.3]
“Conflict at interfaces is the tragic symptom of a systemic lack of trust rather than the sole cause or only evidence of it. [2.3.1]
“Supporting communities in these areas to transform conflict remains an important priority for Government. Neil Jarman’s report ‘Demography, Development and Disorder: Changing Patterns of Interface Areas’ (July 2004) and the report prepared by the Belfast Interface Project entitled ‘A Policy Agenda for the Interface’ (July 2004) offer significant contributions to the emerging discussion on responding to issues in interface areas. [2.3.2]
“The former report reminds us that interface areas are not a static phenomenon, nor a purely historical legacy of ‘the Troubles’. Rather they are a dynamic part of the social fabric of a community that is highly polarized and extensively segregated. The concept of an interface and the forms of interfaces are more complex than has previously been acknowledged.
“The report also stresses the need to acknowledge the social dynamic in processes of segregation and the continuing pressures to further segregation in many areas. It makes the point that shared and neutral spaces come under particular types of pressure and need positive, sustained actions to ensure that they are not abandoned nor avoided, but rather that they remain shared and used by all sections of all communities.” [2.3.3]
“The Belfast Interface Project report argues strongly for the development of a coherent long-term strategy to address the needs of interface areas and communities both through government plans and priorities and through strategies developed by local bodies, such as Belfast City Council.” [2.3.4] [Extracts from ‘A Shared Future – Policy and Strategic Framework for Good Relations in Northern Ireland’, Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, March 2005]
Appendix 2: Biographical notes on speakers
Dr Neil Jarman is an anthropologist by training and has carried out research on issues related to policing, hate crime, migration, the management of public order and freedom of assembly, and is the author of several publications. Neil is the director of the Institute for Conflict Research, an independent research centre based in Belfast which specialises in issues related to conflict, social transformation and social justice. The ICR undertakes research work for a wide variety of government departments and statutory agencies, including studies of racism, homophobia and sectarianism; migrant workers; service provision for victims; young people’s experiences of violence; young people and electoral politics and issues related to policing, interface violence and the dynamics of mixed housing areas. The ICR previously operated under the names of: Community Conflict Impact on Children (1999-2001), The Cost of the Troubles Study (1996-99) and Templegrove Action Research (1994-96). (Neil Jarman previously addressed a Meath Peace Group talk in Oct. 1996: No. 22 – “Parading Disputes in Northern Ireland”)
Chris O’Halloran was raised in North Belfast, graduated in Psychology in 1975, studied youth and community work at the University of Ulster and took part in a pilot project in community development in West Belfast’s Suffolk estate in 1986 followed by similar projects in Milltown, Knockmore, Roden Street and Ballybeen. Chris has been employed as full-time project worker with the Belfast Interface Project (BIP) since its inception in August 1995 and is currently director of the organisation. Over this period BIP has aimed to: a) enhance and develop the knowledge base regarding Belfast’s interface areas; b) lobby for change that is of practical benefit to interface communities; c) consult, develop and support the membership of Belfast Interface Project; d) support interface communities in addressing issues relating to conflict. The BIP currently has a membership of approximately 43 community groups from nationalist and unionist interface areas of Belfast as well as associate and individual members. (Chris was a guest speaker for the Meath Peace Group transition year peace studies programme in St Joseph’s Navan in 2004-05).
Frankie Gallagher first visited Navan in May 1998 when, as welfare officer for UDA prisoners, he brought a group of ex- prisoners to the Meath Peace Group talk ‘The Good Friday Agreement’ held in St Joseph’s (Mercy) secondary school, Navan, and asked whether the Irish Government would act as guarantors of the rights of both communities, following the ratification of the Agreement (MPG talk no. 29 – transcript available on the website). He is a leading member of the Ulster Political Research Group, an advisory body connected to the Ulster Defence Association, providing advice to them on political matters. The group, founded in 2002, is largely a successor to the Ulster Democratic Party, which dissolved in 2001.
Seán Brennan is a Development Officer with the North Belfast Developing Leadership Initiative CEP (Community Empowerment Programme). The CEP is a partnership between Intercomm and the Edward de Bono Foundation NI. The CEP works to implement the Dunlop Report and address interface violence in North Belfast. The CEP works to develop local capacity by empowering people, and interface communities, to creatively engage in decision-making processes that affect their everyday life. Seán is currently living and working in Belfast and is the Treasurer of the Ulster People’s College and has previously been a member of The Wheel Core Group, Open College Network NI Board of Governors and Craigavon District Partnership Board as well as a number of local community groups.
©Meath Peace Group
Meath Peace Group Public Talks Report No. 65, 2007
Taped by Judith Hamill, Oliver Ward and Jim Kealy.
Transcribed and 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 at Dalgan Park for facilitating the majority of our public talks and 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
The Meath Peace Group is a voluntary group founded in 1993 with the aims of promoting peace and the fostering of understanding and mutual respect through dialogue.
Back row: l.to r. Leonie Rennicks, Sean Brennan, Neil Jarman, Frankie Gallagher, Chris O’Halloran
Front row: Julitta Clancy, Philomena Boylan-Stewart, Anne Nolan, Mike Reade
MPG talk no. 65: l.to r. Sean Brennan, Frankie Gallagher, Chris O’Halloran, Neil Jarman, Mike Reade