Meath Peace Group Talks
No. 67 – ‘Towards a Shared Future: Ballymena’
Monday, 21st May 2007
Newgrange Hotel, Navan, Co. Meath
Jackie Patton (Community Relations Officer, Ballymena)
Delia Close (Vice-chair, Ballymena District Policing Partnership)
Ronnie Hassard (Principal, Ballymena Academy)
Kate Magee (Principal, St. Patrick’s College, Ballymena)
Jeremy Gardiner (Community relations development officer, Youthlink)
Fr. Paul Symonds (Kirkinriola parish, Ballymena)
Máirín Colleary (CEO, Glencree Centre for Reconciliation)
Official welcome: Cllr. Andy Brennan, Deputy Mayor of Navan
Fr. Paul Symonds
Questions and comments
Biographical notes on speakers
©Meath Peace Group 2007
‘Towards a Shared Future: Ballymena’
Welcome and introductions:
Julitta Clancy, Meath Peace Group: “Good evening everyone and thank you. We are meeting in the summer and there is an election campaign so we do very much appreciate you coming at this time. We want to particularly welcome our friends from Ballymena who have come a long distance to be with us and Cllr. Andy Brennan, the Deputy Mayor of Navan for the official welcome. I also wish to thank Mairin Colleary, Chief Executive of the Glencree Centre for Reconciliation who very kindly agreed to chair this talk for us. …
Cllr. Andy Brennan, Deputy Mayor of Navan: “Thank you…. I am deeply honoured to be in such great company, especially our friends from across the border. Peace has always been my priority. I served 25 years in the Defence Forces and I have been a Councillor for 14 years and I think that if we can’t have peace in our time there is something terribly wrong. I am looking forward to tonight’s discussion. So I will just say thanks very much for coming and I am deeply honoured to be here.”
Máirín Colleary (Chief Executive, Glencree Centre for Reconciliation) – Guest chair:
“First of all, I am greatly honoured to have been asked by Julitta to come here this evening and to chair this very interesting talk by the Meath Peace Group. I think their talks have been remarkable and I know they have sparked enormous interest in many people. I’m also very keen that we all focus on a shared future because we in Ireland have long memories …. and I think looking towards the future is something that we all need to learn to do and to do with confidence. Now that the political vacuum has been healed and there is a proper government in charge of the affairs of Northern Ireland I think that it is really important that we all look to the future. As somebody said to me recently: ‘I hope it is a shared future and not a shared out future’. So I think it is very important that we focus on that and I am delighted to chair this panel of speakers. I would just like to introduce quickly our first speaker, Jackie Patton, who has been with Ballymena Borough Council since 1988. She is Community Relations Officer for the Council and manages the Council’s Good Relations functions …..
1. Jackie Patton (Community Relations Officer, Ballymena):
“First can I just start by thanking you for the opportunity to be here tonight. We certainly appreciate it. It is always very nice to be amongst friends and to deliver the message in terms of what we are trying to do in Ballymena borough. If I just first give you a wee bit in terms of my background: I was born and bred in Ballymena and very proud of it. I am into my 41st year of living in the borough. My parents’ marriage was actually a mixed marriage, so I come from that. I was brought up Church of Ireland. I went to Ballymena County Primary which would have been a predominantly Protestant school and then went on to Ballymena Academy.
Ballymena Borough Council: “Basically, in terms of the makeup of our Council, I am not sure. I don’t think local authorities down here maybe necessarily have the same services as we would have. We have about half a dozen departments within the Council. They range from the Chief Executive’s Department, from building control to leisure and cultural services, through to the personnel policy department – of which I am a member of staff – to finance and estates and on to district public health. So we have a wide range. We have roughly about 350 staff.
“Our council is made up of 24 members. [Up to recently] …we would have had about 14 DUP, 2 SDLP, 1 Sinn Fein, 5 Ulster Unionists and 4 Independents. 6 of the DUP defected after the recent events….
Community relations programme: “In terms of the history of the Community Relations Programme within the Council. I am the Community Relations Officer and have been in the post since October 1991. The job has totally evolved from one in the initial days where I was organising a whole host of community relations events in the town – from an arts festival to sports events, to switching on the Christmas lights – a whole range of those sorts of things, whereas in 1998 after the Good Friday Agreement our funders felt that councils should be much more proactive in terms of promoting good relations.
‘So from that we decided we would promote a good relations strategy whereby we had eight or nine key themes ranging from cultural traditions to single identity work, to work with ethnic minorities, to work with a range of sports groups and inter-church work. Then we had the much more focused areas in terms of intimidation and territory marking, working with the likes of flags that would have been erected in the borough, the likes of bonfires – all very difficult sensitive issues. So, certainly as a department, we have been very involved with the likes of that. We also have various training sessions with our elected members in terms of affording space to go away to discuss sensitive issues within the borough. That has all been behind closed doors and again that has been difficult work to try to manage and to evolve, but our members have been part of it and certainly I think they have learnt from those processes. We also then have a whole range of Good Relations training seminars for our own staff within the council. So that really gives you a wee bit of the background as a borough council of what we are trying to do.
“Our Good Relations strategy is currently being evaluated and reviewed. Some of the key findings at this stage are in terms of shared space and civic dialogue, those sorts of issues. I would say probably in terms of the next three months we should be ready to take that to council in terms of our new Good Relations strategy.
“Back in 2003 we produced this document here which was sent around all the households in Ballymena and we entitled it ‘A Shared Environment’. It was around the time whenever the ‘A Shared Future’ document was actually being negotiated and was being consulted upon widely. So this document here gave our residents an opportunity to see as a department what we were involved in. Basically it went through the whole range of services – I have some copies here for people at the end….. it went around a lot of people and gave them an opportunity to tell us what they thought were the good relations issues in the borough at that time. Quite a number of people came back and filled this in, just to make sure that we were actually on the right track.
“In terms of projects, we work externally and we work internally. We have a very small department within the council. There is myself. I have a line manager and I have an assistant and we have an administrative person, so it is a very small department basically to try and disable that whole wide range of sectarian incidents.
Sectarian incidents: “Around 2005 the borough was very much badly affected by a range of sectarian incidents from petrol bombings to sectarian assaults, a whole range of things. I think I am right in saying we had a figure of about 80 assaults, various incidents of intimidation and racism in the period of about 4 to 5 months. So from that the council were obviously very concerned in terms of what was happening within our borough and at that stage we very much worked along with the Mayor in terms of trying to develop some form of civic dialogue to try and move things forward. So we will give you some details of that as we go on.
Ethnic minorities: “In terms of external projects we have a wide range of different things that we are involved in. One of the most important things as a council is to make sure that our minority ethnic groups are addressed and they are appraised and that they know exactly what we are trying to do as a Council. We are very much involved in consulting with them. We work very closely with them.
“We got help to fund part of the salary cost of the staff through Ballymena Community Forum. We also work very closely with Ballymena Interagency group and that is a multi-agency group of a whole range of agencies. There would be 25 agencies that come together on a monthly basis to try and work positively for the minority ethnic community in the borough. So certainly I have tried where we can to help with those issues. We as a council helped to produce this leaflet here about 3 years ago and that was translated into the various minority languages that were prevalent in the borough at that stage and that again was basically just telling people where the information could be gleaned from. Then we addressed a group 18 months ago and produced this document here and it was translated into about 5/6 prevalent languages at that stage and at the minute it is being updated. That basically gives a whole range of different agencies that people can contact. So that is very useful.
Young people: “In terms of some of the other external things we have been involved in, youth obviously is one of our key issues within the borough. Now I should say, within the programme I work along with, the large funders don’t actually ‘allow’ me to work with young people because there are other agencies set up to do that.
‘But obviously as a council we realise that our young people are very much part of our future. So therefore we are keen to do what we can. We have been involved in a number of things – and I won’t steal Ronnie or Kate’s thunder in terms of a very exciting project that they were instrumental in setting up called Common Purpose and Ballymena Learning Together and basically that project was set up last year in the aftermath of a very tragic death in our borough, a very young man who lost his life [Michael McIlveen]. Certainly as a council we have tried where we can to be supportive of that … all of our post-primary schools are involved in the Common Purpose programme. But I know that the experts will be telling you all about that.
Cross-community funding: “We have an external community relations grant scheme whereby a number of community groups in the borough can apply to us if they want to do cross community events. There is a small amount of funding – up to about £300.We gave out recently about 30-40 of those in a year. ….. Depending on what the good relations issues would be, we would try to work with one of the community groups there and to intervene in some of the work that would be going on. For example one of our areas …has been subject to quite a range of various sectarian and racist incidents over the last 2 to 3 years. We have worked very closely with the community there to developa good relations strategy, whereby we got consultants to go around all of the households in the area basically to find out what the key issues were with those people, so that it wasn’t just ourselves as a Council saying: ‘well we see a,b,c and d as the issues’, because that certainly is not the way that we want to work. That has been very instrumental in terms of managing to get about £5million funding into the …area … So we are very pleased with that.
Inter-agency work: “We work closely along with a local strategic partnership who administer the peace funds and again we have been involved in a range of projects that they have adopted over the last number of years. As I said we have also worked very closely with the Mayor’s department in terms of the Mayor’s initiative and again that was basically organised after the sectarian attacks in 2005. We have been very fortunate, our last couple of mayors have been very supportive of our work. They have tried to show real true civic leadership in terms of trying to move things forward. Currently we are in the process of working with Mediation Northern Ireland … after the death [Michael McIlveen] mentioned earlier they came into the borough to see if there was anything that could be done basically in terms of improving good relations. As a Council we are hoping to work with them in the near future to develop that programme and … again that would be looking at the key good relations issues within the borough in terms of shared space, segregation, disaffected youth, anti-social behaviour, a whole range of issues within that. So we are certainly very hopeful that that will be a good way of moving forward in terms of an inter-agency approach.
Internal work: “Internally we also do quite a range of work and we have set up a Good Relations Working Group: about 10 key staff working from the DPP to community safety, local strategic partnership, the policy unit, the town centre manager, community services, a whole wide range of services, and that is to make sure that those staff are working together, that we are all co-ordinated, that we know what we are about and we are making sure that we are actually mainstreaming good relations within the Council. As I said earlier we have had a wide range of programmes with our elected members. We have used a variety of agencies to come in and to get them space to be able to move forward as civic leaders.
“We have worked through the University of Ulster, Future Ways, CounterAct, the trade union movement …to try and help our elected members. Whilst at times that really hasn’t necessarily been easy work, they have certainly been happy to have been involved in it. We have tried to move things forward. We have been very fortunate over the last two to three years when things have been very bad in the borough that our Mayor has been very, very keen to show true leadership in moving things forward and we have worked very closely with the Mayor’s department making sure that the speeches are giving out the correct message, that nobody is going into the public domain and basically saying things not necessarily conducive to good relations, shall we say. We also have a wide range of internal funding of council events- as I said in the first number of years I was a council officer and I was involved in organising events. That is not the case anymore because basically we don’t have time to do that and so we would try and fund internal events from our own staff. … Initially whenever this was due to be set up, I think it was just Delia herself…..
Hope for the future: “I have great hope for the future. With the calibre of the people around this table tonight I think I don’t have to say anything further. They are simply people just trying to do their bit in terms of moving the borough forward. I am certainly very hopeful. As a resident and also as a council employee we can achieve it. It won’t be easy but we’re in it for the long fight. Thank you.”
Chair: “Thank you very much indeed Jackie and we will have time for questions towards the end of the evening. Please save your questions for then. I would next like to invite Delia Close to speak. Delia is a retired secondary school teacher and also a former member of the Womens’ Coalition, and she is currently serving her second term as an independent member and Vice-Chair of Ballymena District Policing Partnership. Thank you Delia.”
2. Delia Close (Vice-Chair, Ballymena District Policing Partnership)
“Good evening everyone. Thank you for inviting us. Like Jackie I also come from a mixed background with Catholic/Protestant parents. Unlike Jackie I was brought up Catholic. I was reared in Derry but have spent all my time since I got married in 1969 living in Ballymena, so I consider myself really as much of one as the other and certainly committed to Ballymena which is why I am here this evening and why I am also a member of the DPP. I feel I have something to contribute now. I have been retired for the last ten years. I have time, so I was quite happy to spend some of that time doing what I could.
DPPs: “District Policing Partnerships [DPPs] came into being as a result of the recommendations of the Patton Report which changed policing in Northern Ireland totally. There are 29 DPPs – one for each council area and then 3 smaller ones for individual areas of Belfast. The DPP is a partnership between the local council and the community. Its membership is made up of political members who are councillors nominated to the DPP by their own parties, and independent members drawn from the local community and appointed after an interview process by the Policing Board.
Functions of DPP: The function of the DPP is a consultative monitoring and facilitative work whose purpose is:
to consult with the public, to establish what issues in relation to policing and crime or/are a concern for the local area,
to identify local policing priorities arising from those consultations and to encourage the district commander to include them in the Local Policing Plan.
to have input into the drawing up of the Local Policing Plan and – this is quite a big one – to monitor police performance against the objectives contained in the Local Policing Plan and in the Northern Ireland Policing Plan as it relates to the district,
to engage with the community, to obtain the cooperation of the public with the police in preventing crime, and
to act as a general forum for discussion and consultation on all matters relating to the policing of the district.
Composition of DPP: “In Ballymena there are 19 DPP members, 10 councillors, 9 independents. The intention is to have a group which is representative of the area so, among other prerequisites, there has to be a gender and religious balance. Because all 10 councillors are men, the Policing Board appointed 8 women and 1 man as independents. I have been a member of the DPP since the beginning and I have seen many changes both in personnel and in attitudes. Councillors sometimes think they are attending a council meeting and have to be reminded that different rules prevail at DPP meetings. They are councillors, yes, but they are DPP members first when they have the DPP meeting, so at our meetings everyone is addressed by their first names with no titles allowed. Sometimes they need reminding of that! The great difficulty at the minute actually is remembering not to say “he” when they are talking about the Chief Inspector because we have a new Chief Inspector called Wendy and she is very definitely “she”, but every now and again you will hear “he” and they have to be reminded! But anyway they will get used to that too. We are bringing them into the 21st century.
Chair and Vice-Chair: “The Chairman and Vice-Chair hold their posts for 12 months. The Chairman is always, as per the rules, a councillor. During the first term of the DPP the role of Vice-Chair is also allocated to a political member. However that role has changed to allow for an independent Vice-Chair and I hold that position this year. I was elected to the position by my fellow independents.
Meetings: “As DPP members we are expected to commit two days per month to the work of the DPP by preparing for meetings, attending meetings, relevant training events and engaging with the local community. We hold a number of public meetings or general forums for discussion each year to enable people to present their views on the policing of the district. Public meetings are advertised in the local press and they are held in different parts of the Council area to ensure that all residents have easy access to them. Meetings are also held at different times to allow for different working patterns and domestic commitments. In addition to the meetings held in public at which the DPP monitor police performance, we also have private meetings which allow us to plan our business.
Consulting with the public: “Important though the public meetings are, there are other aspects to our work which are quite often more useful and more interesting. One of our duties is to consult with the public. This can take many forms. We have spent afternoons in the two main shopping centres. We stood giving information leaflets, talking to passers by about the DPP. Saturday coming we will have a stand at the Ballymena Agricultural Show where all members will spend an hour or two engaging with the public. Most people still don’t know who we are. So there is still a lot to be done here.
Young people: “Personally, I have found that my most interesting times have been spent with teenagers. As an ex-teacher I spent almost thirty years teaching. It was secondary school teaching I did so I feel totally at ease with teenagers. So I continue that where I can with the DPP. I help with focus groups in several of the local schools and I found it very interesting, because we found that young people generally no matter what their background have the same often negative views on policing. I also attended a meeting with a small group of boys who were friends of Michael McIlveen who was murdered a year ago. You will notice the same name coming up – I am sure all of us at the table here would agree that had such a huge impact in the town that changed everything in a sense. So many things changed after that, but there others here who can talk about it better than I can. But anyway this was a small group of boys who were friends of Michael’s. They were very forthright in their views on drugs and sectarianism. A few weeks later I went at the request of Inspector Stephen White to a PSNI training base in Antrim and watched three of the same boys being shown various aspects of police training. They were particularly interested in the riot training complete with real petrol bombs, body armour and riot shields. One of them offered his services if at anytime they needed volunteer rioters! I should tell people at this point that he was one of Kate’s pupils – I would be quite sure that you know the very same character I am talking about! But it was interesting to see 15-16 year old Catholic boys and police officers so easy in each other’s company. One thought he might like to join the police but not necessarily the PSNI. That would be a step too far I think. The work being done with these boys is ongoing and involves the police, the council, community relations and the DPP. So there is a wee bit of a joined-up process starting to happen which is very good.
Parades: “Part of the theory of DPPs was to make policing more open to scrutiny. I have found this to be a particularly influencing aspect of our work. I have been interested in the issues around band parades and orange parades for some time. For the last two years I have attended as an observer at almost all the local parades. I have been invited on several occasions to be part of the planning meeting in the police station for an upcoming parade. My comments and contributions have always been graciously accepted and I have learned a lot about the difficulties associated with policing parades especially those presented by band followers and at times counter demonstrations. I occasionally have been critical of some aspects of the policing of particular parades and I have made my criticisms known to the police on the spot and to the district commander.
“Only last Saturday I attended the first of this years band parades…. At this point I will just very quickly tell you that there is a difference between what is a band parade and what is a parade organised by the Loyal Orders, totally different. A band parade is just a local band who organise their parade and the idea of it – apart from putting on a wee bit of a show – is to collect money for their band. The Orange Order, the Black Preceptory, none of those are involved in these, so they can be a wee bit more volatile and a wee bit more of a problem. Currently there are some very good marshals who come from, let’s say, paramilitary backgrounds, who have been trained as parade marshals and that is actually starting to work quite well helping to make sure that there is no trouble along the route and they go where they are intended to go. So Saturday’s parade turned off not too badly and I have been asked now to go and talk to the Parades Commission on Wednesday about another upcoming parade which seems to be a wee bit more controversial. But let’s see how that goes.
“But things are getting better. I agree with Jackie totally. We had some hairy situations over the years but I must say on the evidence of Saturday night’s parade, people are talking much more to other people. Some wee problem I think with getting Sinn Féin to talk to the police in Ballymena. They are a wee bit behind everybody else around Northern Ireland, I think, but hopefully they will get there.
Community policing: “In October 2006 there was a review of neighbourhood policing and they decided to adopt a neighbourhood policing model which would incorporate a deployment strategy across all sector areas, the development of sector plans and ‘micro beats’. These ‘micro beats’ are the ones that are considered to be extremely important, the idea being that there will be small areas within the town which will have their own designated police person. They must guarantee that they will stay there at least a year so people get to know them. They trust them. They bring their problems there. One other sentence on local policing. They are developing – they have already got three and another one in the oven called ‘police surgeries’ where police go at a designated time every month to a designated place. The local people know, they come along, discuss their problems and they are finding that these surgeries are actually helping quite a lot. So I will just leave it there and not take any more of your time. Thank you.”
Chair: “Thank you very much indeed, Delia, and we will have time to go back to the issue of community policing at the end of the evening if anybody wants to pursue it further. It is a wonderful move forward. I am now going to ask two people who together represent the Ballymena Learning Together Initiative, Ronnie Hassard who is the principal of the Ballymena Academy and Kate Magee who is the principal of St. Patrick’s College, Ballymena, to talk to us about their initiative and tell us how it is going, so first of all I would like to invite Ronnie to say a few words.”
3. Ronnie Hassard (Principal, Ballymena Academy):
“Thank you. Can I just say first of all that I applaud what happens in the Meath Peace Group. What has beenhappeningimpresses me mightily, the archive [on the website] which I looked at is an important historical document that is happening. I will not add anything of importance to this historical document, but there you are. I’m from a mixed marriage too, my mother was Presbyterian, my father Church of Ireland. Despite that I have turned out the way I have! I am going to start, as is my wont, with a poem if I might. It is one that will be familiar to many of you. It is Patrick Kavanagh’s ‘Epic’ and I hope the relevance is apparent.
Epic (Patrick Kavanagh, 1938)
I have lived in important places, times
When great events were decided: who owned
That half a rood of rock, a no-man’s land
Surrounded by our pitchfork-armed claims.
I heard the Duffys shouting “Damn your soul”
And old McCabe stripped to the waist, seen
Step the plot defying blue cast-steel –
“Here is the march along these iron stones.”
That was the year of the Munich bother. Which
Was most important ? I inclined
To lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin
Till Homer’s ghost came whispering to my mind.
He said: I made the Iliad from such
A local row. Gods make their own importance.
“And I suppose it’s the God of small things that I want to talk about.
“Chair, earlier on you said that the political vacuum has been healed and we can look forward to the future with confidence. I believe that is the case. I’ve been an optimist and an educationalist and an idealist. I think that is important but it isn’t just going to happen. Maybe I began the poem as a kind of self defence. You might well find what I have to say is small-scale if not self indulgent and, if so, I apologise now.
‘I’m speaking to a peace group which has many years and 67 public meetings, I think, in the thinking about feuds and factions and communal self-destruction in the North and I am speaking to you just as peace apparently has broken out. I am also aware that you have addressed these issues many times and words for many people here such as ‘Northern Ireland’ and ‘Peace’ and ‘Progress’ will send them to sleep and they ignore them. I will try not to do that.
“Friday a week ago you heard about the events at the Boyne when the arms trade was reversed and the First Minister came down with a musket to the Taoiseach! I met a lady there, she was a teacher and we got talking about things. She didn’t get away quickly enough on me – that is what women usually do! But she said to me: ‘I haven’t followed the Troubles very carefully’ – as though it was racehorses or a football game, and yet it is true. She also told me that Drogheda was the furthest north she had ever been and I got the impression she was longitudinally challenged and that if she went any further north she would be contaminated and maybe violence would get in. It does seem that the river Boyne has assumed some symbolic importance in Irish history. Of course she is not alone. Many decent and good people north of the border are fed up …as well. Perhaps this will change, but young people increasingly don’t vote in our elections and they don’t feel part of the political process at all and they have accepted the status quo just as ordinary islanders accept the weather.”
Ballymena Learning Together: “And who am I to speak to you at this time? I am neither a politician nor a theologian nor a savant philosopher, psychologist, socialist, legal guru, lifestyle pundit or any of those contemporary know-it-alls who can fix everything. I am just an educationalist. I am a principal in a voluntary grammar school in Ballymena, one of nine schools involved in Ballymena Learning Together. I have been in Ballymena Academy for 3 years now and just at about that time, Kate [Magee] was appointed [to St. Patrick’s College]. There were a number of new principals in the town schools. We were meeting together, sharing ideas. It was a kind of a therapy group really, mutual self-help group for sad and lonely principals, but we had started to get to know each other and to feel a sense of mutual respect and trust when the events which both Jackie – a former pupil of my school – and Delia have outlined to you: when Michael McIlveen’s sectarian murder took place in the town. And whilst that didn’t make us meet – we were already meeting – it certainly gave us focus and impetus and did galvanise thinking. There is no doubt about that. The whole atmosphere of Ballymena … was changed by that.
“I wish that I could say as an educator that I had a magic cure for the ills of the community. I don’t. You have heard a speaker from the council. You have heard a speaker from the policing partnership. You will hear people from the churches. All of those people need to work together and it is interesting that we do know each other. We have met a number of times in different contexts. I am not sure if that is the case in every town. But there is a togetherness about the approach that is happening in Ballymena. I was an English teacher when I had a real job. Maybe that shapes how I look at things but I want to share a few perspectives, personal perspective stuff but I think they are shared by my fellow principals in the town. Their mistakes are never my fault, but the good ones we will share!
“Sustaining peace cannot be left to schools. If that is to be the case I think we should pack up now and get back to the fighting. Schools cannot do it on their own for a whole range of reasons….. I don’t know what you were like in school. I know what I was like in school and I didn’t always listen to what the teachers told me! In fact I was more inclined to disbelieve what the teachers said, possibly more than my father, but I don’t know. It would have been on a par. So that is one of the things I want to say. I want to say too that schools can and must take a strong and leading role and we have sought to do that in Ballymena.
“Other social institutions such as family, the politics, the churches, the police and justice system must also discharge their responsibilities. Indeed I would argue that the more effective those other institutions become, the less crucial is the schools role. That is probably counter-intuitive in a western democracy. Well, in Northern Ireland, the second biggest budget goes to schools – after health. So all of that investment suggests well, they must be important, they must do things, they must make things happen. I don’t believe that is the case. Research shows that schools are not nearly as important to young people as their families, their communities, and their peers and the messages they receive from the media. I don’t think that can come as a surprise to those with even a passing knowledge of contemporary teenagers. That applies to attitudes to sex and drugs no less than towards those who hold different religious or political beliefs.
Integrated schools: “Research carried out at Queen’s University for instance found out that it was not possible – at least not yet possible – to say whether young people who attended integrated schools tended to have less sectarian attitudes than their peers. That research is ongoing of course. That’s not to say anything critical of integrated schools. One member of our partnership is an integrated school and that is what makes it unique. We represent all sectors, different sizes of schools and different types of schools. Parents who wish to send their children to an integrated school should continue to have that option. They are good schools and I have no doubt their growth will continue and that should be encouraged. But a very small percentage of pupils are educated in integrated schools and even exponential growth won’t allow that in the short term to cater for all children. …Citizenship as an element in learning for life in work in their revised curriculum, a great openness to collaboration and a willingness to engage and join developed work with other schools. That would be more important I think as time passes.
Vision of Ballymena Learning Together: ‘Ballymena Learning Together’, involving all nine post-primary schools in the Ballymena area, is trying to establish open relationships and constructive partnerships between schools of all kinds. … If you know the Shared Future document well then the resonance is here. By working together we believe that schools can be more open, involving the community in which young people feel a sense of belonging, and where diversity and difference are seen as enriching and valuable. Our vision is of a society where young people from different traditions and cultural backgrounds can work together towards a shared future characterized by mutual understanding and respect. Which is all very well, easy to say, well relatively easy to say, but what does that actually mean on the ground? We have brought in an organisation called ‘Common Purpose’. This is a not-for-profit voluntary sector organisation which focuses on how young people can see themselves in their own communities as leaders and shapers of the future and that is for all children. It is a tall order I think. In Ballymena over the last few years we have managed to do this. We’ve also used ‘Spirit of Enniskillen’ an organisation founded in the wake of the Enniskillen bombing to help us. We think that it is possible to engage young people in controversial and sensitive matters but it is beyond normal classroom interaction. It is not just standard everyday give and take of the classroom. It is actually how you do it. It is how you engage with young people.
“I think the quality of parenting which young people have seen, the maintenance of civil relationships particularly over contentious issues which are going to be encountered, the successful conduct of the devolved Assembly, the wise investment of sizable amounts of funds in underprivileged communities, particularly the Protestant areas, an ongoing commitment to supporting schools’ efforts such as ours. We receive funding from Ballymena Council, from the Department of Education, from the Department of Foreign Affairs and from the Church of Ireland. We are open to other offers and … we have to do better, especially for the somewhere between 3% and 5% of young people who leave school at 16 without a level 2 qualification, and we have to find out ways in which schools can make a more telling contribution to wealth creation and greater prosperity for individuals on which better peace would be built. And yes that will happen through the curriculum and it will happen through collaborative activities but it will also have to be supported within the wider social infrastructure around us.
“Finally, a quotation from [Gerald Manley] Hopkins – it is the English teacher coming out again – who imagines peace arriving. He uses the dove- the biblical symbol for it’s arrival and he says:
‘And when peace here does house
He comes with work to do
He does not come to coo.’
“So there is much preparatory and enabling work to go on. There will be much more groups such as this to talk about. Thanks for listening again. …”
Chair: “Thank you very much indeed Ronnie. I would now like to invite Kate Magee to pick up on all the mistakes that Ronnie has made!”
4. Kate Magee (Principal, St Patrick’s College, Ballymena)
“Thank you very much. …. I’m really not going to say very much because Ronnie has very eloquently summed up what we are about in ‘Ballymena Learning Together’. Some of you I know and I have met before. It’s a great pleasure to see so many familiar faces and to be invited down here this evening. We feel very proud of the work we do in Ballymena but it gives us particular pleasure to know that you have such an interest in our work and that we can probably learn an awful lot from a group like yourselves. Despite setbacks and occasions in the past when you have been meeting and you have been downhearted or disillusioned about your work or your aims or aspirations, you have still continued to meet and you are a very strong and thriving group and I commend you for that. Hopefully we in Ballymena will be able to emulate that sort of commitment.
Death of Michael McIlveen: “The nine schools, as Ronnie has said, have worked very closely together and had been working very closely together prior to the very tragic death of Michael McIlveen who was a pupil in my school, St. Patrick’s college. I think the fact that we had been meeting and we had forged such strong relationships amongst the nine principals meant that when we were faced with that awful situation, we all pulled together. I know that, as principal facing the school community the day after Michael’s death, I was I suppose helped by the fact that prior to taking Assembly that morning I had phone calls from all other 8 principals in the Ballymena Learning community. ….
Support and strength from within the educational community: “There are situations that could divide us but we are rising above that. So, as I say, there is that strength that we gather from each other – and I know if I have an issue or a problem I lift the phone and I speak to Ronnie or one of my other colleagues and really it is that strength within the educational community in Ballymena, I think is very important. Just last week I was doing a staff audit. It is a very dangerous thing for a principal to do, to ask the opinion of staff, I am not terribly sure that I am wise asking! But, quite seriously, it is revealing…. I had my own ideas about where I wanted the school to go and what I want for the school and I asked the staff to give me their opinions in this audit. You have to make things quite easy for staff in terms of not asking them to write too much or to deliberate too much.
“So all I asked them to do is to try to pick three things that they feel that we are doing well at St. Patrick’s College and then to think of three things that really we could perhaps do better or develop or whatever. And I feel very encouraged by the fact that those who have already completed the audit, the one thing that they have highlighted as one of our successes has been the links with other schools within Ballymena …. it has only been in the last three to four years that those links have been developed and I think it is something that both the staff and the pupils are benefiting from.
Ballymena schools – offering young people the opportunity to respect each other’s traditions: “Ronnie has talked about the integrated education system and I know that many people – quite rightly from their perspective – feel that that is the answer, that that will provide the solution to Northern Ireland’s problems. But I am afraid I don’t think Northern Ireland’s problems are as simple as that, and I think those of us who have lived through the last thirty years realise that if they were that simple then we would have solved the problems a long time ago. The difficulty is if you put children altogether under one roof, both Protestant and Catholic, you are presuming that they will automatically get on well together and you are also presuming that when they go back into their communities that they are also integrated, and that isn’t the case. Really what we have in Ballymena is a more lifelike situation for our young people. They come from quite divided communities. We educate them. We ensure that we are providing them with a forum where they can very safely and very comfortably be proud of their own tradition but also learn to some extent to respect the opinions of others. We don’t throw them altogether and hope that everything will be alright. We do it in such a way that they have our support and they know that they are secure in hearing other people’s opinions and also voicing their own. I think that is important and I think that is unique about what we do in Ballymena. We are realists. Ballymena is a community that has suffered terribly over the last number of years. We won’t solve all their problems. But certainly we feel very much that what we have through our schools is offering young people the opportunity to respect one another’s traditions and realise that within each of their traditions they have a lot to be proud of but they also have a lot that they can learn from each other.”
Chair: “Thank you. Now I would like to invite Jeremy Gardiner to come and speak to us. He is Community Relations Development officer with Youthlink, an umbrella body representing the four churches. He has got some very interesting things to say to us.”
5. Jeremy Gardiner (Community Relations Development Officer, Youthlink)
“Hi, I feel like I am about to do Karaoke with a microphone standing up here! My name is Jeremy. I also come from a mixed marriage. My mum comes from the Falls Road and my dad comes from the Shankill Road. So I really do come from a mixed marriage. It was interesting growing up in that they chose to follow the Protestant faith but in doing so had to leave Belfast and live in Enniskillen, which is where I was born actually.
“My relationship with Ballymena started about three years ago when I came as a youth pastor to High Kirk Presbyterian Church. Primarily what I wanted to do was find out what was going on within the community at that stage so I spent time in the community trying to find out. Actually this is where I met all these people because I spent the first three months going around asking questions specifically of the principals and of the community relations worker trying to figure out what were the issues for young people in the town. The young people in the church that I represented, they lived in that town and they were the issues facing them. So I wanted to know what those issues were. There were a number of issues specifically at that time in regard to the bus station. There was abuse, bullying, that type of thing in the bus station. There was also an issue of suicide within the town. It was becoming very popular. There were a number of suicides. Drugs was an issue obviously. But one of the main elements of Ballymena was the sectarianism in Ballymena between the young people from Catholic and Protestant communities. So primarily what I started to do was build relationships with the Catholic Church and specifically Father Paul [Symonds] in just developing a friendship more than anything within the first year of being in Ballymena.
Harryville: “It was only a matter of months after our friendship began to grow that there was an attack at the Catholic Church in Harryville, a paint bomb attack by loyalists at the church there. In response to the paint bomb attack we decided to call Paul and just ask could we go down as a group of people from our church … and just clean up the church in the area. So we all got in a group and spent time clearing that up. When we arrived, unfortunately, let me say this, there were media there. We didn’t have any clue that was going to happen and also the PUP representative for the town. He was Billy McCaughey at that stage. He has now passed away. He was there to protect us more than anything, to be honest. We thought he was just there to show his support. So that was primarily my first introduction to Ballymena. It was really rough. I am not going to be polite about it. It was pretty tough at that stage. The first clean-up happened in July and another one happened in August in relation to a reaction from the first republican march that happened in Ballymena. We got another clean-up involving nine Protestant churches going down to Harryville and cleaning up the church. The reaction to that was pretty bad at that stage and eventually I had to leave home … I had to get out of the town for a period of time and just find out what was going on.
Paramilitaries: “But the relationship that really took off at that stage was the relationship that we started to build up with the paramilitaries within the area, the UDA and UVF. Paul and myself were keen on that in regard to building relationship with these people and trying to develop community relations within Northern Ireland. Throughout the next year we worked really hard with them and with Community Voice at that stage in building relationships to the point where they decided to clean up the front of Harryville Church and take away some of the murals that were there which was a real success story. However then the death of Michael McIlveen happened which wasn’t a success story.
Young people: “It wasinteresting at that stage watching the young people react. It is funny how young people just respond to what they are shown …That is specifically within the community. They just take on their characteristics and take on their way of doing things and we realised as a community, as a church leadership, as a school leadership and as a community leadership, that we needed to do something specifically for young people. I actually am really encouraged to say that what is happening in Ballymena over the last year and a half has been unbelievable actually, it has been amazing to see people coming together from all traditions, from all backgrounds and saying, “do you know what? We don’t want our town to be the way it has been known for in the past”. We are starting to see people work together which is great.
“I moved jobs from High Kirk to an organisation called Youthlink, which is an umbrella organisation for the four main churches in Northern Ireland which develops community relations specifically for youth. My target area is Ballymena so that is where I am based. …
‘I work with schools and I work with the churches and community groups within the area just to try and influence young people from all levels of the issues of community relations work. I have a few concerns ……… We have had a major reaction to the issues of young people in the area which is good in one part. But sometimes you know we can overreact and sort of like miss the quality for the quantity and I think there is an element where we need to start to evaluate what has been happening and the effect it is actually having with the young people. I am not sure if the strategy that we have in Ballymena is specific and focused on young people for their benefit. I think it is still something that we need to look at. We are not saying we are perfect. We are just saying, my concern is that we develop and continually look at it and evaluate it for a way forward and come up with the best practice possible for young people in the area and to bring other people and other agencies on board and to say look let’s work together. I think that is probably what my concerns are. As a church, organisation and as a Christian in regard to a shared future, I think it is the only way forward. I think diversity is something that we embrace andrelating to one another is something that we should welcome with open arms and walk together wholeheartedly.”
Chair: “Thank you very much indeed. That is very powerful and I’d now like to invite our final speaker Fr. Paul Symonds to come and talk to us. He had been a priest since 1976 and has worked in Belgium, Holland, Italy and France before coming to the diocese of Down and Connor in 1989. He is especially committed to reconciliation and unity of Christians. Fr. Paul:”
6. Fr. Paul Symonds (Kirkinriola parish, Ballymena)
“Thank you very much Máirín. My name is Paul Symonds and I come from a very mixed-up background. Symonds is a Jewish name. We were Jews from Eastern Europe and came, I don’t know how many generations ago, to London looking for work and at some stage my ancestors took baptism in the Church of England – I suspect for economic, rather than religious reasons, although I might be doing them an injustice there. My parents would have been non-practising Anglicans – Church of England they would say – and they sent me to a Catholic primary school. So that was my first encounter with the Church as church and it was a very, very positive encounter. But even then I was very friendly with the local Church of England curate and his family. So I always felt at home in more than one church and, during my years of primary school, one day one of the girls in the senior school said to me slightly aggressively, ‘are you a Catholic or a Protestant?’ To which I replied, ‘I don’t know’. She said, ‘in that case you must be a Protestant because if you were a Catholic you would know’! But I think people who know me very well would know that the answer to the question is that I still don’t know. A child of the Kingdom.
Vocation – call to Northern Ireland: “I came to Northern Ireland in 1989 and it was very much the fruit of or what I experienced as a real vocation, a sense of God calling me to Northern Ireland. It was as strong and intense as the original vocation to ordained ministry. I never doubted but that is exactly where God wanted me to be and I spent my first three years in North Belfast, and six wonderful years in South Belfast, and another four years in North Belfast, and then to my great surprise the bishop asked me to go to Ballymena which is not a place I would have chosen to go to. I expected to spend all my time in Belfast.
Ballymena – building bridges: “Once I arrived in Ballymena I knew that was where I was meant to be, and, because my whole life has been committed to building bridges between churches and establishing relationships, well that was the first thing I wanted to do. So I started with the Church of Ireland, met the Church of Ireland. I very quickly became friendly to one of the local curates… Neil is quite a character – he comes from Monaghan and has a quite a strong southern accent. He and I did a wedding together once and he related afterwards, ‘ah me and Paul did a wedding together and everybody thought that Paul was Church of Ireland and that I was a Catholic priest!’ But as a result of that, we organised a week of prayer for Christian unity service in St Patrick’s in the Church of Ireland with Neil and myself, the two of us preaching. Amazing at it seems some people told the rector that if a catholic, some people from All Saints came in with a pulpit from St. Patricks, then they would never darken the door of the church again. However I don’t think they did actually leave the congregation, thanks be to God. And then our nearest neighbour church is High Kirk Presbyterian. …I didn’t really reach out to the Presbytery of High Kirk, they reached out to me. Initially the then minister …invited me to coffee and then I began to make friends with some of the congregation and as a result of that was introduced to Jeremy. And Jeremy and I, when we first met, we just knew we were on the same wavelength, soulmates. We have enjoyed a rich and very fruitful friendship. So I am delighted that Jeremy is still working in Ballymena and especially in St Patrick’s College where I feel very privileged to be the chaplain.
Shared future – inter-church work: “Well what are the churches doing for a shared future and coming together in Ballymena? Well one way that I mentioned was through small starts. But a few years ago I was visiting the Benedictine monastery in Rostrevor. I don’t know if you know it – Holy Cross monastery founded from the monastery of Beck in Normandy in France – and it is the Benedictines in Rostrevor who are totally committed to inter-church work. So it very much a place where I feel spiritually refreshed and where I go regularly to be renewed in spirit. And whilst I was there once a Presbyterian minister called Dessie Maxwell from Belfast Bible college was giving a series of talks on the Torah, the first five books of the Bible called ‘Take Five’. I was just bowled over by the lectures and thought I must get him to Ballymena, initially I thought just to give a series of Lenten talks in my own church. But then talking to friends you began to think well why not open it up to other churches? So there were 5 churches on board, Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland, Methodist and two of the local Presbyterian churches – High Kirk and West Church. We decided to hire a room in a local hotel… and we booked a room that would accommodate 60 and on the very first night there were 120 there. So we had to ask for a bigger room which we got and I think on one night we were up to about 300. That was fantastic in bringing people together by no means not just from those five churches but from many, many different churches in Ballymena. Each evening the talk ended with a cup of tea and coffee. That enabled people to get together and friendships to be made. Two men came every five nights from Bally Baptist church and even in the Baptist world, Bally Baptist church would be regarded as super right- wing. Yet they came with long overcoats and great big Bibles under their arms. But they came every night and l made certain I had a little chat with them each night.
Inter-church Alpha course: “One of the fruits of those series of lectures from Dessie Maxwell was an inter-church Alpha course. I am not sure if you are familiar with the Alpha. The Alpha course was devised by an Anglican priest …in Holy Trinity Brompton in London and really originally with a view to explaining the essentials of the Christian faith to non-Christians, or the people who had no real church connection. But it has been welcomed by all churches including my own from the top down. Nicky Gumbel was received in audience by Pope John Paul II. Every mainline church has taken the Alpha course on board, but generally speaking for internal use. I think most of the churches, or many of the churches, have had Alpha courses including All Saints, including my own before I came to Ballymena. But this was the first time we had an inter-church Alpha course. And we were able to hold it in a local restaurant, a local café called Montgomerys because Stephen Montgomery who is the owner is a very committed Christian. He is a member of West Church and he is a very successful businessman who wants to use his business in the service of the Kingdom. So very much a man with whom I can relate very easily. He made his premises available and I think we had something like 60 names after the Dessie Maxwell talks. Once we had advertised, we had 110 people registered and during the 9 weeks, because it is a big commitment, the 9 weeks of the Alpha course we had an average weekly attendance of 95. The dynamic of the course is that it begins with a meal and Stephen provided us with a different meal every week for the 9 weeks … we very, very much enjoyed having a meal together … and that creates a nice atmosphere and trust and fellowship. After the meal there is a talk on some aspect of the Christian faith and then people are in groups and they discuss within groups. So it is a way of sharing things and building relationships and that went so well that we are going to do another one beginning this September. Last year we held talks on a Wednesday and this time on a Monday, hopefully to enable people who were not able to come on a Wednesday to come on a Monday. We are hoping to also have on board not only the five churches that I’ve already mentioned but also the Moravians. They are pretty committed, and the Church of Ireland in Aghohill, but also Hillside Community Church which was originally a Gospel Hall and they have an incredible outreach into Dunclough which is an estate that Jackie has already mentioned and we hope that at a future Alpha we will be able to focus on some of the difficult estates in Ballymena like Dunclough, like Ballykeel. So we channel it in that way.
Prayers for Ballymena: “As a result of the tragic death of Michael McIlveen, already alluded to, we started a series of prayers for Ballymena. The first one was held in West Church Presbyterian Church and I was the preacher. Well that was very significant. A Catholic priest was the preacher in one of the local Presbyterian churches! And then we moved to the Church of Ireland – St. Patrick’s – and we had a Presbyterian preacher and then we came to Harryville, to the Roman Catholic church in Harryville and that was very well attended. For the coffee after the service, I asked Harryville Presbyterian Church from the other side of the road if they would provide us with cups and saucers and all the rest of it which they did, which was a sign of solidarity. They did so without question.
‘Then I had a Church of Ireland lady priest as the preacher and that was probably one of the most successful of the prayers for Ballymena. Then we went to the Methodists and now we are waiting for High Kirk.
“I don’t want to go on too long. That’s just an idea of what’s going on amongst the churches to bring people together and to try and focus together on a shared future. One thing, with the joint Alpha course, in the evaluation sheet afterwards, I think everybody said that the reason that they signed up for that Alpha course was because it was an inter-church Alpha course and they realised there would be opportunities of meeting people from other churches. So thank you very much for your attention and hopefully there is some time for some questions.”
Chair: “Thank you very much indeed, Fr. Paul. I’d just like to remind you that the focus of tonight was community relations, the challenges in relation to Ballymena. I think there is no doubt that we would have heard a large amount of work being done taking very strong initiatives, taking risks, accepting the challenges to build a stronger and more integrated society. For that I think you all deserve huge congratulations. I could say lots but I am going to ask people in the audience if they would like to raise some issues, ask some questions and just to remind you: Jackie talked about the Council and the work they are doing and the outreach they are doing, Delia talked about the policing partnership, and there is a lot to be asked about community policing I think. Ronnie and Kate talked about the Ballymena Learning Together initiative and reminded us that schools can’t do it by themselves. A lot of people are taking that as an easy way out, saying, ‘oh well if there were integrated schools it would all be ok’. But I think that is clearly not the answer. It is going to take all of the community to make progress. Jeremy, you talked about the youth work and the challenges that you faced and overcame and the risks that you had to take, and being asked to leave your home – that is just a terrible thing to happen to anybody. Fr. Paul, you talked about working with the churches and the enthusiasm for bringing people together and creating opportunities which are safe… So I just wanted to remind you of the wonderful contributions of our panel members here this evening.
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS (SUMMARY)
Q.1. Canon John Clarke: “Thank you very much, John Clarke from across the way, Church of Ireland rector. From the point of view of Ballymena, is it a growing town, are there new communities coming from other parts of Ireland, other parts of the world? Is it multicultural growth? If there is, what sort of effect is that having in terms of unification if I could put it that way?”
Jackie Patton: “Yes, certainly over the last two to three years there has been amazing growth. In terms of actual numbers we don’t actually know. … We have a Ballymena Community Forum. We have got an ethnic minorities project and the statistics would appear to show that there are over 3000 members of minority ethnic communities, predominantly from Eastern European communities. In terms of the effects that that is having, I mean obviously as a council we have been very aware of some of the issues that that is creating and we are trying to work very closely with them in the minorities programme. There is also a fear factor in terms of the business population certainly. There is this perception that these people are coming and taking their jobs. … There was a man called Billy McCaughey who was a PUP representative in Ballymena, and out of all the good work that Billy did, he organised one amazing conference about two to three years ago, before his death, young guys from the streets together ….and he got those guys together basically to look at the whole concept of racism. He managed to get David Ervine to that. He was amazing as well because he talked about his family and how he went to Australia and some of the things that had happened to them. … He also brought together a personnel manager from one of the local industries – the McCain chicken company – where again the perception was these guys were coming in and ‘taking our jobs’ and they were able to show statistics that they were spending thousands of pounds of money every year advertising for these jobs and basically people didn’t want the jobs. So yes there are issues, but on the more positive side we have managed to be able to integrate these people into the community I think very successfully in that we have made great friends with so many people. The multicultural aspect in Ballymena I think is quite amazing. You go down the town and it is just amazing, the plethora of languages you can hear, the colour of faces. Certainly I think that holds out great hope for the future. It is not to say there won’t obviously be issues but I think generally we have become more aware of what this is in trying to move forward.”
Ronnie Hassard: “I’m interested because one of the things that we as a school group wanted to do was try to define what we stood for. Everybody said they were against sectarianism. But we didn’t think it was a good idea to define yourself by what you are not. So we are about promoting good relationships, about openness to whoever that may be, and …. While I hope that immediate issues of sectarianism will recede, as they are expressed on the streets in Ballymena, I fear very much that the racism and a latent racism could well be unlocked. But I think the sort of work you have heard here would help to combat it and prevent it….”
Q. 2. Julitta Clancy: “Thank you very much all of you for your contribution. Just one comment in relation to the schools initiative. I was very interested when I heard you speak at the Department of Foreign Affairs Reconciliation Forum [April 2007] because, outside the immediate reasons why you have set up the [Ballymena Learning Together] initiative, I felt it could serve as a kind of a role model for a lot of rural towns all over the island where you have large secondary schools, different types of schools, and what you are doing – working with communities as well as the schools community. Ronnie did say that schools can’t do everything and we do often load too much on schools and on teachers. As parents we do that very much anyway. But we have to be able to work together. I think that is tremendous what you are doing, and it shows tremendous leadership. It can do nothing but good in terms of the parents and the students and the communities. I know there was some criticism of you at the forum – that you should all be integrated schools etc. This comes up all the time. We do a little bit of work in schools here with Transition Year students, trying to get them to think about the issues and stuff like that. When education comes up, they all say the schools [in NI] should all be integrated. But we are not integrated down here. Integrated education is good but, as you said, it is not always the answer. I would love to see schools here in the south taking on board what you are doing because of all the other issues we have here. Racism is one, but problems in communities, drugs, suicide, all of those pressures. Schools working together can do enormous amounts to help and to empower young people.”
Kate Magee: “I know that wasn’t a question but I would like on behalf of ‘Ballymena Learning Together’ to thank you for those kind words. Just to pick up on two points, one about the Eastern European community and also the fact that we as a school are very aware of our role in the community. I think that was the one thing following the death of Michael McIlveen …. The attack on Michael took place in the early hours of Sunday morning and he actually died on Monday. The next day I took the whole school assembly and I noticed that a lot of his school friends were not in that day and I became very anxious about where they were and the influences that they might be coming under. So after I had finished the assembly I got into the car and drove to the estate where Michael had lived and I felt very ashamed that in actual fact it was the first time that I had been in Michael’s estate. I have to say I was absolutely horrified at the condition of the housing for a lot of those young people that I teach in my school, it was the first time I had become aware of it. And I think that it proved to me that in a way a school can provide for young people a very safe, secure environment but as soon as you go out into the community we have to show them leadership within the community. They can do it in school and I think we do it very well in Ballymena, but we also need to show leadership within the community. Just to pick up on what has been said, as I say I was very conscious of the fact that those young people were vulnerable at that time. Their very dear, very close friend had died as a result of sectarian attack. I was very worried about the influences within their own community that they might come under and I think they got the shock of their lives. I pulled my car up on that morning and I went into the community centre and I sat amongst them. It is very important what we do in Ballymena. At school we are educators and that has to be our prime reason for being there. Friday evening we are going to A Shared Future concert at which both Dunclough college – one of the other schools – and my school are having a joint choir and again the council are working towards promoting that concert. The principal of the other college is going to be there. So these are the things that are important
“Just to finish on a note about our Polish students, we would have about 11 Polish students in the college at present. Most of them came to us perhaps with no English and their parents have little or no English either. But one particular lunchtime two of the boys had a fight. You will be pleased to know that Polish boys fight just the same as Irish boys fight and they were taken to my office. So here I was standing in my office with two young boys who had just fought and they had no English. I, as you can imagine, had very little Polish, but I did have a Polish dictionary so I was standing with the dictionary and I was opening at a certain page and pointing to certain words.
‘So we did mange to get the reason for the fight! It is something that I think has enriched our community – the presence of children from different backgrounds and to some extent I suppose it has made our young people more outward looking towards welcoming people from different countries and I think, as Jackie has said, it could do a lot of good to enrich our communities as long as they are providing the example of that to young people we meet in terms of welcoming others from different cultures.”
Q.3. Nuala McGuinness (Nobbber): “I would like to just follow up on what Kate was talking about. I would imagine that teachers have quite enough to do teaching children without having to visit their homes and what not. In view of the community problems in large towns not only in Northern Ireland but throughout the island and also with the influx of all the foreign young people coming in would there be a role for a social worker … attached to schools in problem areas? I think you have started something marvellous and I’d like to see it spread to other towns in the same way as I’d love to see something like the Meath Peace Group spreading in the south of Ireland. I know it is very difficult. I would also think that perhaps schools along the border – both sides of the border – could get together. Finally Fr. Paul I attended an Alpha course here in Navan a few years ago just for my own interest. I wasn’t a member of the parish or anything. But it was solely a Roman Catholic affair and I did feel it lost a lot by the fact that it wasn’t ecumenical. So I agree with you one hundred percent on your views on that. Thank you.”
Q.4. Paul Barr (Dunshaughlin): “Thank you very much. Tonight seems to be a night for outing things. Two points struck me in particular. One which said diversity is something which you embrace and I absolutely agree with it. But I think it needs to be qualified by saying you can only embrace it whenever you erase the fears and what it is that people are prejudiced against. The second thing was, as Jackie said, 6 DUP members [in the Council] have been become disaffected by what we all regard as progress and it helps to see them in a different light. I am just wondering is there any evidence in the work that you are doing and the people that you are working with that you can address the fears of these people, these disaffected unionists or is their alienation a potential threat to your collective efforts?”
Chair: “Thank you very much indeed. That is a very interesting question. Who would like to respond?”
Ronnie Hassard: “I will give a very brief response to that because I think again in the schools context, we are very open about what we do. All of the schools signed up to it. All of the board of governors were consulted with it. They signed up to it. Before a child goes out to anything, the parents know what will be happening, what is going on, what the purpose of it is. It is very well publicised. It is very well known within the community. I would have expected that within my own school, given the constituency, that I would hear voices against the initiative … I haven’t heard those voices. … Any child being prevented going out is yet to happen. If any parents are saying they disapprove or disagree with this it is yet to happen. One of the things about Ballymena people is that they are fairly forthright and if they don’t like it you know it. So being open and being honest about what we are doing is a very large part of that and in time I hope, as more of this happens and the benefits are seen, then that will be part of it.”
Fr Paul Symonds: “In the Alpha course we were surprised by those who signed up to it.”
Jeremy Gardiner: “To me it’s the element of leadership, what we are showing and what we are presenting. In the group that we had … for me it was modelling diversity. It’s up to us to continue to do that even when people are against us.”
Delia Close: “Referring to the point on dissident DUP members, one of the loudest voices in the breakaway DUP group … is disillusioned, he feels that he was lied to, this is palpable. If that is the price that Paisley pays, if it stays there it won’t be a problem. It’s felt that there are some problems for Paisley. He promised never to go into government with Sinn Féin. It’s understandable but I’m not sure that in the long term that it will make a difference.”
Chair: “How to break down fear? In th south we have difficulties. In our view the only way is by getting to know each other and creating dialogue. By seeing each other in that light. At Glencree we are very committed to being inclusive.”
Q. 5. Jim Owen (Kiltale): We hear your story…We hear about your communities. In the south there are some differences. What advice would you have for us? Help us to reflect on our communities, we have less Protestant communities, and a growing lapse in the Catholic faith. What advice can you give us?”
Jackie Patton: “I’ve worked for local government and really it’s about the power of the people. We don’t have talks like this. We are very much encouraged by your presence here. We need to have people there. With two or three people to organise. Civic leadership have been superb. Education can’t do it alone. Things have developed. Don’t talk yourselves down.”
Delia Close: “Talking about policing: one of the big successes of the Patton report has been the appointment of the Police Ombudsman. Just as the RUC needed modernising, I’m sure you would agree that the Garda need modernizing. The changing of policing has made a huge difference.”
Fr. Paul Symonds: “John Paul II said the church had to breathe through two lungs. It is to be regretted that there is a very small Protestant presence [in the south]….The way the church can go …It can bring about a more smaller and committed church. See itself as a server of the kingdom of God.”
Jeremy Gardiner: “The only way to change it is to get to know it. The bus station issue, the only way I knew about it was because I felt it. … The other thing I would say is to get to know the people of influence. Build relations with them, the people on the ground that can change things.”
Q.6. Arthur O’Connor (Trim): “Is there any danger of Christian unity breaking out? Practising churchgoers are getting less and less. I came to Trim in 1953. There were about 2000 in the town. Today there are about 8000, and there is about a quarter attending church. …”
Q.7. Vincent McDevitt (An Tobar, Ardbraccan): “I found it very helpful. Each of you brings a rich experience. We could make a gesture – bring two groups down to Meath. One group would be Catholic, and one would be Presbyterian. I would look forward to networking with you.”
Q.8. Fr Iggy O’Donovan (Drogheda): “As somebody who has dabbled a little in ecumenical matters, and as a priest, I’m looking at declining numbers. ….. We were damned and defined by mass-going and beneath the surface it was quite shallow. The recent events [Drogheda concelebration], it was a massive surgical operation. It was painful. A period of purgatory may be necessary. There are many people who are very alarmed and I do hope and pray that we can have a society that we are enriched.”
Ronnie Hassard: “I think the lessons of history would show that it would create more fear in seeking that.”
Fr Paul Symonds: “I would agree that there is a richness in the different traditions. We are going through a purgatory. I think it can only lead to a better result in the end. Unity through diversity.”
Jeremy Gardiner: “I think the church has a lot to answer for. In its silence it has actually condoned a lot. Young people don’t want to know. …. We can retrieve it and make it better. The church is still in the element of fear. We have to deal with what we’re at.”
Q.9. “I teach in a Catholic school. I would be worried if they only see it as going to mass on a Sunday. They should live out their Catholic faith. I feel very strongly that they may not attend church now but that they will come back as a result of the priests that they know now. It’s not something to despair over
Delia Close: “I will just digress. They make a very distinct difference between the young Protestant boys and their neighbours and those they don’t like – the Celtic/Rangers split. …. It’s their own age group that they have the problem with., the level of sectarianism is at their own peer level. When they are ready to talk about it it is helpful.”
Vote of Thanks: Jean Kenny (Navan)
Biographical notes on speakers (in order of appearance)
Jackie Patton has worked for Ballymena Borough Council since 1988 and took up her current post as Community Relations Officer in October 1991. Her role involves managing Council’s Good Relations function throughout all Council business. The Good Relations Unit of Ballymena Borough Council has been involved in a range of projects including:
Contentious issues such as flag flying, kerbstone painting and bonfires.
Working in partnership with our local Community Forum to establish an
innovative initiative working with our local minority ethnic communities.
Cultural projects ranging from St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations to sports and
arts festivals throughout the Borough.
Delivery of a Good Relations Grant Scheme whereby local Groups apply for
funding to promote positive Good Relations in our community.
Creation of an internal Council Good Relations Working Group combining a range of officers from Community Safety, Community Development, District Policing Partnership, Local Strategy Partnership, Economic Development, Town Centre Management and Ballymena Community Forum, who mainstream Good Relations throughout Council business.
Delia Close is a retired secondary school teacher and a former member of the Women’s Coalition. She is currently serving a second term as an independent member and also vice-chair of Ballymena District Policing Partnership (DPP). Delia is also a member of the Ballymena group, ‘Community Voice’.
Ronnie Hassard and Kate Magee:
Ronnie Hassard is principal of Ballymena Academy and Kate Magee is principal of St Patrick’s College, Ballymena. Both principals are involved in the Ballymena Learning Together initiative which enables the 9 post-primary schools from all sectors of the Northern Ireland education system to ‘involve students in programmes where they are allowed to express their opinions in a safe and controlled environment, while listening to and learning from the sometimes very different opinions of others’.
Jeremy Gardiner is Community Relations Development Officer for Youthlink, an umbrella body representing and serving the four main churches (Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist and the Church of Ireland). He was formerly a Youth Pastor for High Kirk Presbyterian in Ballymena. Jeremy is also a committee member of Community Voice in Ballymena. ‘My work in Ballymena was focused on the young people within the church itself. However to effectively do this you had to understand the environment in which they grew up in. This lead to work in the local community and essentially stand up against issues such as sectarianism. My work now involves educating young people for youth work and community relations work.’ He previously addressed the Meath Peace Group talk ‘Towards a Shared Future’ (No. 63, 13 November 2006) and also addressed transition year students in Dunshaughlin Community College who took part in the Meath Peace Group peace education programme
Fr Paul Symonds was ordained in 1976 and has worked in Belgium, Holland, Italy and France before coming to the Diocese of Down and Connor in October 1989. He was appointed to the parish of Kirkinriola (Ballymena) in August 2003. He is especially committed to reconciliation and the unity of Christians and is a regular contributor to BBC Radio Ulster’s ‘Thought for the Day’.
Meath Peace Group report 67 (2007)
Taped by Julitta Clancy, Oliver Ward (Nobber) and Jim Kealy (Navan)
Transcribed by Catherine Clancy (Batterstown) and Judith Hamill (Tara)
Edited by Julitta Clancy
©Meath Peace Group