Prods, paramilitaries and poverty…

AFTER loyalists met with the Secretary of State to find out how to ‘come in from out of the cold’ (or whatever this week’s euphemism is for ‘doing what everyone else does normally’), the BBC takes a look at the issue of deprivation in ‘protestant areas’, while Suzanne Breen examines why low incomes shouldn’t necessarily mean miserable kids.

It would be difficult to argue with politicians – even those linked to the paramilitary/criminal mafia-style gangs that the UDA and UVF have become – about the need for investment in deprived ‘protestant areas’. However, it is not hard to see why that lack of investment exists – because of the UVF and UDA.

Why on earth would a business build new premises in certain parts of East Belfast, for example, only for a pink cardigan-wearing medallion-clad spide with a gun to come down in a big red BMW and demand a few grand for ‘security’? Why would anyone in their right mind risk the future of their business in an area where armed robbery, rioting or arson is a regular occurrence? Has anyone asked the thousands of Protestants who have left why they are leaving Belfast and empty houses in their wake?

Why would the Government fund schemes when it knows the money is being poured into the pockets of paramilitaries? Oh wait – it tried that already, enabling upstanding ‘community workers’ like convicted terrorism director Johnny Adair to enjoy a few more hours in the gym before signing on and flogging a few pills at the back of the community centre.

We all know paramilitaries benefit from Government initiatives, and news this week that the Government may now fund some form of loyalist ‘security’ company is concerning. Why do we have an Organised Crime Task Force and Assets Recovery Agency on one hand, if extortion and racketeering are being legitimised – if not legalised and supported by the Government and funded by taxpayers – on the other?

Anyway, are Ulster’s Young Militants or Young Citizen Volunteers really going to be drawn away from a lucrative career in dealing drugs, an exciting evening petrol-bombing Pakistani restaurant owners, putting up flags where they are not wanted and painting murals of gunmen with the promise of a job sitting in a shed on a building site all night for minimum wage?

But there are good reasons to treat the situation seriously too. Deprived ‘loyalist areas’ such as the Shankill have incredibly low educational achievement levels in the young male population. The heavy industries are disappearing, and many jobs in Harland & Wolff or Shorts are long gone. Long ago, nationalist leaders recognised that education is one important way forward, a point that loyalist politicians seem to recognise, but which little has been done about.

So I can accept that there is a need to improve opportunities and educational attainment levels in ‘loyalist areas’, and it would be wrong to label all schemes as dubious. Strange then how unionists in the UUP and DUP think retaining the 11-Plus exam will somehow improve the chances for the average Shankill teenager – it won’t. It isn’t working now and hasn’t done for many years. At least the PUP recognises this.

The thing is – the world owes no-one a living, and it is difficult to feel sympathy for politicians holding out the begging bowl when the reason they need to do so is at least partly because of the control and malevolent influence their infighting paramilitary friends exercise over their own community. There is no public confidence in schemes that seem to benefit paramilitaries at the expense of their own communities.

In her News Letter column, Suzanne Breen looks at poverty here more generally, but concludes that inequality should not be used as an excuse for everything. Yes, she writes, children on the Shankill are born into circumstances where they won’t have the same opportunities as kids in North Down. But when a Save the Children survey suggests that one in five children in NI doesn’t get fresh fruit or vegetables or basic clothing “then what on earth are their parents doing?”

Suzanne writes: “Are apples, oranges, bananas, cauliflower, cabbage, and carrots more expensive than other groceries?

“Of course, the more you earn, the more varied and interesting your family’s diet can be. But a low wage or benefits doesn’t keep fruit and vegetables off the shopping list.”

She adds: “That’s not to blame the poor for being poor. But, unless a parent is a complete idiot or waster, there’s no possible excuse for kids not having basic clothing, fruit and vegetables.”

I think her point can be applied to the situation in loyalist areas; if they are so deprived, then what are the paramilitaries doing about to change things for the better? Are they creating problems or solutions? Are they looking after number one, or the community they purport to protect? Would loyalists not really be better off without loyalist paramilitaries? Why, if the Government sees the need to invest in ‘loyalist areas’, will it put control of funding in the hands of terrorists who have proved time and time again their inate ability to cream off as much as they can for themselves, even if their community suffers as a result? It’s not like they have a mandate, even to benefit from this form of sanitised bribery.

Poverty, deprivation, unemployment, poor facilities and so on are often listed as the causes of many of the problems in ‘loyalist areas’. But until loyalist ‘paramilitarism’ is recognised as a root cause of the problems, instead of a means to address them, and until loyalist, unionist and community leaders begin to show real leadership, those areas will continue to suffer. Whether they like it or not, for many loyalists the biggest threat to their own communities’ future is loyalist paramilitarism.

Right, I suppose I’ll have to sit back and get ready to read all the ‘What about the IRA?’ comments now…

  • Davros

    Not, strictly speaking, a Whatabout comment Gonzo-
    we get stats galore about RC disadvantage in employment – How do Loyalist areas compare with IRA and Dissident areas ? What happens if we look at those areas ?

  • Davros

    Whoooooo! Broadband is sooooo fast!

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Davros

    You’ll have to ask Dermott Nesbitt – he’s the expert at proving that Prods are just as unemployed as Catholics. He keeps going on about ‘differentials’…

    Anyway, I’d rather not get bogged down in stats, which can be used to ‘prove’ anything.

  • willowfield

    Strange then how unionists in the UUP and DUP think retaining the 11-Plus exam will somehow improve the chances for the average Shankill teenager – it won’t. It isn’t working now and hasn’t done for many years.

    They think that because Shankill kids have the theoretical chance to go to grammar school that means it’s better than a comprehensive system. The fact that none actually do go doesn’t seem to matter. They also don’t seem to think it matters that grammar schools are little more than export factories for middle class Prods to leave NI, taking their votes and those of their future children away with them for good.

    But enough of “community schemes” as a sop to paramilitaries (jobs for “the boys”?), what is needed is more money directed into core state services for these areas. Most obviously education, but also housing and the environment, and policing.

  • George

    Suzanne’s arguement is of the “let them eat fruit” variety.

    “If so many Northern Ireland kids truly don’t have basic food and clothing, then what on earth are their parents doing?”

    Well, funny she didn’t mention what they are or are not doing.
    70% of children living in severe poverty are most likely to live in a household where no-one works
    50% live with a lone parent
    27% have parents with health problems or disabilities
    14% of the children are disabled themselves
    24% live in large families with more than four children

    Fruit and clothing are expensive when you are living in severe poverty. Suzanne seems to think it’s a lifestyle decision.

    As he waits for the whatabout all the money they spend on booze arguement…

  • George

    More money Willowfield?
    What happened to the 8 billion a year that’s being given already? I assume you believe the good people of Liverpool, Hull etc. should stump up this money for you rather than using it to try combat their own poverty problems?

    Would you consider paying a local solidarity tax yourself perhaps or would that be too much to ask?

    As for Suzanne’s “Poverty is a natural byproduct of our ugly capitalist system.”

    That is a completely simplistic analysis:
    Finland, Sweden, Denmark and heavily industrialised Germany don’t have a situation with these levels of poverty.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    Like Suzannes’ view on sport and boys kicking footballs in the street. Jumpers for goalposts anyone?

  • aquifer

    Suzanne is close to the mark. At a time when the relative costs of basics has come down, thanks to supermarkets and cheap imports, how can poverty be so entrenched that children do without basic nutrition.

    Is there a poverty of aspiration at work? How much does a fashion for designer labels, a drug, tobacco, or alchohol habit, and demand for cable TV take out of these areas in terms of hard cash? How much hope does advertising take away?

    And what of parenting. It has been suggested that crime rates fall after abortion is available, and it is a fact that kids unloved at 3-4 will often end up as criminals, however much they boost household benefit turnover.

    How about a social capital audit of churches, youth, and cultural organisations. Is that where the deficit lies?

    Tax-free illegal enterprise must be an attraction for people who may hate paperwork anyhow.

    Certainly loyalist extortion makes investment decisions a no-brainer, even if you could view loyalist flags as culturally positive. Stay out of it.

  • Davros

    According To Henry McDonald the UDA want £3 Million

  • willowfield

    George

    What happened to the 8 billion a year that’s being given already?

    I assume some of it has gone into nonsense “community schemes” instead of being used to provide core public services, as I advocated above.

  • fair_deal

    I always believe that in any strategy you need a mixture of carrot and stick and sorting out Prod working class areas will need both.

    As stated education is the big one but it alone wont work. Action on policing (ie the PSNI actually doing their job and not always bleating about community assistance e.g. ‘Cant you sort it out for me for free while I go cash my wages cheque), asset seizures, ASBO’s, reforms to the welfare systems, positive cultural work (including more positve representation in the media) etc.

    Graham Gudgin’s idea about divesting of existing social housing as a means to achieve cultural change is worth a look too (although I must admit I was sceptical about this at first the idea has grown on me since I saw its impact in the USA).

    Aquifier

    Social capital has become part of the debate about revitalising Prod areas. Social capital in Prod areas tends to be weaker but also hurt but what I would describe as poor investment. What capital exists is spread thinly across a large number of groups e.g. the number of churches. Furthermore, some is badly invested e.g. paramilitarism (which I would argue is a form of social capital). Also substantial social capital groups are often treated as a pariah by government ie the Loyal Orders.

    However what is sometimes overlooked social capital’s poor relationship with other forms of capital e.g political and skills. Too often the political capital hasnt been good enough or had a productive relationship with social capital groups. Also the flight of the middle classes from inner Belfast and the export of a high proportion of our best and brightest undermines the skills capital too.

    Willowfield

    Your faith in the ability of government services is interesting but I think it leads to an excessive attack on community development.

    Most of the funding from community development does not come from the £8bn but from European sources. Also the New TSN initiative is often presented as giving money to community groups when in fact it is more often about shifting expenditure within and between departments for core services.

    Has community development been abused by political allocations of funding? Yes. Does that mean community development cannot make a positive conribution? No.

  • DCB

    “As he waits for the whatabout all the money they spend on booze arguement…”

    Whatabout the booming cocaine trade in Noren Ireland, surely proof that the minimium wage is too high 🙂

  • willowfield

    Not arguing that community development has no contribution to make, but I do think its importance is exaggerated.

    What do these community groups do that is more important than providing decent schools, clean and safe environments, good housing, responsive policing, etc., etc.?

  • DCB

    I was looking at a property web site the other day and I thought I’d look at Belfast for a laugh.

    Could not beleive the difference in house prices between the Shankill and the falls. Nearly 3 times in some cases for roughly comparative property. That says a lot

  • fair_deal

    Willowfield

    “What do these community groups do that is more important than providing decent schools, clean and safe environments, good housing, responsive policing, etc., etc.?”

    Communities often do not get these and extra government investment not reaching front-line services is far too common e.g. a susbstantial chunks of the additional support to the health service went on managers.

    In a Treasury review the voluntary community sector was shown to be more cost-effective, flexible and innovative than government services.

    IMHO the voluntary and community sector has four key roles:
    Helping individuals and communities cope with system failure e.g. status zeros. (It would be wonderful if all public provided services worked for everyone but in reality they will fail some)
    Provision of additional services (usually to supplement a lack of statutory provision or address localised priorities)
    Representational role (although this role needs to be well-managed)

    However, I think both government and the community sector can get trapped in a cycle of service provision. The needs based approach which is religiously followed here has significant flaws. The asset-based approach or a mixture should be seriously looked at.

    Finally, in all this whether government or community we must not lose sight of the fact an individual must take responsibility for their own actions.

  • fair_deal

    sorry forgot the fourth role
    Innovation in service delivery

  • willowfield

    Thanks for that, fair deal.

    Still not sure what exactly the community groups are doing that is so good. Is it advice? Or are you saying they’re better at providing nurseries than the state?

  • fair_deal

    Willowfield

    In terms of delivery between the state and community sector it should be taken on a case by case basis

  • willowfield

    Have to confess that my experience of the community sector is a negative one: too many groups more interested in their own fiefdoms, their own groups and, most importantly, their own jobs and funding, than in the community at large. A nightmare to deal with strategically.

  • fair_deal

    “too many groups more interested in their own fiefdoms, their own groups and, most importantly, their own jobs and funding, than in the community at large”

    How exactly is that any different from the civil service?

    Although if you point is that the community sector is not a panacea I would agree.

  • willowfield

    Not sure why you are bringing the civil service into the discussion. Health, education, housing services, etc., are not provided by the civil service but by hospitals, health trusts, schools, the Housing Executive, etc.

  • fair_deal

    Ok then

    How is that any different from the 11 departments, civil service, public service unions and statutory agencies?