What exactly is the ROI of the peace process?

John O’Farrell has the cover story in the New Statesman this week. In he describes the hard wired sectarianism in Northern Ireland behind graffiti like KAT (Kill All Taigs) and KAH (Kill All Huns) that still can be found on the streets in Belfast eleven years after the ceasefire. But he argues, whilst the British government has been carefully looking after the sectional interests of Unionism (DUP) and Nationalism (SF), no one has been watching the economic bottom line. Sectarianism, he argues is a mutual disability:

One day recently in south Belfast a Catholic priest told a room full of Protestants that they were “like the Nazis”. At about the same time in north Belfast a group of loyalists picketing a service at a cemetery threatened Catholic mourners that they would “dig up your graves”. Sectarianism, the force that fuelled more than three decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland, hasn’t vanished with the coming of peace.

And little in the government’s strategy has addressed the problem directly:

The state’s role is to be what the local disability activist Michael Morgan calls “the sectarian balancer” across the range of public action: just as the DUP “gets” one commissioner and nationalists “get” the other, so Sinn Fein “gets” official support for the Irish language and loyalists “get” similar backing for the long-neglected Ulster Scots dialect. And so on. Increasingly, the fate of 1.7 million UK citizens is in the hands of two parties that hardly bother to compete with or relate to one another, but seek above all to ensure dominance of their own communities. And the state merely acts as their facilitator.

But he asks, what has been the return on the enormous monetary investment ploughed into the peace process:

For years everyone investing in Northern Ireland, be it the UK government, the EU, US agencies or any one of myriad commercial and phil-anthropic organisations, has aimed to combine reconciliation with reconstruction. Untold millions, in other words, have been ploughed into building cross-community trust. What good has all that money done?

He asks Tom Kelly, a Belfast businessman:

“Compared to the North, the republic got roughly one-third of EU funds made available, but they built a real economy, creating jobs and opportunity. We preferred the less travelled road of building an inter-community infrastructure around what is not there. Despite spending hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money on community relations, we have ended up more polarised than ever before.”

  • aquifer

    The government’s indulgence of the Consocial ‘twin identities’ is a direct threat to the personal safety of all. Sectarian political symbols should be removed from the public domain, as they are all connected in the public mind with murder and terrorism. That government tolerates them is an invitation to terrorism, and an ethnic slur against everyone from here.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Northern Irish apartheid isn’t just morally wrong, it’s bloody expensive.

    Take policing, for example. The cost of policing contentious parades has been mentioned (millions each year), but the Chief Con has stated in the past that the PSNI would need several thousand fewer officers if it was policing a ‘normal’ society.

    That money could be used to actually solve ‘ordinary’ crime, instead of vast resources being directed into combating paramilitarism and sectarian strife.

    But until we get an ‘acceptable’ police service, we’ll just have to get used to low crime clearance rates.

    Billions of pounds of taxes have been squandered facilitating division here. Billions more has never even been seen, as US investors get nervous at every instance of serious violence.

    After the GFA, there was enormous international goodwill towards NI, which would have resulted in jobs.

    But basically, we screwed it by failing to see the bigger picture. Neither did the Govt grasp the nettle, preferring to keep everyone ‘on board’ by handing out concessions – like trinkets to the natives of some former colonial territory – that maintain the apartheid that exists here.

    If the Govt is so eager for NI to pay for itself, it doesn’t necessarily need to raise the rates or scale down the civil service.

    It needs to deal with the fundamental problems of sectarianism at a more grassroots level, and that means facilitating integration.

    The most important, though not the only, way the Govt could do this, is by actively supporting integrated education. At the moment, integrated schools comprise less than 10% of schoolchildren, have to jump through countless hoops to secure meagre funding, and cannot cater with the demand, having to turn hundreds of kids away every year.

    The sector has done very well without proper support, but fortunately there is some international goodwill out there. Americans are, for example, much more supportive of integrated education (having learnt the lesson themselves) than the British Government or most of the political parties here.

    No-one in the integrated sector would deny a child an education in a State school, or one with a Catholic ethos, or an Irish languyage one. But integrated schooling gets little real support, even thought it would probably pay for itself in the long term.

  • Alan2

    Erm we already have an “integrated” schholing system aka the “Protestant” schools which are actually not Protestant at all but EXACTLY the same as non-denominational state schools in the rest of the UK. Thats why ethnic minorities attend them. If you want “integrated” schools then get rid of the Catholic sector and get some changes(additions) to the curriculum of current non-denominational schools

  • Brian Boru

    “Erm we already have an “integrated” schholing system aka the “Protestant” schools which are actually not Protestant at all but EXACTLY the same as non-denominational state schools in the rest of the UK. Thats why ethnic minorities attend them. If you want “integrated” schools then get rid of the Catholic sector and get some changes(additions) to the curriculum of current non-denominational schools”

    Although nominally Catholic, I am an atheist. However, I defend a school’s right to its own religious ethos, as that is part of freedom-of-religion. Parents have a right to decide to bring up their children in a particular faith, and to send their children to schools espousing this ethos. I agree that the clerics should lose control over appointments in these schools, however.

    I think the main problem Catholics in the North have with sending their children to ‘non-denominational’ schools is that there is a perception that these schools teach history from a Unionist standpoint, ignoring or glossing over parts of history that Unionists are uncomfortable talking about e.g. Penal Laws, Plantations, Cromwell, Famine. Also, as the vast majority of Northern Catholics have an Irish national allegiance, their parents want them to learn about history in an All-Ireland context i.e. Irish history. The non-denominational system I believe is perceived to concentrate on British history to the exclusion of Irish history, and I can well understand what members of the nationalist community would be deeply annoyed at their children getting these sorts of history lessons. Many also want their children to learn the Irish language – which I understand would not be possible in the non-denomination system which is seen as the “Unionist-education system”. Perhaps some of these perceptions are incorrect and as a Southerner I cannot know for sure but the above reflects what I have read and heard over the years. No attempt should be made to force Catholics to send their children to non-denominational schools. And I say that as an atheist but one committed to freedom of choice.

    I would welcome integrated schooling provided squaring these difficult circles can be managed.

  • Brian: As Alan2 stated, ethnic minorities go to non-denominational schools. Isn’t it fair to assume that Catholic parents might invest some of their own time in ‘cultural awareness’ programmes instead of expecting their teachers to do it for them?

    BTW, I attended a Catholic secondary school (and primary, for that matter). I don’t recall being taught some one-sided Nationalist/Catholic view of “Penal Laws, Plantations, Cromwell, Famine”. More to the point, I would prefer it if my kids weren’t taught it either.

    Surely the schools should be teaching useful stuff, preparing kids for careers and not filling their heads with destructive partisan thinking that they’re bound to get indoctrinated with elsewhere?

  • Mick: The permalink for the article is http://www.newstatesman.com/200511280006

  • cmcg

    Why is it that the only two places where the people find a problem with Cathoic schools is in Scotland and Northern Ireland – two places with a horrendous track record of making Catholics feel welcome in ‘their’ community. Why is this not a debate in England, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Holland, or all the other countries where Catholicism is not the majority religion?

    And do you honestly expect the parents of those who attend Holy Cross to send their kids to the same schools as the kids whose parents through bombs, stones, urine-filled water baloons at them as well as subjecting four and five year olds to hardcore pornography? Most Catholic parents would not feel safe sending their kids to state schools and I don’t blame them one bit.

    Catholic schools aren’t the problem, it’s peoples attitudes towards Catholics that needs to change.

  • George

    Is GAA played in any non-denominational schools up north? Is it offered?

    Along with teaching the Irish language, the acid test of how non-denominational these schools are.