Community Relations Rally at Stormont Today

Youth workers, community workers and activists will gather at the Newtownards gate of Stormont today at 12pm and walk up to the parliament building in support of community relations work and in protest at the cut in vital funding.

In a perhaps unwitting testament to how important this work is, the BBC this morning ran a story about the rising tensions at the interface on the lower Oldpark road. There is also believed to be a sectarian motive for a recent house attack in Ballymena.

There are calls from local workers to increase engagement with the young people and communities involved in and affected by the trouble – but with the Education Minister cutting 70% of community relations funding, where will the money come from for this engagement?

Incidents like this show that sectarianism has not gone away in our society, and yet, it continues to be a low government priority. With the summer marching season in full-swing, tensions are high, and we may yet see further examples of why community relations work is so important  – and what we may be facing without it.

  • Little James

    Hopefully with the cut in funding the proliferation of this cottage industry will lessen somewhat.

  • Neil

    Incidents like this show that sectarianism has not gone away in our society, and yet, it continues to be a low government priority.

    Worse, not a low government priority, more the business of government. How do we deal with these problems though? On one hand the first thing that springs to mind when I hear about an attack in Dunclug or more so, exchanging bricks here in Belfast, is that the perpetrators are most likely kids.

    So, the slap on the wrist style of policing hasn’t worked, coupled with those parents who never believe their Billy/Liam would ever do such a thing and even if they did ‘you better get tae fuck aff my door step or I’ll knack yer ballix in’.

    Perhaps dealing with that parenting style – one I’m well accustomed to, through fines and other punishments might impact on both anti-social behaviour and sectarian incidents involving kids throwing bricks when by rights they shuld be tucked up under their Iggle Piggle duvet. This would generate a few quid to help fund those community reps who deal with the symptom rather than the cause of the problems, i.e. intervening to prevent Liam/Billy throwing a brick/petrol bomb. Just a thought.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    “In a perhaps unwitting testament to how important this work is”.
    No..its testament to the fact that “Community Relations” is a gravy train and the “community workers, youth workers and activists (activists???? ..who they???) are a bit worried about losing their phoney baloney jobs.

  • Bubbler

    I’m interested in why you [FJH and LJ] seem to think there is no need for community relations work? Do you actually believe that sectarianism has gone away?

    As for dealing with the symptoms rather than the cause, Neil, I think perhaps you don’t actually have an understanding of what a lot of youth workers are doing in communities. It’s not all about standing at an interface and persuading someone not to throw a brick. It’s about programs in the most disadvantaged communities (the ones where sectarianism is most rampant and the ones government seems to care the least about) providing young people with options, with opportunities to meet other young people from the ‘other side.’

    One of the clearest messages at Stormont today was that a lot of young people are sick of the division and sectarianism in their government, and want the opportunity to build relationships with other communities. But that doesn’t serve politicians’ purposes, with most of them relying on sectarian divisions to get elected.

    Investment in preventing riots and sectarian attacks actually saves money from policing and health care budgets in the long run. For example, DUP Councillor Brian Kingston mentioned in today’s BBC article that it costs around 80,000 pounds for a land rover to be stationed at the interface for six months. Do you know what kind of sustainable, relationship building work could be done on that interface for that amount of money?

    This ‘cottage industry’ is the only one actually doing something about the rising sectarian attacks. The police and the government are the ones treating the ‘symptoms;’ the people on the ground are trying to treat what’s underneath that.

    The young people involved in cross-community work will tell you what benefits they get out of it, that they believe it’s valuable to themselves and their communities. But why should we listen to them? Sure, they’re the ones throwing the bricks!

  • Henry94

    Investment in preventing riots and sectarian attacks actually saves money from policing and health care budgets in the long run.

    And the recipients of the investment are in the happy position that every stone thrown is an argument for giving them more money. It’s boiler plate public service rent seeking. Evey quango created or activist group funded automatically has a vested interest in the problem getting worse.

    Has any of them ever declared that the problem they were set up to address no longer exists?

    we may yet see further examples of why community relations work is so important – and what we may be facing without it.

    If the funding is cut and we have a quiet summer will that be evidence that there was no need to spend the money?

    Or is it just that a violent summer will show that only community relations work was preventing the problem all along?

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Bubbler,
    if you care to look thru the Slugger archive, you will note that my position on sectarianism is rather clear. I was one of those who was part of the “mob” which tried …eventually successfully…..to bring the cases of the young girl at Moyard and the young lad at Tescos in Lurgan into a mainstream thread here.
    Having established my anti sectarian credentials I might point out that these disgusting levels of violent sectarianism seem to exist in spite of the best efforts of “community workers, youth workers and activists (whatever an activist is”.
    Every other person seems to be a community worker, youth worker and activist……and it all seems to be money down the drain.
    How on earth do we need an “investment in preventing riots”.
    Load of nonsense.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Henry 94

    “And the recipients of the investment are in the happy position that every stone thrown is an argument for giving them more money. It’s boiler plate public service rent seeking. Evey quango created or activist group funded automatically has a vested interest in the problem getting worse”

    Youve nailed it. Well said.

  • Bubbler

    I still fail to see why people within the communities holding jobs that are doing positive things in their communities is a negative thing?

    I also don’t agree that community workers want to see more trouble and violence just to keep a job – the point of non-profit organizations is literally to work themselves out of a job.

    The point is that sectarianism isn’t going away anytime soon, and this needs to be addressed.

    Why don’t you comment on that instead?

  • Bubbler

    Ok, so you’ve established your “anti-sectarian” credentials, or whatever.

    Would you care to suggest what you think would make a difference, since you have obviously decided that youth work and community relations work is useless?

    It’s quite easy to knock the hard work other people are doing, quite another thing to actually suggest an alternative.

  • Gravy train? Mary Kelly in Glandore is an unpaid volunteer who has been acting as a good neighbour for the last 34 years trying to reduce tensions and build a cross-community spirit in the area where she lives. She has faced several bomb attacks on her home this year for her trouble. Without people like Mary our community would have lost hope long ago. Whether paid or unpaid community relations work is essential in building a more peaceful and shared future.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Rather sad that you use the example of an UNPAID person
    to back up your campaign for more money.
    There have always been good honest decent people who help their community. I might even be one.
    Unlike the people who work for Quangos in the Community who are rather well paid and seemingly have the time to watch the Internet on Taxpayers money.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Bubbler,
    I dont think that its useless.
    There were youth workers BEFORE the Gravy Train.
    And after the Gravy Train is de-railed there will still be youth workers. And they might even be as dedicated or more dedicated or less dedicated than people on the gravy train.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    “the point of non-profit organizations is literally to work themselves out of a job”.

    Well the Cuts will help.

    And like I said in relation to myself my anti-sectarianism is well established.

  • Bubbler

    When you refer to this so-called “gravy train” – do you mean people working in government established, government funded organizations, responsible to the government? (guessing that’s what you mean by quangos)

    Or do you mean independent voluntary sector organizations, that may get some funding from government sources, but funding from other sources as well?

    And yes, you’re right, there will still be youth workers. And they will be just as if not more dedicated – they’ll have to be, because they’ll have to be twice the job as they did before, with half as much support.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Oh you know more about how many carriages are on the gravy train than I do…..government established, government funded wahtever.
    You argue the case for Cuts much better than I do.
    I merely state that volunteers could be less. more or as dedicated as the paid “activists”.
    You actually suggest that they will be “just as” or “more” dedicated.
    Therefore it would be more economic and (at least) just as successful if no more money went that way.

    Not only is there a different reality economically………there are different political realities. Elected politicians at Stormont are community workers after all.
    While there was a time (Mo Mowlams era) for hugging community activists and giving them peerages and having great big group hugs in the Long Gallery…..these days are thankfully over.
    And giving money to community groups as a form of Danegelt is no longer necessary.

    Obviously community workers, youth workers and activists …..as a general rule……dont like politicians. ELECTED people on their territory.
    But of course the same community workers, youth workers and activists will be protesting at Stormont….to er…..politicians.

  • Bubbler

    FJH,
    It’s not just about money to pay people’s salaries – for doing good work in their communities – it’s about the resources needed to develop and put on projects for young people in disadvantaged communities. The point really isn’t about jobs – yes, some of the funding affects people’s positions, but again, I think we should be glad that there are people that will spend their whole working lives, their professional careers, actually doing something positive for little pay, when they could just as easily be getting paid millions as a banker, actually squandering public money (which is emphatically not what youth workers do, just to anticipate your next comeback).

    The resources are for the people in the communities. I find it somewhat shocking that you suggest that politicians are community workers, when most of them are so out of touch with their own communities that they go and cut such vital funding.

    Plus, I think I’ve already pointed out that in the case of the DUP and Sinn Féin, 2 parties whose votes depend on sectarian divisions, it actually pays to keep those divisions going, so who wants a shared future? Their demolition of this funding is blatantly tactical.

    Besides, if they’re elected, they still have to answer to me and other people who believe this is important – our voice counts too.

    Yes, there is a different economic reality – but what no one is looking at is why there is – and it isn’t that the money going to youth work is so extravagant (which is 2 millions pounds off the budget). The crunch came from bailing out banks (definitely more than 2mil).

    And now, the most disadvantaged in our society are the ones being hit the hardest.

    And I’m still waiting for your alternative suggestions.

  • Neil

    As for dealing with the symptoms rather than the cause, Neil, I think perhaps you don’t actually have an understanding of what a lot of youth workers are doing in communities. It’s not all about standing at an interface and persuading someone not to throw a brick. It’s about programs in the most disadvantaged communities (the ones where sectarianism is most rampant and the ones government seems to care the least about) providing young people with options, with opportunities to meet other young people from the ‘other side.’

    But surely, given the increases in opportunities for these kids to intermingle with their opposing numbers we should then see the incidents drop? Certainly you can’t be suggesting that there were more cross community initiatives ten or twenty years ago, so I wonder whether the approach is working?

    Now I have come across a few community workers, I delivered training to a bunch of them about 7 or 8 years ago, and while jollies off camping with the kids down in Fermanagh or off bowling in the town are great craic and all, no one anticipated those kids suddenly not joining their mates in a bit of recreational rioting cause they met a Catholic last summer. Sounds like utter tripe to me.

    So if the approach is not working (which it patently is not) my question is what might work? I have a wealth of experience dealing with anti social behaviour thanks to my own personal experiences. None of it sectarian I’ll grant you, but the whole touchy feely school of crime and punishment has been proven to be a bit of a waste of time.

    Kids break the law because they want to and they know there will be fuck all punishment of worth. what I’m suggesting is bypassing the reasonable ineffectiveness of the cross community jollies/outings (you say yourself the incidents are increasing so obviously with the increase in cross community activities, and the increase of incidents the approach is not working, clearly) and considering a different punishment to the old slap on the wrists and a day bowling with a cross community group which makes fuck all difference might be in order?

    So my point leads on to the fact that if these are kids, out at night late, breaking the law, perhaps it’s time to consider a financial penalty, or perhaps something more than the local cop saying ‘now now’?

    This being the one thing that might motivate parents who couldn’t give a fuck what their kids get up to, to sit up and take note, and perhaps even prevent them from going out the front door in the first place? Cause currently the parents I know who have a bunch of anti social, criminally minded children are quite happy to get them out the door, out of the street and out of their way. Better off annoying some pensioner than in the house annoying them, and woe betide anyone who should point out that they’ve been out breaking the law, smashing windows or torturing pensioners, or mummy and daddy will be out shouting the odds and threatening folk.

    Basically it comes down to parents taking responsibility for their kids, and shockingly for you it seems, instead of rewarding the people out throwing bricks and petrol bombs with cross community activities that make fuck all difference, punish them instead financially. I know it’s an out there concept but if your approach doesn’t work, try a different approach.

  • Neil

    And I’m still waiting for your alternative suggestions.

    Fine people for engaging in sectarian activity, and fine the parents of those who are under 18 years old. And watch the incidence fall, cause those parents that allow their offspring to head out in the evening for some recreational sectarianism will change their minds when their wallets get hit.

    Or we could just provide them with fun activities as a reward for bricking people’s homes. What you reckon?

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    “And I’m still waiting for your alternative suggestions”

    The Alternative to giving people money……is NOT to give them money. Personally I think its a brilliant idea. While the people that the “community workers, youth workers and activists” purport to represent are certainly among the most disadvantaged in Society….they are not any less disadvantaged by paying “community workers, youth workers and activists”.

    While I have oft said that our Peace agreement is founded on Creative ambiguity and institutionalises Sectarianism to some extent….why on earth do you want to go cap in hand to a bunch of people…….ELECTED people. People that community workers, youth workers and activists dont like it seems.
    Equally they dont like community workers, youth workers and activists.
    These people would of course claim its because they havea vested interest in Sectarianism.
    Which would be funny except for the fact that many community workers , youth workers and activists have done very nicely thanks very much out of Sectarianism.

    Personally on THIS I tend to side with the politicians.
    For one thing……they are ELECTED.
    Second……they are actually responsible for how OUR money is being spent.

  • This is an interesting thread though it is probably not taking the direction Blubber wanted.

    there are two things here. One is sectarianism. That is not a good thing but it is a thing in our society and is unlikely to go away. It may be reduced by a number of strategies but the community work one seems fairly ineffective. In the country areas we all know there is also sectarianism though it is maybe better disguised. I am not in any way advocating sectarianism but it is going to be remarkably difficult to eradicate and whatever some people may want there are two main traditions here with different interests, sports, cultural activities etc. Community workers have merit in many ways but they are not going to change all the above.

    The second issue is anti social behaviour masquerading as a quasi political or sectarian act. The way to deal with that seems to be as Neil has said by a zero tolerance attitude to low level crime; for crime it assuredly is. Again community workers are unlikely to be able to do much in this regard. Robust police action, supported by the politicians may be of some use.

    The community relations industry is not without merit but trying to shoe horn us all into some sort of fantasy where we all share the same interests whilst listening to “Days Like This” is a silly pipe dream, is ineffective and expensive.

    Sectarianism may gradually wither but that is a many years, probably multi generational project especially in communities heavily affected by violence. A few community workers and some trips to Fermanagh camping will not help (believe me although more subtle about it we here in Fermanagh could teach you a thing or two about sectarianism) Stopping anti social behaviour is different and can and should be attempted.

  • Pancho

    You ignorant arse. You obviously know nothing about community relations yet you feel the need to make comment on it no matter what. The community needs this money, how much of a difference this money makes, how important it is for so many communities. There wasn’t over 50 young people there today traveling from all over Northern Ireland to protect “people on the gravy train”? No, they where there to show their support for the projects and the work that has been done to change their lives and felt they had to have their voice heard about how much they wanted to protect this work for the people coming behind them. This money is an easy target and is a fraction of any budget yet it will have such an impact for the community as a whole, there is already a story out today about underage drinking! This money simply gives opportunities for young people to get off the streets, all I know if it wasn’t for this money I would probably have been a hood like them. These youth workers have spent years of their lives volunteering, and working for degrees and qualifications so they can help their community be a better place. Community relations is almost all of the money for youth work which is not issue or special needs specific. Think before you talk next time, sometimes I don’t want to know what kind of stupid world we live it.

  • Granni Trixie

    Strikes me that “community relations” are like the arts – if you believe in their potential efficacy you want the gov, even in these straigthtened times, to give them priority.
    Besides, in theory, gov supports a shared future policy.
    “The Choice” (Tom Haddon) in 1993 argued that we had a choice between sharing and division and it looks like sharing wins I am glad to say.

    I happen to hold a cultural (as well as structural) analysis of the problem. Ni has a secrarian faultline. If the problem is not recognised and interventions introduced to correct it, the fault may wither on the vine but we, and our children, will by then by 6ft under. I generally support CRC,they have a difficult job which is a long term exercise. Where they have been less effective is at producing and disseminating the rationale for CR work, as this blog exsemplifies. Now that I think about it I could go on and on for there is much to debate on the subject, but there seems mainly to be an appepitite here to slag off this kind of work.

    I was v interested in Turgons analysis however – esp point about antisocial behaviour masquerading as quasi pol/sect acts” This is spot on but often overlooked.

    Point of info: CRC has not quango status. It is governed by a Council – its members are paid nothing ie they are VOLUNTEERS – GIVING THEIR TIME FREE.
    (capitals are for FJH who wont let the facts get in the way of his opinion). AND I do not mind being banned for saying this.

    ( BTW, CRCs Chair gets a modest 10K I think).

  • Driftwood

    No ‘community worker/activist/waster’ should be paid a pound for their their new found post conflict moneygoround income source. Redirect the waste spent on these pathetic freeloaders to the gorillas in Africa project.
    At least it goes toward helping some of our fellows in peril.
    Let the scumbags deal with themselves in the helpful manner they did in Dundrod last night.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    The CRC has no staff?
    It gets no money?
    Dont worry Granni Trixie, you wont ever get banned for saying anything about me. Just take a look at the post directed at me at 8.43pm.
    Id assume that the Chairman of the CRC has a civil service pension to supplement his modest £10k per annum.
    Must call in there and ask for a job on a similarly modest pay scale.
    They give me money.
    I give them some old rope.
    Problem solved.

  • Granni Trixie

    FJH: agree your point about 8.43…where you are well and truely slagged off …I can only look good.

    Something \I did not elaborate on before is that my positive view of cr work is based on many personal experiences which convinces me that they are productive and accumlatively, work! eg in 1990 I was involved in an EMU project with INST with young people from a school in the Falls Rd who, for the first time, mixed with their peers.to produce a public show. We also made a film of the process which was disemminated to other schools.
    Good value I’d say.

    I also personally attended a “single identity cultural evening” in Sandy Row. One man said “I know articles 2 and 3 are important to us, but why?”. He was confident to be with Protestants to articulatre this. (btw, I was an individual who strayed in, what does it matter, I got educated?). I also was probably the lone RC on a bus run with the OO. I took a risk but it taught me a lot (don’t ask)

    Re CRC Chair:Yes,its Chair does seem to be a pattern of being somewhat of a sinecure for ex-civil servants (note: not women civil servants).Must change. But surely this is not the most important point to be debated?

  • steadfast

    Great idea. If parents won’t be actively involved in responsible parenting, they should be held legally responsible for the actions of their kids (minors) and this will certainly generate a more responsible next generation. I tend to believe we have over-legislated societies but this area is dangerously neglected. A “Reward without Responsibility” culture is headed on a downward spiral.

  • steadfast

    Henry49. So cynical and hard hearted. Don’t you believe things can change in NI? Or do you have a plan yourself. Are you part of the problem or part of the solution?

  • steadfast

    Go Neil!!!!!!!!!

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    granni Trixie,
    I may or may not be doing “Devils Advocate” with this thread….if you get my drift.
    I make a distinction between “genuine” community relations and the entire industry it has built up to the point where it is a gravy train for far too many.
    My experience……loooooong experience …is that those who do MOST in the field are actually the people who get LEAST credit……and least cash. While those who seek most in the way of additional funding for the obvious good work done TEND to be the very people who have most to gain.
    Note my qualification “TEND”.
    Contrary to the general impression I give, I have actually got some talents and experiences…… which I naively thought would help me “put something back” into a Community I love when I retired a few years back..
    And spoke to some people who gave me introductions to community workers in that area.
    If I was under any illusion that I would actually be WANTED, a few rounds of interviews with those community workers took away the illusions. This was a closed shop.
    Being asked “why this community?” and having to answer cos “its MY community” to a German lady!!!! in her early 30s was not exactly what I was expecting.
    Does that have a certain ring of authenticity to it?
    Sour grapes? Or both?
    I assumed at the time that they were all Chuckies and that it was a Chuckie closed shop. But when my contact came back to ask how Id got on he said he was “afraid that might happen”.
    These community workers etc are not the blind leading the blind (the under priveleged)…….but they are the one eyed kings among their blind communities. While [eople like me are neither blind nor have 20-20 vision there are many within the CR industry who zealously guard their little feifdoms from others who are one-eyed. Outsiders.

    Unfortunately they got a hearing in Govt under Mo Mowlam and still get a hearing from old Womens Coalition types who talk about “civil society” and other meaningless drivel all the way up to the Conflict Resolution industry at QUB.
    Of course as is evidenced earlier in the thread, the hatred that some community workers youth workers and activists reserve for ELECTED politicians does not extend to them not demanding more funding.