“this may suit political parties with a deeply rooted sense of conflicting priorities based on ethnic division”

The BBC reports criticism of the DUP/Sinn Féin drafted Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration, all ‘motherhood and apple pie’, by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.  The Trust’s report is available here [pdf file].  And from the Trust’s press release [pdf file]

The study, carried out by the Institute for British Irish Studies at UCD, Dublin, identifies three key areas of concern. Celia McKeon of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust discusses:

“Firstly, the research has indicated that the new policy framework abandons the previous strategic goal of reconciliation. It instead focuses upon creating shared and safe spaces, and encouraging ‘mutual accommodation’. It is far from clear that this vision is sufficiently compelling to prevent a resectarianisation of society in Northern Ireland, especially among the young.

“Our experience of funding work in other transitional societies, such as South Africa, indicates the critical importance of strong political leadership not only on human rights and equality, but also on reconciliation. This is particularly important when the ‘peace dividend’ begins to wear off and when economic hardships begin to bite. With the looming spending cuts this is even more pertinent.”

Celia continues: “Secondly, the new policy moves away from a fluid interpretation of culture and treats culture and identity as though they are fixed and given entities. This is a simplistic view, which fails to recognise the capacity of individuals and communities to make ongoing choices in ways which are open to influence and change. While this may suit political parties with a deeply rooted sense of conflicting priorities based on ethnic division, it overlooks the potential social benefit from processes that question traditional cultural identities.” [added emphasis]

Addressing the final area of concern, Celia said: “Thirdly, the new policy proposes four optional formulas for organising the community relations infrastructure in Northern Ireland. The IBIS study concludes that all four options are weaker than the current mandate of the Community Relations Council to push forward community relations duties and look critically at the role of existing political and local organisations. Yet maintaining an independent critical voice is a vital means of ensuring that government lives up to its responsibilities to bring about a peaceful and just society. While economic efficiencies are clearly a relevant consideration, the savings accruing as a result of any of these proposals would be dwarfed by the economic and social costs of failing to complete the transition away from sectarian violence.”

We await the, inevitable, party political reaction…