“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…

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  • slug

    Conal McDevitt has been very impressive in leading the criticisms of this document.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    “indicates the critical importance of strong political leadership not only on human rights and equality, but also on reconciliation.”

    Have the DUP publically renounced their battle-a-day and Smash-SF objectives?

  • barnshee

    Recognise reality The two communities do not like each other. Everybody go away and come back in two generations when the wonds have faded.

  • DC

    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

    Therein lies the crux of the problem.

    All parties designate either unionist or nationalist. (Other is discounted at a community level and only the Alliance Party operates there – using the excuse based on the primacy of the individual aka liberal ‘small u’ unionism.)

    It is time for a party that cross-designated to upset the system.

    A party that tasked itself with the responsibility of filtering out sectarian issues which may well stimulate the more neon greens and oranges but serves to overheat things to the detriment of regional stability.

    There needs to be a dual-designated party that attempts to filter out any sectarian approaches while at the same time offer a doable approach in its place, one that operated in a way that focuses on proper issues of belonging and identity and getting respect for that.

    To do this will require progressive thinkers, people of Protestant and Catholic backgrounds to forge a centrist-style approach to politics here. The pitch would have to be one of ‘how do we do Irish language here’ rather than one of not doing it, just as an example.

    For instance if a Labour party were to stand here I think it could appeal to a broad base enticing both Protestants and Catholics, a party which could set policy based on members views and one that could be sold or pitched to the electorate to try and get cross-community endorsement. The party must reflect the wider-populace, be representative of it – in order to shape policies that have compromises at its heart. So that issues can actually be dealt with and policy momentum maintained. Rather than rigid division and deadlock.

    Basically a party not just for but *of* positive social change.

    Designating as both sends out a clear signal that whatever party opts for it, it is fluid, free thinking and most of all forward thinking. It will be a party that will vote according to the interests of NI as a whole. Perhaps sometimes on the nationalist side, sometimes unionist – or in an equalising way by voting across the house. (Also just designating as ‘Other’ robs a political grouping of the chance to make a community vote – as and when they arise – meaning the chance to identify with certain issues will be lost. While other parties get to capitalise on the stance they took as a result of division.)

    Politics is about strategy and designating both as Unionist and Nationalist could be a very useful political tactic akin to having stabilisers on a ferry – each stabiliser being used to keep the good ship on balance or from rolling too heavily and causing sectarian accidents – the long term goal is to get towards a target destination. One where Northern Ireland is no longer the sectarian madhouse attic of Ireland, but the apex of positive political relations between Britain and Ireland.

    There is a big responsibility to society here to move politics beyond the old divide and to look at what is the best way to do that. If designating as both supplies that connect and can be used in a postive way then I think it should be looked into and taken up.

    Only draw backs are finding people who want to take on board that serious amount of responsibility and finding those who can actually lead on it successfully.

  • DC,

    An excellent argument for how cross-designation could work in practice. I’m on record as arguing that a) designating as Other is just throwing political influence down the drain and b) we need more than one non-sectarian party to sustain meaningful debate on bread and butter issues.

    I’ll add one more drawback though – that’s selling it to a skeptical electorate. It will be hard work.

  • Driftwood

    Identity.

    well, a quick look at the print media has Graeme McDowell (winner of the last match to bring the Ryder cup to Europe)
    described as
    Irish (Irish Times)
    British (Daily Telegraph)
    Northern Irish (Belfast Telegraph)

    The BBC has a photo of him at the winning hole with the ‘Ulster’ flag and the Irish tricolour competing for exposure in the background.

    Answers on a postcard…

  • Diomedes
  • DC

    Thanks Andrew – a few voices almost alone in the wilderness!

    I think there is a big element of risk and even bigger chance of failure – but the positive signals are there re GFA/St Andrew deals, the impetus comes from the completely dire state of play up at Stormont. The deadlock and division.

    Is this reflective of normal life – all this deadlock? It might be. It might not be.

    I agree the electorate will be skeptical, and this kind of flexible, identity fluid / political centrism will appeal to the more creative, more diverse and more progressive. Such people are progressive enough to leave NI in order to invest their talents in the likes of London and Dublin, where it is better rewarded.

    Mainstream politics in NI can at times seem hardened and ossified around conservative ideals and outlooks.

  • dodrade

    It’s bad enough stealing our footballers without trying to take our golfers too!

  • Damian O’Loan

    From Anna Lo, as quoted in one of your previous posts:

    “It would be nearly impossible for progress to be made on issues such as policing and justice if we don’t have a shared future strategy agreed urgently,” said Ms Lo. “Think of the whirlwind of bad publicity worldwide over the intimidation that forced Romanian families out of their Belfast homes (in June). “The Executive cannot afford to duck these issues any longer. We are in the teeth of a financial crisis and addressing the cash wasted on maintaining division is the best way to safeguard vital frontline health services in the future.”

    From David Ford in December, 2009:

    “”We cannot nominate a candidate for Minister until a policy programme for the new Department is agreed and there is real and public progress on a new community relations strategy.”

    From David Ford in May, 2010:

    “Government must work for everyone, and people have seen Alliance delivering on community relations within the justice devolutions talks.”

    If Alliance agreed to this ‘separate but equal’ approach and giving up on a shared future, they have completely abandoned their identity.

    If they blindly accepted a deal without knowing its content, they (he?) are incapable of negotiation and not to be trusted as representatives.

    Ford is trying to sell this as an Alliance-delivered success. Seriously?

    I can see how Ford was bought. I have no idea why the rest of the Party is accepting this betrayal of its raison d’être so Ford can announce he lost a couple of prisoners.

  • Driftwood

    Well Rory was waving the Ulster/NI flag enthusiastically at the end. You would have thought Northern Ireland had won the cup.