Community Relations Council – doomed?

As reported by Pete, UCD’s Institute for British Irish Studies report for the Rowntree Charitable Trust deplores a perceived retreat from “reconcilation” in the Shared Future document of 2005 to “accommodation” in the FMDFM ‘s “Cohesion ” document now out to consultation. One result of the downscaling looks like the abolition rather than the beefing up of the Community Relations Council, now a bigger target due to the spending cuts. Scrapping the council in favour of an advisory body to FMDFM seems to chime in well with the UK government’s ” bonfire of the guangos.” Does anyone have the latest intelligence?

Putting the cuts aside for a moment, there’s a very old battle being waged here. In the terrible last days of the old Stormont, the newly minted CRC led by Maurice Hayes was rapidly taken over by the duplicate ministry to provide greater scope for a new non-unionist minister David Bleakley in Brian Faulkner’s government. To little avail, alas.

More recently as we’ve seen the bitter row over the Human Rights Commission, politicians, especially unionist ones, hate being lectured to by the non-elected great and good whom they are obliged to fund for the privilege. Witness  the fate of the Human Rights Commission.

Even in advance of the cuts, FMDFM seem to have rejected the idea of an independent statutory watchdog to keep them on course with a cohesion strategy, and equally importantly, to assess the effectiveness of all layers of government and the voluntary sector in this area and report to the public and the Assembly.

Now you could argue that it’s a good thing that the Executive want to take on the role directly themselves, accountable to the Assembly. But can they be trusted to do so alone?

 Below are IBIS ‘s arguments in favour of independent scrutiny.

There is a seeming reversal of one strategic priority of Shared Future: the institutionalisation of an independent accountable agency (a ‘revamped Community t Relations Council’) tasked to push forward the community relations/good relations duties and to provide a ‘challenge function’, to promote ‘high risk’ action and to look critically at the role of existing political and local organisations and councils and assure best practice in addressing division and diversity (3.2.4). Such an independent agency is replaced in Cohesion by an advisory panel or ‘arms length’ body, which has an advisory role and acts as a ‘critical friend’ to government (10.9).

This threatens to submerge the independent critical and strategic advisory role envisioned by Shared Future in the immediate political imperatives of government, district councils and local communities.

Is it necessary to provide for an institutionalised critical voice in a time of recession?

Yes, if it is the case that the good/community relations duties require strategic thinking and social intervention.

Yes, if it is the case that small well‐judged interventions may have large consequences…  The social, cultural and interactive mechanisms that allow some groups to move to accommodation, some to explore new understandings, others to de‐politicise, and still others to reassert old antagonisms are still not fully understood. We need sensitive models of the multiple ways that change occurs and that individuals come to terms with a violent and conflictual past. Key policy objectives – including the difficult but important aim of ensuring ‘parity of esteem’ – can be pursued effectively only with such models of the varied aims and choices of the different populations.

Without an independent agency tasked with the critical, strategic aims, there is only weak provision for criticism and correction of the perspectives of those concerned primarily with practical politics.

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  • The Raven

    Cue usual curmudgeons saying “good…more useless people cast to the dole queue” without actually knowing what they do.

    But before that….

    I wouldn’t be averse to seeing a shake up of this. Shake-up should not mean abolition. I feel, from the contact that I have had with them before, that CRC has NOT been vocal or harsh enough in its criticisms of the current regime. In fact, in terms of a public face, CRC has been almost invisible.

    This should be a wake-up call. There is a definite role for an organisation which gives some delivery steer for people at the coalface of community relations, while acting as critic – “not critical friend” – of the current junta which has emphatically failed to provide a clear policy drive for this region.

  • Granni Trixie

    A key factor in sustaining sectarianism (the canker in our culture I believe) is lack of acknowledgement of the problem. Without a CRC who is to address the problem?
    I also think that CRC has been effective in getting community relations on many agendas, the churches for instance.

    One aspect of the CSI consultation document I do agree with is that CRC might restrict its work with the victims sector (I think CRC disseminates funding to groups). sector).

    Community relations is too important to leave to politicans and civil servants.

  • Cynic

    If OFMDFM want to take over community relations its to better control them for electoral advantage by SF and the DUPs

  • Flip2

    CRC has turned into an administrative body as opposed to being an advocate for change. A bit like the Equality Commission, it could be argued that things have moved further forward around them whilst they have desperately searched for a continued role.

    Can anyone name me three things the CRC has said or done in the last three years? And is there an independent evaluation report anywhere we can see?