Painting a picture of the peace process by numbers – CRC’s NI Peace Monitoring Report

  • Almost £100m a year has been granted for peace-building in Northern Ireland and the six border counties of the Republic since 1987.
  • The number of incidents of paramilitary violence decreased between 2010 and 2011. The PSNI clearance rate for crimes such as paramilitary assaults/punishment beatings in 2011 was only 4%.
  • Northern Ireland has the highest percentage of adults of working age in the UK with no educational qualifications: 20%, compared with 10% of the UK as a whole.
  • The overwhelming majority of respondents (consistently over 80%) have consistently affirmed a preference to live in a mixed-religion neighbourhood

Four facts plucked from the first Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report which is published today by the Community Relations Council. The report is intended to become a stake in the ground that can be used – over time – to measure the peace process’ journey. Part statistical almanac and part annual narrative, the 180 page report looks at Northern Ireland through the prism of four dimensions: security; equality; politics; cohesion and sharing.

Compiled by CRC’s Dr Paul Nolan and his advisory board, the report has been supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.

Over subsequent years, updated versions of CRC’s report will be able to track NI’s progress as a peaceful (or otherwise) society. A basket of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in management speak; or an Indicator Framework in peace monitoring speak. Perhaps simpler to express as a way of quantitatively and qualitatively observing change.

The report starts by making ten assertions about the current state of NI.

The political institutions are secure. All five main political parties are now prepared to work within an agreed political framework … Each party emphasises different aspects of the package but none seeks to dismantle the accord. This is by contrast with the lack of consensus at the time of the 1998 referendum, often presented as the high point of the peace process … Attitudinal evidence from the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey shows that the existing arrangement is the preference of the majority of respondents, not just as a temporary solution but as a long-term policy.

security statistics - from CRC's first NI Peace Monitoring ReportSecondly, the report states that the level of violence is down. Comparing 2011 to 2010 as well as further back, security-related deaths and paramilitary assaults are down.

All forms of paramilitary violence were down on 2010, and significantly down on the figures a decade ago. The dissidents’ campaign was at its peak in 2001, and in that year the combined efforts of republican and loyalist paramilitaries resulted in 17 deaths, 355 shootings and 349 explosions and attempted bombings.

(The clearance rate for crimes such as paramilitary assaults/punishment beatings was only 4% in 2011.)

Aside from paramilitary activity, normal crime is down too.

Overall, Northern Ireland is a relatively peaceful society. Based on the 2011 figures, the risk of becoming a victim is 14.3%, compared with 21.5% in England and Wales. While post- conflict societies like Kosovo, Guatemala or (especially) South Africa have often recorded increases in crime following a peace settlement, this has not been the case in Northern Ireland. And while conflict societies often record high rates of domestic violence, again this has not been true of Northern Ireland, where the incidence of abuse has consistently run below other parts of the UK.

Yet all is not rosy in the NI garden.

Some of the report’s other ‘top ten’ points conclude that

  • Paramilitarism remains a threat
  • The policing deal is not secure [a theme picked up by The Detail today]
  • The recession is affecting the equality agenda
  • Youth unemployment is potentially destabilising
  • Northern Ireland remains a very divided society [the main theme the mainstream media have picked up]
  • There has been no strategy for reconciliation
  • No solution has been found for dealing with the past

On the plus side …

  • A new, confident urban culture has emerged [Ed – though maybe next year’s update to the report will note that getting a cup of coffee in a town or city centre before 8am and after 8pm, or anytime on a Sunday remains a frustration.]

But back to the security dimension of the report and some numbers:

  • 24,392 = the total security presence (RUC and British Army) in NI in 1998
  • 7,216 = PSNI full time officers in 2011
  • £199.5 million = the additional money (over 4 years) that Matt Baggott negotiated from the Treasury, a 23% increase in the PSNI budget

policing levels across the British Isles - from CRC's first NI Peace Monitoring ReportEven with the new slimmed down police force, NI has more police officers than any other part of the British Isles.

The report comments:

For the Patten recommendations to succeed Catholics not only have to join the PSNI; they have to progress so that the organisation does not remain top-heavy with Protestants. But a disproportionate number of Catholics have left the PSNI after less than five years service.

Yet while the PSNI is large compared to the rest of the UK, NI prisons are only half as full but also over-staffed.

… NIPS employs 1,800 prison officers, and 400 support staff, to supervise 1,600 prisoners. Even the high- security unit in Belmarsh in England employs only three prisoner officers (with back-up reserves) for every 12 prisoners, yet Northern Ireland’s largest unit, Maghaberry, employs five officers for every three prisoners.

belfast bonfires - from CRC's first NI Peace Monitoring ReportFinally, under the title of ‘softening sectarianism’ the report examines the progress being made in Belfast City Council’s Managing Bonfires Programme.

The number of groups participating has been rising (with a slight setback in 2011 put down to the unrest in East Belfast).

Yet the number of groups not burning flags or symbols on their bonfires (and hence avoid the £100 forfeit) has nearly doubled from 18% of the groups participating in 2009 to 37% in 2011.

belfast bonfires without flags - from CRC's first NI Peace Monitoring Report

While none of the statistics are new, their accumulation in the one place starts to tease out some of the underlying narratives in society. And may provide indicators of progress or regress in years to come.

In a later post, I’ll take a look at some of the other dimensions of the report – which should be available for download and perusal on the CRC website.

Update – Liam Clarke has a fine piece looking at the report and his filter on its conclusions in the 1 March Belfast Telegraph.

Postscript: Since mention of organisations linked with Joseph Rowntree can be both topical and controversial on Slugger, I’d better state that other than an advance copy of the report that fed my fascination with data, no payment (greater than a warm panini) was received!

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