“A lot of Northern Irish funding rewards bad behaviour” (with few positive outcomes)

Pete Shirlow was in Washington last night, briefing staffers on Capitol Hill about the current situation in Northern Ireland. The US – Ireland Alliance site has his report, which in turn draws on insight and data from two different surveys. Here’s how he opens:

the peace process appears to be moving at two speeds in which some communities remain caught in a perpetual cycle of poverty, sectarian asperity and intra-community devotion whilst others are shifting into less antagonistic positions. These shifts are paralleled by a decline in voting and political participation. [emphasis added]

Roughly, if you are middle class and/or upwardly mobile and living away from the conflict zones of the Troubles (which ended nearly twenty years ago), life is good, and has been getting better.

If you are living where, as the song goes, ‘most of the fighting was done’, less so. These are areas where segregation is deepest and perceptions of threat run ahead of actual danger.

Early conclusions from the Northern Ireland Project, a longitudinal study of relations between political violence and the well-being of children living in Belfast. are as follows:

  1. Despite the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement in 1998, segregation and sectarian tension continue to be a lived experience for many people living in  areas that bore the brunt of conflict;
  2. Remaining violence has wide-ranging repercussions on youth and families living in segregated communities, including mental health problems and behavior problems for children and adolescents;
  3. For example, both sectarian community violence and non-sectarian crimeand violence are significant issues for youth in these communities;
  4. Youths’ sense of security and safety about their communities is weakened by continued exposure to sectarian acts. A related decreased sense of security increases mental health problems and aggression levels;
  5. Despite widespread efforts to get youth engaged in cross-community projects,few youth within this study are positively engaging in their communities;
  6. Recorded sectarian crime is falling but the perception of it is rising. The perception of sectarian crimes can be 20 to 30 times higher than what is recorded;
  7. The perception of sectarian violence is the most significant predictor for both communities of a negative attitude to policing;

But it is the quality of life indices that are perhaps most telling. Not all of the mess left behind by our sustained low level conflict are measured in fatality figures. In particular Shirlow highlights the substantial human cost paid by those who took a direct part in the conflict:

Combatants are 4-5 times more likely to be alcohol dependent and engaged in hazardous drinking and 5-6 times more likely to be on anti-depressants/tranquilizers.

Whilst some plausibly argue that we have a highly politicised civil society, there is little sign that that politicisation encourages our politicians to tackle some of the real problems facing Northern Ireland.

For instance, after all the legislation passed, ‘26% of Catholics live in poverty compared to 18% of Protestants’. And…

…high levels of worklessness remain with some 31 per cent of the working-age population not in paid work. This is higher than any GB region and 6 per cent higher than the GB average. In relation to this are high rates of disability and limiting long-term illness, especially mental ill-health. Low wages: the median wage for men working full-time is 85 percent of that for British men. Poor-quality part-time jobs and obstacles to mothers who wish to work; (for more on poverty in Northern Ireland see http://www.niapn.org/)

And from the live feed from DC, the following:

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