The third annual Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report was released this morning.
Part statistical almanac, part annual report card, it has been compiled for the last three years by Dr Paul Nolan. At times the report acts like a common man’s conscience, calling out where the naked emperors are hiding under the policy carpet in Northern Ireland.
The advantage of a longitudinal study over simple snapshots is that it can show sustained trends – or continually fluctuating metrics – allowing more considered analysis of how quickly or slowly our post-conflict society is changing.
Buried in the report signs of hope and despair, some closer to the surface than others.
I talked to Paul Nolan about this year’s report and he discussed his stark educational achievement findings – at both secondary and third level – as well as the continued falling crime statistics, demographics, and whether unionists are talking a culture war into existence. He also responded to the irony that while the Community Relations Council are behind the report, the language and comparisons within it are overwhelmingly Protestant versus Catholic, nationalist versus unionist, and commented on how Northern Ireland compares with other post-conflict societies that have their own peace monitoring reports.
This year’s report makes good use of infographics to tell the story behind the numbers. Perhaps the most stark illustrates the educational attainment gap between Catholics and Protestant children, and between children with and without FMSE (using that as an indicator of socio-economic disadvantage).
Using the well-established metric of leaving school with five GCSEs at grades A* to C, there’s a 5-6 percentage point gap between Catholic Girls and Protestant Girls (76.7% versus 71.8%) who aren’t entitled to free school meals as well as Catholic Boys and Protestant Boys (64.5% and 58.6%).
For children with entitlement to free school meals, Catholics outperform Protestants. Under 20% of Protestant boys with FMSE are leaving school with the equivalent of five GCSEs at A*-C.
Bear in mind that the NI Executive Programme for Government target is for 66% of all young people to achieve 5 GCSEs at A*-C by 2014/15, and 49% of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds … that’s 15 percentage points the current reality of 33.9%.
Attempting to compare Northern Ireland’s attainment with a breakdown of English ethnic groups isn’t without difficulty due to differences in methodologies, but the indications are stark. Non-FMSE Catholic girls would find themselves right at the top of the table, probably only beaten by Chinese girls.
Shockingly, the Protestant boys with FMSE would find themselves below nearly every other group of children, with only Irish Traveller and Roma children in England attaining poorer results.
“If at first you don’t succeed … you never will” is harsh, but it is sadly an all too true reflection of the education experience of too many children and young adults in Northern Ireland. Yet the “Education and Skills Authority (first announced in 2006) still does not exist [and] failure to agree on education selection has allowed two versions of the ‘11+’ to coexist”.
Unionism has a lot to answer for not putting education at the top of its agenda, and not containing the political tensions that create the unease that brings young Protestant males onto the street, and for too many, into court and the criminal justice system.
Other political groupings too cannot hide. The attainment of Catholic boys with FMSE is not a ceiling to be proud off. The Education Minister could surely do more to lift the progress of all children.
The 2011 census results confirm what was already being felt politically within Belfast. The tipping point in Belfast’s demography has been reached.
Elsewhere in the report, household crime continues to fall. Levels of vandalism, vehicle-related crime in Northern Ireland are substantially lower per head of population than in England.
Perhaps surprisingly, the recession has seen a decrease within the categories of acquisitive crime. Business robberies, personal robberies and burglaries are all down, as is car theft. Violent crimes against the person have gone up, from 28,425 in 2002-03 to 30,305 in 2012-13, although so too has the population and the number of violent crimes per 1,000 has remained at 17.
In Northern Ireland, recorded drug offences are on the increase along with sexual offences while attempted murder, criminal damage, theft/burglary and vehicle offences all continue to decrease. The trend of reporting domestic abuse incidents as well as crimes continues to increase. There’s no spike in the statistics to coincide with the flag protests: blocking a road isn’t criminal.
At a simple level, Northern Ireland continues to be over-policed, with a police officer per 265 head of population compared with one for every 304 in Scotland, 344 in ROI and 436 in England and Wales. However when the much heavier public order policing effort is taken into account along with the manpower required to attend some crime scenes give the potential to be a dissident trap, maybe the figures are less shocking.
The PMR report compares the situation in 1999 when the Patten Report was published (13,000 RUC officers and 11,400 British soldiers) with the situation today (6,888 PSNI officers).
Indeed, last year’s Peace Monitoring Report drew attention to NI’s density of millionaires being exceeded only by Aberdeen and London. And ¼% earn more than £150,000.
Meanwhile over a third of earners bring home less than £15,000 annually.
6% of households in NI have no bank account compared with a UK average of 2%. 11% of NI households have a credit union account compared with 4% in Scotland and 1% in England.
Child poverty levels are over 30% in Strabane (32%), Belfast (34%) and Derry (35%).
Single identity council wards are those with more than 90% of the population claiming to be from one particular community.
There remain 61 wards that are at least 90 per cent Catholic, yet only two such Protestant wards. According to the geographers Shuttleworth and Lloyd, six of the ten wards showing the greatest Protestant decrease are in east Belfast. This does not represent a displacement of Protestant residents: the ‘new communities’ and the Catholics who have moved in are replacements, taking up vacancies resulting from Protestants moving out of the inner city or older cohorts passing on.
Clearly, the break-up of the solidity of historic Protestant communities in east Belfast has explanatory power in relation to the flags protest but the changing ethnic composition allows of other interpretations.
Shuttleworth and Lloyd suggest that the move away from homogeneous communities and the arrival of new ethnic minorities takes Northern Ireland ‘on a trajectory towards a more pluralist society’. The optimistic scenario they put forward is that these changes offer ‘significant opportunities for positive political and social change’.
Looking at wards with the greatest Protestant decrease, the affect of the flag protests will surely only exacerbate the change in future research. And note the inclusion of Ravenhill on the list – home to Martyrs’ Memorial Free Presbyterian Church – of population change.
Paul Nolan reiterates Richard Haass’s warning that the Northern Ireland peace process can no longer be held up as a model of conflict resolution. Despite some shifts, schools and neighbourhoods are still divided.
Twenty years on from the first ceasefires the terms of trade have been set by deals and side-deals. These have prevented the return of large-scale violence but the model on offer from the top is peace without reconciliation. A culture of endless negotiation has become embedded and, without a vision of a shared society to sustain it, the peace process has lost the power to inspire.
The report’s author goes on:
The use of [mutual] vetoes has led to a silting up of the legislative programme of the Assembly. While useful co-operation takes place in its committees, the Northern Ireland Executive been unable to make progress on the key areas where a devolved parliament might show its worth.
Among anti-agreement unionists there is now an acceptance that the Belfast Agreement has secured the constitutional position of Northern Ireland within the UK. The focus of concern is no longer about Northern Ireland being taken out of Britain, but of ‘Britishness’ being taken out of Northern Ireland. This is a concern that resonates within the wider body of unionism and the fear that there is a ‘culture war’ that will take away loyalist symbols and traditions informed much unionist behaviour during the year, including Orange Order speeches on 12 July. Yet there were more loyalist marches in 2013 (2,687) than ever and only 388 were contested. The number of marching bands (660) is also at an all- time high. Official recognition of and funding for Orange cultural themes and ‘Ulster-Scots’ are also at unprecedented levels. But talk of a culture war could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Yet Derry~Londonderry managed to “model a post-conflict society” during its year as UK City of Culture with moments like when “the Apprentice Boys played their tunes at the Fleadh Cheoil” and “the PSNI band was applauded as it made its way into the Guildhall Square”. Paul Nolan reckons:
Ultimately the success of the year came down to the long-term vision of those in Derry City Council and civil-society organisations who saw concord as an achievable goal, showing how a generous majority can engender a generosity of spirit in return.
He also points to strong grass roots reconciliation that “defies stereotyped notions” of particular neighbourhoods. But …
Reconciliation continues to be stronger at the grass roots than at the top of society.
The police have become “human shock absorbers for failures elsewhere” in Northern Ireland.
Between 1 July and 28 August 2013 approximately 682 PSNI officers were injured in public order disturbances – one in ten. Of these, 51 required hospital treatment. Violence against the police has become once more accepted as part of life in Northern Ireland, whether in the form of an under- car booby trap bomb planted by dissident republicans, or street violence by loyalist protesters.
Paul Nolan asks who picks up the tab for NI’s failure?
Failure in Northern Ireland comes cost-free. The whole society may pay, but not particular political actors. When the multi-party talks on flags, parades and dealing with the past ended in failure, none of the political parties had to pay a political price. When the policing costs for contested marches and events spiral into millions, the organisers never receive a bill. The disconnect between the gathering and spending of taxes means no one feels responsible for the shortfall in revenue caused by, for example, not introducing water charges or tuition fees. The ‘marching season’ cost £18.5 million in additional policing costs in 2013, compared with £4.1 million the previous year. The consequences have been felt at the sharp end of education and health, with the accident-and-emergency unit at the Royal Victoria hospital recurrently unable to cope with demand. Devolution, which was supposed to bring responsibility closer to local level, has failed to do so in Northern Ireland.
The full report is now available on the CRC website. I’ll add links to other media commentary during the day, along with some more insight from the report’s 180 pages as I continue to read through.
Malachi O’Doherty’s comment in Belfast Telegraph – To say Northern Ireland is good example of peacemaking is beyond parody