Soapbox: The challenge to keep the peace process flowing forward

Peter Osborne is chair of the Community Relations Council and a member of the Peace Monitoring Report advisory group. He can be followed on Twitter at @OsborneTweets.

The latest Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report [PDF] speaks into a space that hasn’t been as uncertain in a generation.

While there were two steps forward and only one step back, a sense of confidence, hope and ambition defined the process; and confidence empowered progress no matter how slow at times.

In recent times, however, there is a sense and reality of stasis at best. The political process is paused and civil society is frustrated at what might have been while praying it will not become another lost opportunity.

This peace monitoring report, the fifth in a series of monitors, highlights the challenges facing our peace and political processes in the honest and comprehensive way that is needed for all people who can influence for the better, going forward.

The challenges are significant, and overcoming them will be more exhausting still because they exist in a political vacuum.

The report highlights many positive aspects to change in Northern Ireland in recent years, not least declining unemployment. But the report also highlights the damage to relations caused by the Brexit debate, the lack of progress on many social justice issues and policy imperatives, and the ongoing impact of segregation.

It asks us about our ambitions by suggesting it will take until the next century to achieve a truly representative policing service given virtually stagnant progress since the ending of 50-50 recruitment.

But the greater challenge may be to the bread and butter delivery of good relations work on the ground, at interfaces, in towns and cities, in rural areas, in the most disadvantaged communities and those that are more affluent, to younger and older people, those involved in conflict in the past and those who were victims.

These are people dealing with the most direct consequences of a political vacuum, of the cynicism evident in declining trust in our institutions, and in trying to manage the impact of austerity.

The lack of ministers in government hinders an ability to deliver imaginative approaches to the problems of segregation and separate living, inhibits the re-imagination of our relationships, and means failure to deliver local solutions to growing social need.

If there is not fragility in the peace process, the peace monitoring report does challenge us, now and in the years to come, about ensuring future forward flow to the peace process.

Standing still is not an option and peace may need pushed from the coal face up the hill because it seems it won’t come trickling down.

It is important that those who value what has been achieved in the last 20 years speak up to protect what is at stake.

Indifference is as damaging as lack of understanding. Silence affords ignorance a respectability and acceptance.

The fifth Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report was written independently by a team from Ulster University and published by the Community Relations Council. It is funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.