‘If we tell people the cost of segregation, they will support greater integration’

If people are told the financial cost of segregation and service duplication, there will be much greater support for social integration, says community worker Maureen Hetherington.  Maureen is director of The Junction community and peace-building centre in Derry-Londonderry and was interviewed in the latest ‘Forward Together’ podcast.

“I have no doubt that integrated education is absolutely fundamental to getting people to know each other, to engage with each other,” stresses Maureen. “The difficulty there is that we don’t have the integrated society. So we absolutely need to start the social housing, that has to be cross-community and it has to be mixed. We could highlight the cost of segregation.

“When we get down to the bread and butter issues, the majority of people out there want the best for the children, their family, they want to keep surviving, they want a quality of life.  This cost of segregation, if people realise, if we look at that and redistribute the money to where it is really needed, then I think that people would be up for a more integrated society.

“The majority of people do want change. They do want a better future. But it’s taking that leap of faith, but also taking the steps towards that… exposing the segregation for what it is – the systems and structures that keep people separated – and finding ways of bringing them together.”  Maureen believes that the other key element of integrating society is for people to live in genuinely shared communities.

Maureen is a strong believer in civil society alongside politics that works – but believes, for the time being, that the politics are broken.  “I think that in any society we need a top down and a bottom up approach,” she says. “Unfortunately not having anything at the top at the moment, it relies very heavily on the bottom up approach. I think that the citizens’ assembly is a very good idea and it’s very good to have people actually having a civil, mature conversation that draws out the common sense and the conclusions – the greater good – then you can actually reach a consensus and then you realize everything is about compromise.

“But unfortunately whenever we have politicians who have absolutely no interest in dealing with the common or greater good, and everything is based on the self-interest of the party, it becomes stymied and it becomes limited. I worry all the time that we raise expectations in the community and then when nothing comes of it, people get very disillusioned, disheartened and they disengage. And part of that is that they continually try to make progress. They go to the workshops, they’ll do what they can, but then ultimately it’s stymied or stopped or you know it comes to an abrupt end and progress can’t be seen. People have to be in it for the long-term.”

In this latest podcast interview, Maureen warns on the mental health impact of social media on young people, but also the risks of isolation for the elderly who are not computer literate.  In a wide-ranging conversation, Maureen argues that society cannot have real peace until patriarchal structures are dismantled and calls for “gender justice”. “That’s a huge challenge,” she stresses.

Maureen urges Northern Ireland society to move on from the past and avoid using history in ways that prevent us from making progress.

The latest podcast interview is available here. The podcasts are also available on iTunes and Spotify.


  • Holywell Trust receives support for the Forward Together Podcast through the Media Grant Scheme and Core Funding Programme of Community Relations Council and Good Relations Core Funding Programme of Derry City and Strabane District Council.

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