The legacy of the past can still be felt in today’s political relationships, warns O’Neill

Legacy is being discussed at length at present, following the British government’s proposals to abandon prosecutions and investigations related to Troubles’ events. But there is another toxic legacy – the impact of past events on current political relationships. That aspect of legacy is discussed with Sinn Féin Vice President and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill in the latest Holywell Trust Forward Together podcast.  Michelle argues that political leaders must work hard to build trust, to enable the political system here to …

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More truth and honesty needed in government, and in dealing with legacy, says Colum Eastwood

Truth and honesty must be at the heart of how we deal with the legacy of the past and in how politicians in Northern Ireland govern today, says Colum Eastwood, leader of the SDLP and MP for the Foyle constituency. He was speaking in the latest Holywell Trust Forward Together podcast and is the third political leader to be interviewed in the series, discussing how to make progress in Northern Ireland.  Victims have been badly treated, stresses Colum, and they …

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Let’s put our values into practice in how we govern, argues Naomi Long

If we are to make progress in Northern Ireland’s society, we need to reflect carefully on our core values and ensure that these are reflected in the way government works. This is the message put forward by Naomi Long – leader of the Alliance Party and justice minister – in the second of the Holywell Trust’s Forward Together podcast interviews of Northern Ireland’s political leaders.  Among the points stressed by Naomi is that violence is not acceptable as a means …

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The Ulster Unionist Party reflects on the future of Northern Ireland

The third series of Holywell Trust’s Forward Together podcasts has heard from experts in a range of areas – including the economy, skills, education, young people’s experience, housing – and also considered best practice elsewhere. As it moves towards a close, it puts the arguments for major change in the governance of Northern Ireland to our political leaders.  In the first of this closing series of podcasts, we spoke to Steve Aiken – who at the time was still leader of the …

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Creating a high skilled economy – it begins in school

Northern Ireland’s economy has a number of weaknesses. At the heart of these is the shortage of skills – higher levels of skills moves an economy up the value chain, leading to improved productivity and greater wealth.  Too many of NI’s school leavers have lower levels of qualifications and skills than are needed for the modern economy. This reduces their prospects for obtaining well paid jobs, while some will become long-term unemployed or economically inactive. NI has the UK’s highest rate of economic inactivity.  A recent report from the Pivotal …

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Italy’s social co-ops – a model for Northern Ireland to copy?

Social care provision is in crisis across much of the world. How can the quality of care be maintained or improved? How can it be made available to those who need it? And how can social care be carried out in an affordable way without underpaying or exploiting its workers? These questions are being asked in many countries and regions. Italy has come up with its own answer – social co-operatives – and its model is being copied across much …

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Housing policy faces challenges from many directions

For all the focus on integrated education, if communities continue to live separately then little progress will be made towards integrating our society. So developing more areas of shared housing is essential if we are to make progress.  But the lack of genuinely shared communities is only one of the housing challenges facing Northern Ireland today. There is more generally a shortage of social housing, compared with demand, leading to increasing waiting lists.  This is not simply a matter of demography. It …

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Community Wealth Building

Concentration of the retail and consumer services sectors in the hands of a limited number of multinational corporations sucks wealth out of local communities and into the hands of shareholders based elsewhere. So should the response be to build the local economy by supporting independent businesses based in those localities, while maximising the spend of public and other anchor institutions in their local communities? That is the approach adopted through ‘community wealth building’, often termed ‘the Preston model’. Preston is …

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Treating children fairly

While it is frequently claimed that Northern Ireland has an excellent schools system, it is clear that it is also a divided system. That division is not based only on religion, but also according to whether a pupil attends a grammar or a non-selective school, which is in turn related to the wealth of the parents. The system clearly separates children, despite the need of our society to come together to heal division. This week’s Holywell Trust Forward Together podcast …

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Can Citizens’ Assemblies help us?

In all the dozens of podcast interviews broadcast by the Holywell Trust, one idea to strengthen our society has been put forward repeatedly – citizens’ assemblies. They are not universally popular – both DUP and Conservative Party politicians have expressed concerns they would undermine the link between elected representatives and their constituents, threatening politicians’ legitimacy.  But the experience of Ireland’s citizens’ assemblies has inspired many. Assemblies provided routes to resolving politically challenging issues: same sex marriage, abortion, climate change and, now, gender inequality. And in …

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Northern Ireland today is different from 1998

Northern Ireland is a different place today, than when the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998. It is not just that many more people here today do not feel aligned to the traditional unionist and nationalist/republican identities, but we have many more ‘new citizens’ from other places. Lilian Seenoi-Barr is a well-known advocate for black and minority ethnic communities in Northern Ireland, as director of the North West Migrants Forum. In the latest Holywell Trust Forward Together podcast Lilian …

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Vocational skills: Northern Ireland’s core economic weakness

Never mind Bill Clinton saying, ‘it’s the economy, stupid’, the answers to Northern Ireland’s difficulties are instead perhaps Tony Blair’s mantra, ‘education, education, education’. In fact, the main way to tackle the economic problems of Northern Ireland are arguably to focus on education and skills.  Seamus McGuinness, research professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute, discusses the weaknesses of Northern Ireland’s education and skills system in the latest Holywell Trust Forward Together podcast. Although ESRI is based in Dublin, Seamus …

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Education is the key to progress

Education is the key to moving our society forward, says Tony Gallagher in the latest Forward Together podcast interview. But that has to mean much more than encouraging as many students as possible to go to university and obtain a degree. Our society has become fixated with university education, at the expense of school pupils who do not aspire to higher education. More has to be done to support children from deprived families, to encourage them through careers guidance and …

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A new series of conversations on the future

Holywell Trust’s third series of Forward Together podcasts is launched today. As with the previous series, the focus is on how to make progress in Northern Ireland and heal our divided society. In these latest podcasts we consider some of the ideas that emerged from previous interviews – which were edited together into the book, ‘Lessons from the Troubles and the Unsettled Peace’. Unfortunately, recent events make these ideas even more relevant for urgent consideration. Suggestions discussed further in the …

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The Forward Together podcasts

Eighteen podcasts and Slugger blogs were produced in the second series of the Holywell Trust’s Forward Together programme. With the completion of that programme, the Holywell Trust held a discussion on the themes considered by the series, which focused on creating a better governed society, with more integration and improved outcomes.  The discussion was held as part of the Northern Ireland’s Good Relations Week, bringing together the chief executive of the Pivotal think-tank, Ann Watt; Northern Ireland’s interim Mental Health …

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‘I’m talking about a culture change in government in Northern Ireland: I mean the civil service and politicians’

Evidence-based policy-making is largely absent from government in Northern Ireland, but the new Pivotal think-tank has been established to correct that, says its director Ann Watt. She was speaking in the last of the second series of Holywell Trust Forward Together podcasts.    The aim of Pivotal “is to help improve public policy in Northern Ireland,” says Ann. “It’s got a strong emphasis on research and evidence and on using evidence better in public policy.” The very first Pivotal report, published in November last year, …

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‘It is absolutely crazy to think that constitutional change in Ireland would happen overnight’

Consideration of Irish unity needs careful preparation, argues Seamus McGuinness, research professor at the Republic’s Economic and Social Research Institute. He suggests looking to the example of Hong Kong, where the handover of control was undertaken over a 13 year period. Seamus was talking in the latest Holywell Trust Forward Together podcast.  The difference in economic performance, North and South, sits “at the centre of debate around constitutional change,” believes Seamus. “I come at it from the perspective of someone who worked …

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’The unity conversation needs to be open, transparent, and let’s keep open minds, because we need to flesh out what Irish unity would look like and what the UK union would look like’

Ian Marshall is a beef farmer, a former dairy farmer, and was president of the Ulster Farmers Union from 2014 to 2016. But more significantly he was until earlier this year a senator in Ireland’s Oireachtas – a unionist in Ireland’s second legislative chamber. A quite remarkable situation. Many observers were disappointed – as was Ian – that he was not elected back into the Seanad’s agricultural panel, nor appointed on the lists of new Taoiseach Micheál Martin or the …

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‘A united Ireland that is socially liberally, tolerant, European and economically successful is attractive’

Irish unity could be an attractive option if the new nation is socially liberal, outward looking, multi-cultural, European and economically successfully, while respecting both the Irish and British cultures and traditions, believes Will Glendinning. To be economically successful it may need support from both the European Union and the United States, he adds. Will is a former chief executive of the Community Relations Council, has been an Alliance Party MLA for West Belfast and was also a member of the …

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“You can’t rely on a political culture of respect when one doesn’t actually exist”

Unionists should engage in the conversation around the proposal for a Bill of Rights, recognising that it can help protect their interests and human rights, says former Progressive Unionist Party councillor Julie-Anne Corr-Johnston. She was talking in the latest Forward Together podcast from the Holywell Trust. “I think human rights themselves are important because they help protect against abuse by those who are more powerful”, says Julie-Anne. A Bill of Rights can also be used as a means of fighting …

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