Equity Diversity Interdependence
Promoting a Peaceful and Fair
Society based on Reconciliation
and Mutual Trust.
Address by CRC Chairman, Eamonn McCartan, at reception at Council 's office in Belfast for President Mary McAleese – Monday 20 February 2006.
President McAleese, Dr Martin McAleese, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
The Northern Ireland Community Relations Council is honoured and privileged that you have chosen to visit us today to find out a little about our work.
President, I know personally that very little matters more to you or your office than building peace in Ireland. The Community Relations Council is deeply committed to that task and to supporting the emergence of a society whose core principles are fairness and justice, respect for difference and a recognition of our interdependence. We in Northern Ireland have shared a complex past, too often characterised by exclusion and violence and we will share the future. What is important in the future is that violence and exclusion are left behind and replaced with a society firmly founded on reconciliation and mutual trust. As you know, the government in Northern Ireland has recently published its own framework for action in this area, aptly called A Shared Future. We in this Council are committed to playing our part in making the vision a reality.
In spite of the headlines, not all news is bad news in Northern Ireland. Over sixteen years, the Community Relations Council has actively encouraged the growth of inter-community activity at grassroots level and supported the development of a network of organisations able to make a positive contribution to the task of peace. Many of those organisations are represented here today. The range, depth and quality of that work is something of which the Council is very proud. We support organisations working in some of the most complex and difficult areas of Northern Ireland. As a result, there are now many partnerships across traditional divisions, active communication even at the most difficult interfaces and consistent support for organisations seeking to make good relations a priority.
It is impossible to do justice to all or even any of this work, but some recent examples of CRC work include investing in the Football for All campaign which has transformed a sectarian atmosphere at Windsor Park into a much more inclusive and welcoming experience, supporting organisations across North Belfast as they struggle to maintain a fragile peace against the backdrop of ongoing sectarian controversy, supporting victims and survivors of the troubles as they address some of the most painful issues in our society such as truth and its importance to reconciliation and promoting the work of well-known champions of reconciliation, such as the Corrymeela Community.
President, the new government framework, A Shared Future, holds out the prospect that work by voluntary and community organisations will now be more broadly supplemented through the actions of government and public bodies. As you know, the challenge of peace-building is important in headline areas such as parades, paramilitary activity and policing but securing peace in the long run will also challenge our approach to education, housing, cultural diversity. We already have good working relationships with the appropriate organisations working in these areas and we look forward to developing new strategies and practice in the coming years.
The Council has also received support through the EU PEACE II programme and has now embarked on a new relationship with the Community Bridges Programme of the International Fund for Ireland. Through both of these programmes, we have strengthened the cross-border component of our work and given a deeper appreciation of the damage which violence and hatred has done across the whole island.
President, it is almost a cliché to say that Ireland, North and South, is changing rapidly. Northern Ireland can no longer be contained within our older stories of Nationalist-Unionist division. We now rejoice in the new diversity which economic prosperity brings. The adjustment process to these changes is both challenging and stimulating. The Community Relations Council is delighted that in recent years we have grown strong relationships with people from many minority ethnic communities. This is now influencing our approach to other work and has confirmed us in our view that the future must have clear roots in common values in which everyone has an honoured and valued place.
President, building peace is not soft work. It is hard work requiring dedication and commitment. We are honoured that, by your presence, you have underlined your commitment to our shared values and to a shared future for all.