Equity Diversity Interdependence
Promoting a Peaceful and Fair
Society based on Reconciliation
and Mutual Trust.
Live Issues in a wounded peace process.
16 November 2005
On behalf of CRC, I am delighted to welcome you all to today's event. For us, it is important that the Council is engaged as an active partner with all those working for better relationships and not just as a passive funder or efficient administration. We understand the annual Live Issues Conference as a way of renewing our relationships with each other - not as a 'sit down and listen' conference but as an active opportunity to engage, create and work together.
This year the live issues are those of a wounded peace process, perhaps a less romantic peace process. And we also meet in a world in which the question of how we live together is becoming the urgent global political question of our time. The earth, as Thomas Friedman says in his recent prize-winning book, has become flat. Old hierarchies and presuppositions which contained relationships (in every sense of the word contain) are breaking down. For the past two weeks we have watched France struggling with the reality of alienation and distance which have crystallised along lines of class, historical experience, religion and ethnicity. On a recent trip to the Netherlands, it was clear that it too is struggling with the same problems. Social cohesion is the real issue whose time has come, whatever the formal jurisdiction.
Northern Ireland is part of the same movement and has some sobering lessons to contribute to the world stage. Last night, according to Radio Ulster this morning, 5,000 Northern Irish resident Portuguese attended the football international between Northern Ireland and Portugal at Windsor Park. How's that for a redefined 'home international'? And we also know what happens if polarisation is not arrested, if violence becomes self-justifying and justice becomes a matter of winning. After so many years of violence and over a decade of making efforts to secure a shared peace that questions of trust and reconciliation cannot be left to law alone, but must be sought in politics, in communities, in institutions and in decisions to change.
The challenge is the creation of a new public 'we', a body of people who can share space together, whose differences are welcome and who all feel a belonging to the whole community. Creating a new 'we' includes negotiation on cultural space, social space, political space. It also means being willing to change. What we may now need to recognise is that peace is not a short term political process with a definitive end date, but a reality in the depths of society. This has to be won against a backdrop of mistrust and secured through attention to new skills, different ways of doing business together and the establishment of key principles as normal – non violence, rule of law, equal citizenship and human rights. etc.
In so many ways, we are now enjoying wealth on an unparalleled scale. But if we have never had it so good, why is the best we can apparently do a kind of Mexican stand off? More specifically for people who work in community relations, where has 20 years of community relations brought us to?
There are a number of important answers to this. In the first instance, at the level of projects and outputs, we have generated a breadth of skill and capacity to engage with social division which may well be unparalleled on a global scale. I know, as a famous sceptic of the value of European funding at the outset, that the depth, range, reach and quality of the work we are now funding has been transformed over the last twenty years. On a daily basis, CRC-funded groups are dealing with issues such as policing, young people, phone networks, ex-prisoners, victims, interfaces, murals, parades and so on. More people, in more areas, on more themes.
I also know that the measurement of community relations by a short term harmony index is ridiculous. If outputs are to be measured as 'x number of people feeling good', then we had better invest our money in compulsory aromatherapy or alcohol. As those building a road map to peace in the Middle East know, the only way to peace runs through the evacuation of Gaza and the West Bank, the facing up to and ending of terrorism, final decisions on holy cities and the ending to discrimination. Likewise, building sustainable inter-community relationships in Northern Ireland goes via constitutions, arrangements on policing, ending paramilitarism, decommissioning mindsets and establishing a new sense of justice. If anyone knows a way to address these topics without a risk to surface harmony, they should send it urgently to the CRC. CR progress was never about short term harmony – it was about rolling up our sleeves and finding practical ways to face ever harder and more complex issues in order to make a future for everyone possible or even plausible. It is not a romantic proposition.
Paradoxically, having dealt with so many institutional obstacles in our path, we find that the original community relations issues- justice, our collective responsibility for violence and trust are still the ones we find the most difficult. Largely because we still want others be responsible for them rather than confront our own inextricable linkage to them.
The result is that community progress has now fallen back to match political progress having previously been far in advance. In the absence of a serious change towards responsibility seeking our politics are likely to remain in the well-worn tracks of hectic but hopeless. Problems will be displaced not resolved, for as long as everyone believes that they are for others to solve.
So how do we begin to move from management of division towards the transformation of relationships? First of all we have to establish the principles that define progress. For the Community Relations Council that has already been done in A Shared Future, but there is an urgent need to get that document off the page and into action. It is now time for the implementation plan to move to the fore. Secondly, and as a result of A Shared Future, there is a need to develop a consistency of approach to resources and funding hat rewards good behaviour rather than establishes a pattern of reacting to the latest act of violence or competitive claim of victimhood. There should be a clear preference for supporting activity which promises real outcomes towards a shared future over claims for support simply to remain where we are in antagonism. And we should be under no illusions that this will require a degree of political will. The PEACE programmes have combined three ideas of how peace is generated and sustained into one: economic prosperity, social inclusion and integration and sharing. All are clearly important. And there is no doubt that it has proved politically and administratively easier to promote the first two over the third.
The result is a public impression that huge amounts have been spent on peace in Northern Ireland with only limited results. The newspapers are now pedalling the story that there are 33,000 peace workers in Northern Ireland. For the Community Relations Council these are dangerous statistics coming close to damned lies. Not only is the number a conflation of the PEACE programme with the overall scale of employment in the voluntary and community sector in Northern Ireland, but it implies that the focus has been on building a shared future and creating an entirely unsustainable and pointless industry to boot. From CRC's perspective, let me get a few points clear. Firstly, the Housing Executive spent £45m on its SPED scheme during 2003/4 to remove people from intimidation. The non-working assembly costs £53.3m over two years. Policing the Whiterock parade and its aftermath cost the PSNI alone £3.1m. That does not take into account the damage to property, the days lost as a result of people leaving work at lunchtime, the environmental damage of four hour gridlock, the mental health costs of renewed violence, the investment deterred, the impact on tourism or the number of talented young people who gave up on a future in Northern Ireland as a result. In contrast, the Community Relations Council distributes £1.3m of government funding per year as community relations core funding. Taking core funding and small grants together, the Council distributes £2m per annum, which amounts to the princely sum of £1.16 per person per head – not quite enough to pay for a single bus fare from a segregated bus stop to Belfast City Centre. If you count in European money (around £2m per year) we can nearly afford to pay for the return fare home. Community relations work is not a question of huge budgets but of people making bricks without straw.
The point is not to special plead for more resources, but to underline that just because a fund is called PEACE does not equate to an investment in community relations. It is also to argue that resources must now move from management to transformation, within which there is now an undoubted case for increasing support for voluntary and community activity. Above all, it is time to end the notion that vast sums have been spent on transforming conflict and to admit that endless management of apartheid is a financial black hole. In the next round of budgets and priorities, we need to end the focus on how much did we get compared to them, and move to a focus on what is being done with the money.
The third key driver of change from conflict management to transformation is leadership. Peter McNaney talks about the need to have private, public and political space in a peace process. Hard conversations are now happening in private, to a degree which is unprecedented. Many in public leadership have met one another and institutions have begun to contemplate change. Political change is essential, but subject top its own timetable. In the meantime, it is important to increase the public acceptance of this issue as a legitimate issue for public conversation. Discussions about culture, education, housing, local government, planning, policing and social development (to name a few) should not now take place without overt reference to their implications for a shared future. 'Norming the debate' should be our next goal, with a clear series of measures of success. Again, the success or failure of A Shared Future hangs on progress in these areas.
Progress at this stage looks like ending disengagement. We should be careful, though, before we get too upset about specific acts of withdrawal from public debate. Avoidance is a complex and hardy hydra in Northern Ireland. Many have never engaged. Even the focus on racism may be the new avoidance.
Talk of 'the end game' is code for hard choices ahead. Outside Northern Ireland, nobody believes that the retaining or changing the border will determine life or death. But really negotiating accommodation may mean confronting the reality that our aspirations cannot be realised without self-destruction. If we continue to apply the old measures – British or Irish – then change towards sharing always looks like degrees of losing. I have never really liked the notion of win-win, because although it expresses a reality – that a sustainable peace is better than either side winning in the old zero-sum game – it underplays the sense of loss and the period of mourning it requires.
Both communities continue to present themselves to themselves as the innocent victims. When this is blurted out in public, rather than whispered in private, it is treated as somehow shocking. But perhaps Willie Frazer and Alec Reid have done us a long run favour by exposing some of the mental models we share far more widely than we care to admit. The shape underlying the Unionist mindset is that 'we, a law abiding people, were attacked by an insatiable, genocidal conspiracy.' The shape of the nationalist mind is not that far away from the presumption that 'unionism in power is a cruel, discriminatory and violent system with similarities to fascism.' It feels like the unsayable, but it is the backdrop to what community relations work is trying to change. And by far the hardest part seems to be facing up to the violence in our own tradition and its consequences for moving on. Instead of a mutual sense of remorse for atrocities committed in our name, we prefer a politics of outrage at the refusal of our opponents to accept their primary responsibility. The result is still communities having internal conversations.
At a recent seminar on truth and the past in Northern Ireland, it became clear to me that the problem is not the availability of facts. It is the unwillingness to acknowledge them publicly, for fear of the consequences a variety of political sacred cows. I sat on the Sentence Review Commission and read in detail about the 'heroic' events that make up our conflict. We know enough about secret state activity to know that the state is not clean either. Maybe what we really lack is a 'Face the Truth' commission rather than a 'Discover the Truth' charade.
In sum we need:
The big choices are still in front of us. Gil Bailie, an American Catholic social commentator remarked in a lecture I recently heard 'If we do not have a way of getting resentment vented and we are unwilling or too arrogant to ask for forgiveness, then resentment will eat us alive.' If that is where we find ourselves, the threat is not return to the past, but increasing disintegration. The downward spiral may not be to community antagonism but to randomised violence as the mixed messages to young people and the loss of coherent authority combine to promote a kind of directionless nihilism. And there will be no time for CR if there is endless low level anti-social behaviour.
The real task of people working to build better community relations is leadership, not in the sense of being socially important, but in the sense of taking difficult steps first. This conference is part of clearing the way and offering support and keeping going, keeping engaging, keeping leading and keeping trying to face hard truth.