Equity Diversity Interdependence
Promoting a Peaceful and Fair
Society based on Reconciliation
and Mutual Trust.
29 February 2012
As we approach the 14th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement the first major stock-taking of the Northern Ireland peace process is just now being published. The Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report, independently funded and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, has been published by the Community Relations Council .
Dr Paul Nolan, the report’s author, says:
“To date the indicators have been sending out contradictory messages. Violence has declined but it most certainly has not gone away. There is increased cooperation at the political level but there is also an increase in the number of interface barriers. We have seen interesting experiments in shared housing and shared education but 92.5% of school enrolments are still in schools that are perceived to be for one community only, and 90% of social housing is for single identity communities. At times Northern Ireland seems to be moving forward; at other times it seems in danger of lurching back into the past.”
“Which is it to be? Are we leaving the Troubles behind, or does the continuation of sectarian division mean that at some point in the future the underlying tensions could see a violent eruption? Is it possible that this period of peace might turn out to be only a generational truce? The Peace Monitoring Report has been set up to answer these questions.”
The research, which is conducted on an entirely independent basis, is supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Each year the evidence will be sifted and evaluated and a report issued which will provide an assessment of the current state of the peace process. These annual publications will not only take stock of the level of political violence, but of social inequalities, events in the political realm and the degree of cohesion in the society as a whole. By analysing all available data the report will help us to see whether we are heading towards a shared future or, as it is sometimes put, a shared out future.
This first publication, the Peace Monitoring Report Number One, sets out an analysis of all developments over 2011, looking at four domains: the sense of security; equality, political progress, and the degree of cohesion and sharing in the society as a whole. Ten key points are listed - some positive, some negative. Amongst the positive are the conclusion that the political institutions are secure, that the level of violence is down, and that Northern Ireland has seen the emergence of a new, confident and neutral urban culture. Against that, paramilitarism remains an active threat, the society is still very divided in its schools and housing, the policing deal is not secure and there has been no strategy for reconciliation or for dealing with the past.
For further information contact:
Ray Mullan, CRC Director of Communications, 02890-227500 email@example.com
Copies of the report can be downloaded here
Notes to editors:
1. The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust is an independent progressive organisation committed to funding radical change towards a better world. It makes grants of around £5m each year to individuals and to projects seeking the creation of a peaceful world, political equality and social justice. It is an endowed trust, with resources from a portfolio of investments, almost entirely held in UK and overseas shares. www.jrct.org.uk
2. The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust is one of the trusts established by Joseph Rowntree in 1904. For information about the different trusts see www.josephrowntree.org.uk
3. The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust is a Quaker Trust. For more information about Quakers in Britain, see www.quaker.org.uk
4. The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust has been funding work on human rights, peace and social justice in Northern Ireland since the 1970s. www.jrct.org.uk
Ten Key Points
1. The political institutions are secure
All five main political parties are now prepared to work within an agreed political framework. The main features are: an Assembly where power is shared through an all-party coalition, an Irish dimension with functioning institutions, acceptance of the consent principle, adherence to equality and human rights, and an underwriting of the whole package by the British and Irish governments. Each party places its emphasis differently in its acceptance of the package, but none of the five seeks to dismantle the accord. This is by contrast with the lack of consensus at the time of the 1998 referendum, often presented as the high point of the peace process. At that time 29% of the population voted against the Agreement. Unionist opinion was only marginally in favour with 57% voting Yes. Two years later a PricewaterhouseCooper poll showed unionist support had dropped to 41%. It has taken a long time to secure unionist confidence, but the existing arrangements now enjoy the support of all the mainstream parties, both unionist and nationalist. Opinion poll evidence from the Life and Times Survey shows that the existing arrangement is the preference of the majority of respondents, not just as a temporary solution, but as a long-term policy.
2. The level of violence is down
The number of shootings and bombings fell by over a quarter in 2011, from 171 to 124, a drop of 27%. During 2011 there was one security-related death, one fewer than in 2010. Together with 2008 this marks the lowest number of security-related deaths since the police began keeping records in 1969. The number of people injured dropped from 116 to 80, and the number of victims of paramilitary assault from 94 to 73. All forms of paramilitary violence were down on 2010, and significantly down on the figures a decade ago. The dissidents’ campaign was its peak in 2001, and in that year the combined efforts of republican and loyalist paramilitaries resulted in 17 deaths, 355 shootings and 349 explosions and attempted bombings.
Other forms of crime also showed a decrease. The Northern Ireland Crime Survey showed a 14% decrease in crime victimisation from last year, a pattern borne out in the police recorded crime figures. These figures are the lowest since the NICS began in 1998/99 and are 45% down from the peak in 2003/04. Overall, Northern Ireland is a relatively peaceful society. Based on the 2011 figures, the risk of becoming a victim here is 14.3% compared with 21.5% in England and Wales. While post-conflict societies like Kosovo, Guatemala or (especially) South Africa often record increases in crime statistics following a peace settlement, this has not been the case in Northern Ireland. And while conflict societies often record high rates of domestic violence, again this is not the experience in Northern Ireland where the rates of domestic abuse have consistently run below those in other parts of the UK.
3. Paramilitarism still remains a threat
This does not mean the paramilitary campaigns will fade away; on the contrary, they are certain to continue. The operational capacity of the dissident republicans is lower than that of the Provisional IRA at any stage of its campaign, but they have not allowed themselves any possibility of a political exit, and will therefore maintain their efforts to destabilise the political arrangements. Their efforts as ‘spoilers’ have to date resulted in as outcome opposite to that intended: instead of disrupting the political accord, the violence has served to consolidate the existing consensus. The funeral of PSNI officer Ronan Kerr, killed by dissidents in April 2011, marked a significant rallying point, bringing the political, security, religious and sporting elites together in a symbolic show of unity. Loyalist paramilitaries have sought a post-conflict role but failed to find one that can accommodate all their members. The funding for ex-prisoner organisations is running out and the May 2011 elections paid to the hope of political direction. While the two main organisations have stuck to the terms of their decommissioning pledge, they have not abandoned violence: in 2011 there were 27 assaults, (mainly ‘punishment’ beatings), but there have also been racist attacks and, in June 2011, a large-scale invasion of a Catholic enclave in East Belfast. The loose command structures within loyalist paramilitary organisations leave scope for rogue adventurism of this kind, and a younger generation of new recruits may wish to see more violent assertions of the loyalist presence.
4. The policing deal is not secure
The main focus for dissident violence for the future is likely to remain on Catholic members of the PSNI. This is making it harder for PSNI officers resident in Catholic areas to join or remain within the force. While the Patten target of 30% has been reached for police officers, only 27.5% of the total PSNI personnel are Catholic, as against estimates of 46% for the population as a whole. By contrast, the percentage of Catholics amongst prisoners, at 55%, is exactly double the percentage of Catholics within the police service. The first independent study of Catholics in the PSNI shows them not to be representative of the nationalist population as a whole, and the figures for dropout show more Catholics than Protestants are leaving. Any further erosion will put in doubt the representative nature of the police force – an essential pillar of the peace settlement. And, while support for the PSNI amongst Catholics has been on the increase, it still lags behind the support indicated by Protestants; furthermore, both are significantly lower than the support shown for the police in the other parts of the UK. In the case of Catholics, there is greater support for the other parts of the criminal justice system. Polls taken before September 2011 show particular trust in the Office of Police Ombudsman, but three critical reports since then have led nationalist politicians to express deep concern about the independence of the Office. The controversy that surrounds this issue affects not only the role of the Ombudsman but has the potential to weaken nationalist confidence in the policing service as a whole.
5. The recession is impacting upon the equality agenda
Catholics still lag behind Protestants on a range of indicators to do with unemployment and social deprivation. To date, the two main drivers for equalisation of the two communities have been demography and educational attainment. Between 1990 and 2010 the numbers of Catholics of working age increased by an additional 114,000, or 30%, while the Protestant increase was only 4%. Within an equal opportunities framework this had led to an increased Catholic share of the job market, and the trend had been pointing to a shift from a 60/40 split in favour of Protestants ten years ago to one where data a 50/50 split appeared likely. Allied to that numerical increase, the higher levels of educational attainment by Catholics at every level in the schooling system, and the 60/40 split in favour of Catholics in higher education enrolments, has meant that the Catholic share of the labour market is no longer so ‘bottom heavy’. In major employment sectors like the NI Civil Service not only are there more Catholics in post but they have increasingly moved up the managerial ranks. In the latest figures, the Catholic median wage overtook that of Protestants for the first time (£9.44 as against £9.11 per hour). The escalator that was carrying the Catholic population upwards has been halted by the recession. This has meant a suspension of relativities at the level that obtained in 2008, rather than a reversal. To date, the public service where Catholics account for approximately half the workforce, has not shed jobs on the same scale as local authorities in England. Instead the budget cuts have often been made on capital budgets and impact is therefore absorbed by the private sector, mainly by the construction industry . The next period of austerity budgets will see cuts in public sector employment, and with that further a further re-balancing of the relativities of Catholics and Protestants – both within and outside the labour market.
6. Youth unemployment is potentially destabilising
A World Bank report (2011) into urban violence across the globe observes that one constant in all conflict situations is youth unemployment. The fact that youth unemployment in Northern Ireland has risen to 19.1% in 2011 is cause for concern, particularly since there is no expectation of an uplift that might resolve the situation. There is no communal difference that leaves one community more disadvantaged then the other in the youth unemployment figures, and it also needs to be observed that the overall Northern Ireland figures are still marginally below the UK average. The August riots in England however served as a bellwether for the fact that a youth unemployment rate 20% can take a society into a danger zone. The Institute of Fiscal Studies has warned of a ‘lost generation’ and Northern Ireland is no longer protected from the economic forces that have created this crisis. While police sources in England warn that there is every danger of further eruptions of youth violence, it is likely to be the case that the underpinning frustrations will take a different, and more sectarian form, if expressed in Northern Ireland. There is evidence at present of paramilitaries mobilising unemployed young people during the marching season, but the dynamic is more complex than that of youth acting as a reserve army for paramilitarism. Alienation from the police is at its highest in areas of high social disadvantage and the prevalence of anti-social behaviour is creating a market opportunity for those paramilitaries who wish to present themselves as community police.
7. A new confident and neutral urban culture has emerged
One of the unpredicted features of the peace process has been the emergence of Belfast and Derry-Londonderry as centres of urban sophistication, with the staging of events like the MTV awards in Belfast and the securing of the City of Culture contract for Derry-Londonderry. These are flagship events, rather than everyday occurrences, but the glowing presentation of Northern Ireland in a wide range of tourist magazines has not been based solely on such glamorous occasions. Attention has focused more on the relaxed environment of the city centres, which now boast a new cappuccino culture, busy restaurants, shopping malls and night clubs. Economically, the expansion of the public space in this way depends much more on local support than tourist trade, and it is clear that for an affluent layer within Northern Ireland there is a post-Troubles society to be enjoyed where consumption identities matter more than tribal loyalties. The most recent NI Life and Times Survey shows a significant increase in those who view town centres as safe and welcoming spaces, and research by the Institute of Conflict Research shows respondents acknowledging there has been an increase in the number of mixed or neutral social spaces. The expansion of new shared spaced bumps up against geographical and class boundaries. Within a half-mile of Belfast city centre lie areas that rank high in the tables for multiple deprivation, and the consumption boom cannot be seen to be evenly distributed. For those with the means to participate though the new consumer culture is nonetheless real and marks a stage in the journey away from street violence, and towards a new sense of identity for Northern Ireland.
8. Northern Ireland is still a very divided society
Thirteen years after the Good Friday Agreement Northern Ireland remains a very divided society. The indicators show that in some areas the divisions have increased: most obviously, the number of interface walls has increased from 22 at the time the Agreement was signed to 48 today, if one uses the definition used by the Department of Justice, or 88 according to the count taken by the Institute of Conflict Research. There has been no decrease in the flags and emblems on display during the marching season, and a dispute over the flying of the union jack in Ballyclare this year revealed the inadequacy of the Flags Protocol as a mechanism for the regulation of contested symbols. At the level below the symbolic, the evidence is of continuing deep division, most importantly in the areas of housing and education. According to the NI Housing Executive, ninety per cent of social housing in Northern Ireland is still segregated into single identity communities. And while 6.5% of children now attend integrated schools, this means the other 93.5% are separated into Catholic and Protestant schools. The sectarian division persists in electoral politics. No new political party has emerged since the 1998 Agreement, and the stability of Northern Ireland politics, as described above, is to do with the equilibrium achieved between the two blocs rather than any reconciliation between the two political cultures. The voting transfers in the May elections showed very clearly the silo cultures of nationalist and unionist political cultures. While the partnership between the Sinn Fein and the DUP is at the heart of the power-sharing arrangement, the DUP only managed to attract 2% of its transfers from nationalist voters, and Sinn Fein only got 2.2% of its transfers from unionist voters. Both partners have emerged from the fray having outdistanced the internal rivals in their own camps – in the case of the DUP, the Ulster Unionist Party and in the case of Sinn Fein, the SDLP. Their parallel trajectories have left them defined less by their constitutional preferences and more by their ethnic bases. To put it more simply, the gravitational pull towards the strong voice in each community suggests that in the future Northern Ireland politics will be defined by one large Catholic party and one large Protestant party.
9. There is no strategy for reconciliation
Reconciliation was a key concept in the 1998 Agreement, but it is an extraordinary fact that in the period since it was signed, the Northern Ireland parties have not agreed any strategy to allow the central divisions between Protestants and Catholics to be addressed. A policy framework was put in place by the New Labour direct rule administration in 2005 under the name A Shared Future. Neither Sinn Fein nor the DUP accepted the policy, and each attempted to draft an alternative. In a demonstration of the problem they were supposed to be addressing, they could not find agreement. The impetus for a new document came from the Alliance party during the negotiations leading to the Hillsborough Agreement but the draft that was produced, Cohesion Sharing and Integration, was comprehensively rejected when it went out to consultation. As a result Northern Ireland has completed another year without a framework to address sectarianism. This does not mean that reconciliation and anti-sectarian activities have not taken place. On the contrary, there are countless organisations, groups and projects working on peace-building activity. The policy direction is not an agreed or strategic one; rather it is driven by the priorities of the different funders and approximately 80% of peace and reconciliation work in Northern Ireland is sustained by external funding – most notably, the EU Peace funds. That money is soon to run out, and while the Northern Ireland Assembly has pledged in its Programme for Government 2011-15 to bring forward a new draft of Cohesion Sharing and Integration it is not expected that there will be a resource commitment that will match that which Northern Ireland has enjoyed from European and American funders.
10. No solution has been found for dealing with the past.
The headlines over the past year have been full of bombings, shootings, murders and atrocities. These are not events that have occurred in the past twelve months, but controversies that have erupted because of inquiries into events from one, two, three and even four decades ago – and, on occasion, there have been controversies because no inquiry has been commissioned. The Saville Report of 2010 produced a very definite conclusion in its report into the Bloody Sunday shootings , and the satisfaction that the nationalist community drew from that – and from David Cameron’s unequivocal acceptance of the findings – has been followed by a series of quarrels about the reports into historic crimes from the Office of the Police Ombudsman. It was felt that the police had been given soft treatment, a suspicion reinforced by a report from the Criminal Justice Inspectorate in 2011 which concluded that the Ombudsman had allowed the independence bar to be lowered. There was also anger at David Cameron’s decision not to commission an independent inquiry into the murder of the solicitor Pat Finucane – a decision seen to be a breach of trust, and protested as such by the Irish government. On the loyalist side there was anger that the Historical Enquiries Team had reopened the files on UVF activity in Belfast, and the anger spilled over into street disorder. The opportunity for reasoned discussion about how the past should be handled was lost in the furore surrounding the Eames-Bradley report – largely because of a clause which suggested a one-off payment to all families who had lost someone in the troubles, regardless of whether that person was seen as a victim or a perpetrator. The chorus of condemnation was so strong that all other recommendations were drowned out, and little attention was paid to the subsequent report issued by the Commission for Victims and Survivors, Dealing With the Past. This document, which attempts a balance between the demands of justice and the need for reconciliation, recommends a ‘design process’ which would see the two governments lead on a multi-level process that would involve various statutory and non-statutory bodies combine in an attempt to deal equitably and fairly with the past. In the absence of any other initiative it is still a good starting point for a discussion about the issue which, more than any other, continues to confound the sense that Northern Ireland has left the Troubles behind.
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