The Community Relations Council has published a book based on research conducted under the EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation (Peace II). Entitled ‘A Sustainable Peace?’ the publication contains articles by 12 researchers on themes covering politicians, former political prisoners, trade unions, the voluntary sector, interface conflict, truth recovery processes, and young people.
Speaking at the book launch (7 March) at Belfast Castle, Dr Duncan Morrow, CRC’s Chief Executive, who also contributed to the book, said:
“The future success of the peace process depends on continuing to face rather than shirk hard questions. This research reflects reports from the frontline and demonstrates that reconciliation is still ahead of us, and absolutely depends on ongoing transformation.”
“Peace is not an event, but an ongoing process. Ultimately, the most difficult aspect of generating and sustaining peace has proved to be the challenge of transforming the legacy of past division and conflict into the semblance of a shared future.”
Among the researchers were Brandon Hamber and Grainne Kelly who carried out research on ‘The Challenge of Reconciliation: Translating Theory into Practice’. As a result of their research the EU Peace Programme has adopted their definition of reconciliation. They note ‘Programmes which may have been funded in the past which had little or no focus on reconciliation (such as a limited economic regeneration programme with a poorly articulated vision of how this would lead to peace and reconciliation) now have to convey their reconciliation vision more clearly and improve their practice, or fail to be funded.’
Other contributors to the book include researchers from the Institute for Conflict Research (ICR) who examined mixed housing (Shared Living) projects, interface violence between Short Strand and Inner East Belfast, and attitudes of young people to violence and disorder.
ICR researcher Jonny Byrne who completed research on ‘Shared Living: Mixed residential communities in Northern Ireland’ said:
‘Our findings highlighted the importance residents of mixed areas placed on environments and structures within their community that could be accessed by everyone, regardless o f community background. This created the space where people could meet and interact, foster and sustain relationships.’ The research has provided a basis for new shared housing projects.
Research by Professor Arthur Williamson and Dr Nick Acheson at the University of Ulster examined the involvement of the voluntary and community sector in community relations work. They concluded that ‘many voluntary organisations try to ignore the issue of communal difference’. The researchers suggest changes that might help encourage and enable them to become move involved in the area of community relations.
Professor Gillian Robinson, Director of INCORE at University of Ulster, conducted research on ‘Politicians and Community Relations’ based on interviews carried out in 2004. ‘Our study confirmed that politicians want a greater say in the management of community relations programmes, but are they prepared to make a greater commitment to the concomitant role of providing civic leadership? If political parties want to secure the agreement of the community relations sector to their assumption of a greater role in peace-building policy and work, they will need to demonstrate that community relations can be as high a priority to them as equality, security or political development.’
Professor Owen Hargie led a group of researchers from the University of Ulster who researched ‘Breaking Down Barriers: Sectarianism, Unemployment and the Exclusion of Disadvantaged Young People from Northern Ireland Society’. According to Prof. Hargie ‘it was found that sectarianism placed restrictions on the job opportunities presented to young people in Belfast and was regarded, particularly by community workers and training providers, as a significant factor in heightened levels of unemployment amongst this age group.’ The researchers made a number of recommendations to both government and employers. Professor Hargie added that ‘some employers fail to recognise the existence and impact of sectarianism upon the workforce.’
Patricia Lundy, University of Ulster, researched attitudes towards a Truth Commission for Northern Ireland. While noting a high level of community distrust at the idea of a formal truth commission, the author notes ‘One of the most positive findings of the survey (particularly for those involved in grassroots reconciliation work) was the very high number of people who supported the idea of community-based initiatives as a means to help people come to terms with the past. This option was only exceeded by ‘support for victims’ as a popular alternative to a truth commission as a way of dealing with the past.’
The publication A Sustainable Peace?- research as a contribution to peace-building in Northern Ireland is published by the Community Relations Council and is available free on request from CRC.