Launch of the 2nd Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report
The Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report covering the past year will be published today (Wednesday 10 April) by the Community Relations Council with the support of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.
The Report notes that the Northern Ireland peace process has had its most difficult year for a decade. The flags dispute has shaken any complacency about the inevitability of progress, but it has not led to any suspension of the political institutions. Street demonstrations, although determined and protracted, were not on the scale of the Drumcree disturbances of the 1990s or the protests against the Anglo-Irish Agreement in the 1980s. Likewise, the activities of dissident republicans, however callous or threatening, have not succeeded in disrupting the political consensus on the overall architecture of the peace accord, and are not on the scale of dissident violence a decade ago.
‘In the long-term perspective’ says the Report’s author, Dr Paul Nolan, ‘the challenges thrown up over the past year are the sort of upsets that all peace processes must face. The really significant development over the past year lies elsewhere. The 2011 census shows that in Northern Ireland, as in many conflict societies, it is the long slow demographic shifts that most radically alter the political landscape.’
The new reality of Northern Ireland politics, as revealed by the census, is that dominance is not an option for either community. There is now a demographic equilibrium, with a 48/45 split between those from a Protestant background and those from a Catholic background. No community has more than a 50 per cent share. This is now a society made up of minorities. The evidence of the new balance is even clearer when national identities are taken into account. The 2011 census shows that although 48% are from a Protestant background that does not automatically confer a British identity – only 40% described themselves as British. Similarly, although 45% of the population is from a Catholic background, only 25% describe themselves as Irish. The new category is Northern Irish which accounts for 21% of the population. All three groups have to co-exist, but the events which began on 3 December with the Belfast city council vote on the union flag show that there are still difficulties for some in adjusting to the new realities.
The report finds that this is not true across the whole of society. In other ways Northern Ireland has been moving towards a more tolerant and peaceful society. There is now less residential segregation than there was a decade ago. Then over 50 per cent of the population lived in single identity communities (defined as having 80 per cent or over from one community). That has now dropped to just 37.5 per cent. The amount of shared space in neutral urban centres has also been increased by investment in large-scale arts, conference and leisure spaces. The increased sense of security in the community at large can be seen in the falling-off in the overall level of crime. According to the Northern Ireland Crime Survey, 11.2 per cent of households and their occupants were victims of a crime in 2011/12 – close to half the rate in England and Wales. There has also been a decrease in sectarian hate crime and race hate crime. Northern Ireland is becoming more at ease with difference, and that includes a more accepting attitude of gays and lesbians.
These positive developments have not found expression at the political level. In the past year the failure to find compromises on contested issues means that the Assembly has faltered as a political chamber. The legislative programme, which had increased its tempo in 2011, lost that impetus on 2012 when only five bills were enacted. The logjams in the Executive have left the Assembly with insufficient business and MLAs are increasingly inclined to gravitate towards the committees as a more direct way to achieve results. The danger lies in allowing politics to return to the streets, particularly when the politicians have not agreed a set of rules for the contentious issue of flags and parades. It is now ten years since the document A Shared Future was put out for consultation, and the continuing failure to produce a policy framework on these difficult issues has left the society vulnerable to the shocks delivered by political incidents and events.
Chief Executive of the Community Relations Council, Jacqueline Irwin, says ‘Coming on the fifteenth anniversary of the Belfast Agreement this report represents a major stocktaking. There is much here that demands our attention’.
To download Summary click here (pdf)
To download Sections click on the links below (pdfs)
Background and Introduction
Sense of Security
Cohesion and Sharing
Glossary & References
Northern Ireland Peace Monitor, Number 1
The period since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 has seen Northern Ireland settle into a sort of peace. 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 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. The indicator framework will allow us to see whether we are heading towards a shared future or, as it is sometimes put, a shared out future. To download the first report, issued in February 2012, click here:
For further information, or for comments or queries please contact: