Galvanising the Peace Presentation

Report by Dympna McGlade, CRC   

The Community Relations Council (CRC), together with representatives of partner community relations practitioners, delivered a presentation in Dublin to the  Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement on 22 October. 

The Committee warmly welcomed the delegation and engaged in discussion with them on current and future initiatives and outstanding issues affecting community relations and peace building work in Northern Ireland.  The community relations practitioner group is currently involved in a campaign.

This initiative is called Galvanising the Peace and was represented at the Oireachtas Committee by Derek Poole (LINC), Charmain Jones (Rural Community Network), Joe O’Donnell (Belfast Interface Project), Mary Montague (Tides Training), Rab McCallum (North Belfast Interface Network) and Peter Osborne (Chair of the Community Relations Council).   Mary Montague, Co‐Chair of the Group, made the opening statement to the Committee highlighting the importance of the implementation of The Agreement (s) and the Northern Ireland Act (1998) that provide the institutional architecture and underpinning structure for a society that is based on equality, human rights and good relations.  Concerns were expressed that much of the goodwill displayed at the signing of the Agreement had evaporated and how sectarian and racist tensions, and cultural conflicts, have exacerbated this. 

Examples of best practice in youth work were given with a health warning that this work is undermined in relation to funding the work and also problematic in areas where there is still a paramilitary presence. 
 
The Committee was reminded that paramilitaries still acted as negative  gatekeepers in some communities and that such behaviours drive out investment, hiring the poorest hardest with an adverse effect on the youth of that area.  It was agreed by all that the role of civil society and their confidence in policing was important and resources for them to respond to community concerns in an effective way is therefore essential.

The plight of community level efforts to build peace, trust and reconciliation was highlighted and, although it remains strong, it is under severe strain which may run contrary to the Agreement commitment: 

‘The participants to the agreement recognise and value the work being done by many organisations to develop reconciliation and mutual understanding and respect between and within communities and traditions, in Northern Ireland and between North and South, and they see such work as having a vital role in consolidating peace  and political agreement. Accordingly, they pledge their continuing support to such organisations and will positively examine the case for enhanced financial assistance for the work of reconciliation.’    The sector requires adequate investment and resources.   The group urged the Executive to give clearer leadership, outlining a path to a peaceful future based on equality, human rights and respect for diversity, rather than a society marked by segregation and intolerance. 

The group also called for a participative framework involving civil society to build peace and support good government through a systemic approach with cross departmental working, shared strategic and operational plans implemented through respectful partnerships between statutory, community, business sectors and others with responsibility for delivering peace. 

In conclusion, the group reported that the Galvanising the Peace process aims to engage in civil society participation in government and policy development to:  
  • Ensure people are not left behind by the political system (or vice versa). 
  • Strengthen trust in the institutions.
  • Highlight a need for the final dismantling of paramilitarism and the reclaiming of communities by community.
  • Advocate for the introduction of structural and systemic reform around education and housing.
  • Call for focused support for relational change amidst a concern that an erosion of the reconciliation infrastructure is taking place which could have significant, detrimental consequences in years to come.

For practitioners in the field this feels like a crossing point in the peace process and the question was posed – ‘it is a me that will be judged by history ‐ was there serious intent by everyone to make the peace process work or was it a missed opportunity?’