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LILP Interface Workshop - 12 November 2003

Longer Term Issues & Strategies

The first in a trio of INCORE/LILP workshops on interface issues was held on 12 November 2003. The workshop focused on longer-term issues and strategies. A brief summary of the discussions is outlined below.


  • Angela Clarke – DSD
  • Hazel Francey - Belfast City CounciBilly Gamble Office of the First Minister/Deputy First Minister (OFM/DFM)
  • Neil Jarman – Institute for Conflict Research
  • Billy Leonard – INCORE
  • John Loughran – Intercomm
  • Frances McCandless – NICVA
  • Roisin O'Hagan – INCORE
  • Gerard O'Reilly – Intercomm
  • Peter O'Reilly - Mediation Northern Ireland
  • Clare Patterson - Belfast City Council
  • Derek Wheeler - OFM/DFM

The basic idea of this workshop was to go beyond the ‘fire-fighting’ or Level 1 considerations of interface issues and look to the longer term.

  • What are the issues to be examined?
  • What are the strategies and who are the people or organisations that can deliver?

The central point that came out of the workshop was as follows. Because interface issues are part of the much larger question there is always going to be a balance to be found between dealing with issues directly at the interface areas and those issues, which must be addressed throughout Northern Ireland society.

If the ‘powers that be’ concentrate only on the interface areas themselves, are they saying to everyone else that they are not part of the problem? A ‘divide of comfort’ is a division we cannot sustain: this would send the wrong message.

In short, interdependence is the key word. There is interdependence between interface areas and issues and, all areas and issues which N Ireland society faces. There is interdependence between the players who can deliver possible solutions or measures. There is interdependence between the local and bigger pictures.

Without the recognition of this, also the strategies that incorporate this principle, interface strategies will be ineffective.



Capacity building/community dialogue:
These two issues were linked because facets of capacity building would help people approach community dialogue with confidence and security. It is appreciated that different levels of dialogue will happen at different paces and that such dialogue will include issues of common ground, differences and difficulties. It is also accepted that such issues will be a blend of the local and big pictures.

Community safety/sense of security:
There are many longer-term issues, which can be considerably helped via a community safety approach. Partnerships that deliver a sense of security in turn lead to greater confidence and pride as well as a sense of achievement, which can be built upon. It was also suggested that communities could agree local standards of community safety.

In relation to a sense of security ‘peace walls’ are of course central. It was thought by some that interface communities should keep the following possibilities in mind; peace walls can be retained, replaced or removed. By not considering removal, in the range of hopes and possibilities, we have resigned ourselves to segregation. It was hoped that success on the many other points would ultimately make the walls redundant.

Contested space:
This is an issue that is obviously central to so much else and requires more than local action. However, one of the local needs seems to be information on demographics and housing needs to make community dialogue on the issues realistic. Such dialogue automatically addresses segregation issues and engages players such as Dept. Social Development (DSD) and N Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE).

See below re. housing.

‘Spoilers and enablers’
It was recognised that in all interface situations there are spoilers and enablers. We concentrated on the enablers and it was suggested that they should have as much support as possible. Local mentors should be utilised to help build the skills and confidence of enablers within communities and naturally, it is accepted that such people span all age groups. That said, interface areas always have major youth issues.

Focus on youth:
The need to search for new approaches to youth issues was stressed. Young people can be agents of change and many of the points in the previous paragraphs apply to them. Obviously many of the issues in the section below in ‘Societal matters’ equally apply but it was felt that, specific action and programmes involving the youth were needed. Families, schools, churches clubs etc could have a co-ordinated approach to understanding difference and local community relations concerns. (North Belfast Partnership was cited as an example). It is essential to give hope to the young people.


The strength of feeling about the bigger picture interdependence was striking and the points raised can be divided into the physical / functional issues and the more conceptual.

It will become evident that the issues in the conceptual section present major challenges.

1. Physical/functional

The dynamic of sustainable mixed housing, be that owner occupied, public authority, social and other, should be examined. We need to take the positive lessons from these to see why and how it is sustained.

There are mixed feelings about the use of CCTV. Some might see it as a necessary but unfortunate product of the situation. Others view its restrictions pragmatically proposing that more effective street lighting can be more acceptable. Funding, security and policy considerations could be balanced with local wishes and standards adopted within the community safety context.

Obviously one of the most contentious issues and of course central policy roll out already impacts on interface areas. Parade monitoring is short term but a longer- term strategy on parades is needed.
There were many other issues that play important parts in this debate but time did not permit many of these often-raised issues to be examined in detail. These include regeneration, transport, facilities such as youth provision, land use, planning, deprivation, poverty, education & better targeted New TSN.

2. Conceptual

Discussions at the workshop invariably returned to the bigger picture and, agency and society responsibilities for our tensions. The concerted opinion was that despite the scale of the challenges these issues present, they have to be faced because interface areas were undoubtedly part of that bigger picture and not isolated problem areas.

Shared understanding
It was generally accepted that there was no shared understanding or narrative of the past. It is not suggested that one agreed accepted account is possible but if a shared understanding of the difficulties, for example the power of conditioning, was combined with narrowing the gap between respective histories, then progress could be made.

Such progress is required to build greater acceptance of the other, their ‘story’, and diversity, thereby building up greater open-mindedness and tolerance. Honest articulation of these issues would over the medium to long term help build trust and an understanding of diversity.

Shared vision
Again it is acknowledged that a single shared vision in a divided society is unattainable. However, the workshop raised the issues of civic society and civic vision. The central question was, can we as a society get a civic vision which does not compromise national ideologies and aspirations on the constitutional question?

This has much broader implications than just interfaces but would be something that in helping society as a whole can positively filter into interface areas. The goal is to get a set of common or core principles possibly within the vision of ‘good relations’. This could change what some see as the repeated cycle of debate.

Political ‘buy-in’
This phrase was used to include both the politicians and the general public. It was meant to convey a sense of commitment to issues such as shared vision.

There are always going to be ‘spoilers’ but resolving interface problems (and others) needs commitment linked to a generally accepted vision or set of core principles. If such principles do not compromise national allegiances but actually increase the chances of shared civic vision, interface areas could benefit greatly. A much greater degree of non-threatening participation and sharing could take place.

Institutional response
The workshop did not, for very understandable reasons, produce a table saying which department(s) or organisation(s) is (are) responsible for devising strategies and programmes for each issue. Many speak for themselves and were mentioned in discussion.

What came out of the group and plenary discussions was a general line to which a more detailed approach would have to be added. The Community Action Group as proposed by former Minister Des Browne was referred to as a potential vehicle for contributing to the process.

In addition some participants thought that if the Assembly is up and running at least a Committee on Good Relations should be established because the concept was so broad ranging and vital to society in general and interfaces in particular. Such a committee would convey the message that the over arching concept and importance of good relations is dealt with in a cross party manner and as an integral part of the Assembly.


Disclaimer: © INCORE 2010 Last Updated on Friday, 19-Mar-2010 15:50
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