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
- Hazel Francey
- Belfast City CounciBilly Gamble
Office of the First Minister/Deputy First Minister (OFM/DFM)
- Neil Jarman
– Institute for Conflict Research
Leonard – INCORE
Loughran – Intercomm
McCandless – NICVA
O'Hagan – INCORE
O'Reilly – Intercomm
O'Reilly - Mediation Northern Ireland
Patterson - Belfast City Council
- Derek Wheeler
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
- What are the
issues to be examined?
- What are the
strategies and who are the people or organisations that can
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.
ISSUES AT INTERFACE AREAS - THE LOCAL PICTURE
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
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.
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.
SOCIETAL ISSUES – THE BIGGER
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.
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
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,
& better targeted New TSN.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.