Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement

A Reflection on 15 Years of the Good Friday Agreement and Looking Towards the Future: Discussion

10:15 am

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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This week marks the 15th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, a fact which I am sure everyone will agree is reflected in national and international press coverage. Recently I attended an event for academia and politicians at the British Academy in London organised by Lord Paul Bew, an architect of the Good Friday Agreement, which acknowledged its 15th anniversary and looked to the future of the peace process. Yesterday I participated in an event at the US embassy in Dublin attended by representatives of many embassies to mark the 15th anniversary of the Agreement. Internationally, there is still a strong positive focus on what has happened and developments in Northern Ireland. The overwhelming observation was that while we still had the ongoing challenges presented by legacy issues, community relations and sectarianism, added to the wake-up call of the protests in recent months, we should look at the positives and the progress made in the past 15 years. I look forward to continuing my working relationship with the committee and its members while we face the technical challenges presented by outstanding issues such as the North-South Consultative Forum and the review of the North-South bodies.

I would like our guests today to know that the committee has been focused on working at grassroots level. We have engaged with Nationalist and loyalist communities, primarily in Belfast, and hope to continue this work. We intend to visit Belfast on 3 and 4 May to engage with these communities.

If issues on the ground need to be addressed, we intend to be there with people and communities. Our role is limited, but the overwhelming feedback has been to the effect that those involved want people to listen, to be willing to help and to be shoulder to shoulder with them. We intend to continue with that work. With that in mind, I am delighted to have such a range of speakers in attendance. We look forward to their observations on the work in which they are involved. They probably have not brought a crystal ball with them, but predicting Northern Ireland's future journey would be difficult.

In attendance is Professor Brandon Hamber, director of the International Conflict Research Institute, INCORE, an associate site of the United Nations that is based out of the University of Ulster. He is also a Mellon distinguished visiting scholar in the school of human and community development and the African Centre for Migration and Society at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. I welcome Professor Hamber.

We are also joined by Dr. Neil Jarman, director of the Institute for Conflict Research, ICR, who has carried out research on such issues as street violence, disputes over parades, the management of public order, police reform, racist and homophobic violence and human rights in a number of countries, including Northern Ireland, South Africa, the USA, Israel, Palestine, Kosovo and Nepal. He was an adviser to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland during the disputes over Orange Order parades in the 1990s and a specialist adviser to the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee during its 2004-05 inquiry into hate crimes. He works with the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, as a member of an international panel tasked with drafting guidelines relating to law and practice on freedom of assembly.

We are also joined by Mr. Peter Sheridan, OBE. He officially took on the role of chief executive officer of Co-operation Ireland on 1 January 2009. As he has presented to the committee previously, I welcome him back. His role is to lead the organisation strategically as it moves into the next phase of its development. He was a police officer for 30 years, starting as a cadet officer in 1978. He did much of his service in the north west of Northern Ireland in uniformed policing. Perhaps we bumped into each other during those years when I went across the Border to Strabane to do a bit of shopping and went through customs on the way back. He rose through the ranks from constable to assistant chief constable with responsibility for the rural region.

If the committee agrees, I will ask our three guests to present in a group format, after which I will open the floor to members' questions and observations.

10:20 am

Professor Brandon Hamber:

I thank the committee for this opportunity to contribute today. As the Chairman noted, significant strides have been taken in the past 15 years in making a lasting peace. From an international perspective, the agreement is viewed positively and favourably as a peace building model. A number of societies around the world continue to examine this model.

Given the fact that identities and nationalities are guaranteed no matter what, Northern Ireland's status is considered unique and groundbreaking in the international context. This should be commended, as should the continuing work of many politicians in making the institutions operational despite people's differences and political aspirations. Some of the community work in Northern Ireland is considered to be of the highest standard globally.

My points will focus on the next steps and the matters that we may need to push further as we move beyond the 15-year mark. My focus will be on the issue of reconciliation as one part of the agreement. I do not need to remind this audience that the signatories firmly dedicated themselves in the agreement to "the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance, and mutual trust, and to the protection and vindication of the human rights of all". While recognising the different political aspirations of the signatories, all sought to endeavour to strive in every practical way towards reconciliation and rapprochement within this framework.

The agreement also recognises that societal integration is key to reconciliation. As it noted, "An essential aspect of the reconciliation process is the promotion of a culture of tolerance at every level of society, including initiatives to facilitate and encourage integrated education and mixed housing". The agreement links the issue of integration with the question of reconciliation.

The questions I wish to raise relate to the degree to which this part of the agreement has been implemented. On the positive side, violence has decreased dramatically and there has been extensive funding support for cross-community work, much of which has resulted in positive connections between communities. There has been some change on the structural side. Yesterday's launch of the peace monitoring report shows that there has been an increase in mixed living. However, the level of integration in schools has not changed significantly. Despite the advancements in mixed living, they are not dramatic. For example, mixed marriages have not changed dramatically as a factor. In numerous quarters, this is put down to a lack of policy on how sharing and integration should take place. The full spirit of the integration expressed in the agreement is not yet realised.

Policy does not determine practice, but it provides us with a yardstick for measurement and helps us to create a vision for action in terms of what might be needed. Numerous research reports have continued to highlight that a vision of the type of society envisaged for Northern Ireland has not been forthcoming. Is the plan for co-existence what some have deemed to be a model of separate but equal or is it a much deeper form of social integration? The spirit of the Agreement is closer to integration. International lessons suggest the latter model would provide a stronger form of social cohesion and a greater guarantee of peace.

As noted in the peace monitoring report, "The continuing absence of any agreed strategy for flags, parades or dealing with the past left the political establishment vulnerable to the shocks delivered by incidents and events". We saw this in December.

In the conflict field, we discuss three issues that normally need to be addressed, those being, attitudes, behaviours and structural issues. I contend that, since the Agreement, these have been dealt with separately. The attitudinal issues have been moved into the community relations field. Although there have been significant advancements, they are often restricted to that field. Often, the behavioural issues are treated as a security concern. The structural issues are often referred to as an economic matter rather than a matter of deeper social integration in terms of education and so forth. This approach leaves the underlying causes of the conflict in place and the full realisation of the agreement vulnerable. In the conflict field, we would refer to this as a negative peace. Formal violence has decreased, but many of the underlying issues that can fuel violence remain.

For this reason, we must clarify the direction of travel and what type of society is envisaged. Is it a fully integrated society as envisaged within my reading of the Agreement? We need to seek an approach that integrates at policy and practical levels the various strategies in place.

This is my general overview. I again thank the committee for giving me this opportunity.

Dr. Neil Jarman:

Some of what I will say will chime with Professor Hamber's comments. The Agreement has undoubtedly been a relative success and a key factor in helping to provide a society in Northern Ireland that is more peaceful, safer and is beginning to become fairer. In particular, I wish to highlight the establishment of the Assembly, the Executive and the police reform programme as key indicators of progress and key successes of the work done to date. However, I emphasise that all of that is a work in progress. It cannot be seen as being done and dusted.

The Agreement was very much at an elite level, although it was supported by the wider population in a referendum. It focused very much on establishing and implementing institutional reforms, rather than having a clear mechanism for engaging on the ground. That work has been done successfully in the meantime, but the challenge of peace-building and consolidating progress on issues remains the key element. That will remain true as we move to a second phase of peace-building, where initial structures have been put in place and many problems have been dealt with, but we must think about the next phase.

I highlight five key issues that present challenges which are still to be addressed. The first is the issue of segregation and sectarianism which remains one of the key indicators in and dynamics of Northern Ireland. There are high levels of segregation in residential areas, schooling, social activities, sport and throughout the political system and structures. We must acknowledge that the problems in Northern Ireland date back much further than the conflict between 1969 and 1994, with sectarianism and segregation deeply rooted in Northern Irish society. Therefore, we can expect it to take a long time to address the issue. In the absence of a clear policy agenda and focus, there is the risk that it will be established as a norm.

The second element to be flagged is that of paramilitarism. The peace-building terms of demobilisation, demilitarisation and reintegration do not figure effectively in the Agreement, although there is a focus on the decommissioning of weapons and the release of prisoners. There was an assumption that if these issues were addressed, the organisations behind the men involved and arms used would naturally lose purpose. Unfortunately, with the exception of the IRA, the combatant organisations remain in place; although they have redefined and repositioned themselves, they remain part of Northern Irish society. Again, there is no strategy, policy or agenda on how to remove them and there is a risk that in the longer term they will be seen as a normal part of Northern Irish society which is divided and underpinned by elements of paramilitarism.

Comments on a lack of policy flag the third element - political leadership. Although much has been made about the lack of a policy on cohesion, sharing and integration because it focuses on the contentious issue of the sectarian divide, I have examined on the website a number of the policies of the offices of the First and Deputy First Ministers and all of them, including those dealing with aging, children, gender equality and race, date from before the establishment of the devolved Administration. Effectively, they are all Northern Ireland Office policies and the Administration has not developed any of them. As well as policies on cohesion, sharing and integration, a policy was promised on parades. However, it did not get very far and the disability policy has not moved beyond being a draft. The policy on sexual orientation has not appeared and, more worryingly, the anti-poverty policy dates from the time of Peter Hain, meaning it predates the economic crisis of recent years and the transformation of welfare supports, unemployment figures and so forth. That is the fourth point. If we are to move forward, the Administration must address the issue of developing effective policies. In this regard, there must be a policy to address the economy, including anti-poverty issues, employment creation, inward investment and so forth. That presents another major challenge.

The final point relates to one of the elements of the Good Friday Agreement that has not been implemented in a sustained way - the civic forum. It is an integral part of the process designed to find a way for civil society to engage in the structures of governance. Given the issues around leadership and the need to drive the process forward, there is a role for organisations of civil society to play to build better relationships with government and to see this as a way of working together in a more cohesive partnership, instead of the form which has developed in the past ten years or so, with civil society being marginalised as government sought to take responsibility for the systems of governance. If there is a way to move the system forward, it could be by drawing in civil society and wider civic organisations as part of a wider process.

10:30 am

Mr. Peter Sheridan:

I thank the Chairman and members for givng me the opportunity to speak to them. This is a timely discussion and although we did not confer before the meeting, the committee will find similarities in all of the issues raised in the three contributions. Given that yesterday was the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and although much work remains to be done, we should remind ourselves that hundreds of citizens are alive or uninjured today because of the Agreement. In the heat of a debate on flags or parades we tend to think nothing has changed, but that is not true. However, people still believe that, despite the Agreement, physical force is a way forward and we must deal with that issue.

I have distributed to the committee a document that I use for my organisation to demonstrate how we are in transition. I was in New York around St. Patrick's Day and asked a number of questions. People were seeking information on the flags issue and there was the sense that nothing had changed in Northern Ireland. I indicated that if there was to be a similar conflict in New York alone, 30,000 people would lose their lives, while up to 1 million would be injured. One could imagine the trauma that would be experienced in New York, relative to the number of people who lost their lives on 9/11. We should not be surprised that we have not reached the very end of the process. As my colleagues have noted, there are many relationship issues to be dealt with.

I have put the peace process in four phases - peacekeeping, peace-making, peace-building and peace-sharing. I do not mean it in terms of United Nations peacekeeping, but when the conflict commenced in the late 1960s, many tried to stop the violence, including various individuals, the churches and so on. However, they were unsuccessful. Although there was conflict for the next 35 years, politics was still a major component. In the early 1970s there were attempts made through the Sunningdale Agreement, while in the 1980s we had the Anglo-Irish Agreement. In the 1990s we had the Good Friday Agreement and for the first time across the island we can shake hands and say we have made peace. I have listed all of the components in that peace-making phase which were about politics. The introduction of human rights and equality legislation assisted in that respect.

I am nervous about saying this in front of Mr. Mark Durkan, M P., but all we got at the end was agreement on a system of government and the institutions of government. That is critical in a democracy and although I know people hate talking about what will happen in 30 years, the next phase will involve peace-building. How will we underpin a political agreement in normalising relationships between communities in Northern Ireland, across the island of Ireland and east-west? The Queen's visit to Dublin was part of that normalising relationship, with Mr. Martin McGuinness and the Queen shaking hands. The process will be at its most difficult at the grassroots. I have noted all of the outstanding issues in the peace-building phase and they have been added to by the other delegates. Signature weaknesses include segregation in housing and education, sectarianism and dealing with the past. We are in danger of settling for communal division or separatism in Northern Ireland, which may not seem unreasonable, as for 30 years people saw their neighbour as an enemy. We now have to live together as citizens, which will take time.

If we do not deal with the issues of sectarianism, segregation and so on, it will be a recruiting ground for those who see young people picking up the mantle of violent extremism. It is not good enough to leave it to the Garda or the PSNI. All the police forces on the island will be able to do is to contain the situation. If we leave these issues outstanding, it will create such ground, particularly in an economic climate in which disadvantaged communities did not receive a peace dividend. We all hoped when the Good Friday Agreement was signed and 6,000 jobs would be created in Derry, Belfast or wherever else, that young people would have a sense of hope and opportunity, but, unfortunately, the opposite happened and people started to lose jobs. That remains one of the difficulties for us.

Institution building is still critically important. The review of public administration in the North and the South is critical and, as Dr. Jarmon said, the issues of the civic forum, the single equality Act and the Bill of Rights remain outstanding. They will be difficult for the various political parties, but their resolution is the next stage in building a genuinely shared society. We have to reach a stage in a shared society where people in Northern Ireland, whatever their background, will see it as home. Too often, from a political point of view, we champion our own rights, the rights of one's own community. Good human rights involve knowing how to protect the rights of the other community. In terms of political leadership, we need people to demonstrate how they will protect the rights of the other community.

There is a responsibility on Britain and Ireland to give something back in other conflict zones. It is not that one can map the conflict resolution process around the world, but there was a lot of learning to be done here. What was the role of the two states, good and bad? What was the role of the churches, good and bad, during the conflict? What was the role of the community and voluntary sector? We do some of this sharing with organisations and our colleagues in Glencree who engage in international outreach activities. There is a responsibility, as well as an opportunity in terms of how we help in other conflict zones around the world. In 1962, if one was black and got on a bus in the United States, one was sent to the back of the bus or had to give up one's seat. Fifty years later there is a black president. They have not dealt with all of the issues of race and prejudice, but they have moved considerably. The question for us is: who will be our black president in the next 30 or 50 years?

10:40 am

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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We might not answer the last question, but we really appreciate the refreshing insight of all contributors and the realistic account of the challenges presented.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome our guests and thank them for their contributions. Perhaps we might receive a paper from Professor Hamber and Dr. Jarmon because both of them mentioned a very wide and diverse range of issues which need to be tackled. A very important point Mr. Sheridan made was that we should continue to recognise the achievements of the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement which remain as impressive as ever. The potential of the Agreement needs to be realised, which I think was a theme running through the three contributions.

I saw a figure recently indicating that 21% of the population on the island had not been born at the time of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. A huge proportion of the population were born post the Agreement which was never seen as an end in itself. Mr. Seamus Mallon who contributed so much to politics on the island said it was a new dispensation to ensure we reshaped politics to benefit all communities. I hope I have quoted him correctly. Dr. Jarmon has said that, by and large, we have a society free of the violence to which unfortunately we had become used over many decades. He has spoken about the underlying issues and the fuelling of violence by the lack of opportunities in so many communities.

I was surprised that in the three contributions greater emphasis was not placed on education and the poor school completion rates in the more disadvantaged areas, particularly in loyalist communities. Those of us who have been involved in public life for some time and society in general recognise that if young people are not given the opportunity to gain skills, they will not gain employment. That people do not have job opportunities can pose a threat and present an opportunity for groups not working in the best interests of society to manipulate and prey on those who may be vulnerable at different times. We must be conscious of the need to deal with underlying unemployment problems in communities in which, unfortunately, there are high rates of unemployment, as well as a lack of skills and poor participation rates in education.

Many members of the committee had the opportunity during a visit to Belfast at the end of November to meet different groups. It was very clear to us that many of these communities were not sharing in what should be the dividend of empowering young people and giving them the skills and opportunities to acquire skills which would enable them to take up the limited job opportunities available throughout the island. In the working of the Agreement and the work of the Executive and the Assembly some initiatives must be taken to ensure people living in communities which have been blighted by unemployment during the years receive the benefit of that extra intervention. When Senator George Mitchell was here, we discussed this issue with him and he agreed with us that throughout the world wherever there had been conflict, there was a need post-conflict to place additional emphasis on ensuring people in very disadvantaged communities had the opportunity to acquire good educational qualifications and skills. Unfortunately, as we all know, the necessary skills do not guarantee someone a job, but whatever chance he or she has of gaining employment, it is extremely limited if he or she does not have a good education and has not pursued the acquisition of skills in different areas.

On the 15th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, it is very important to mark the huge progress made on the island. The Agreement is not an end in itself. It is incumbent on all those involved in politics in Northern Ireland and the Executive to ensure they give the leadership in Northern Ireland. I take the opportunity to compliment the likes of Mr. Mark Durkan and others who for many years and decades strove to reach the day when an agreement would be signed which would not threaten anybody's identity or nationality. People like Mr. Durkan and many others contributed immensely to that process.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the three speakers and thank them for their contributions and provoking us to reflect on the central issues both today and at future meetings. I agree with Deputy Brendan Smith on the merits of receiving papers on specific issues. In so far as this could be achieved, it would be excellent.

I agree also with Deputy Brendan Smith on the importance of recognising the achievements made under the Good Friday Agreement. We addressed this issue with senior cycle students in the constituency. Those of us who were alive in the pre-Good Friday Agreement period will remember what it was like to get up in the morning and listen to the news on radio and can contrast it with what it is like today. Thanks be to God we have arrived at this point. That merits recognition. We should applaud all of the actors involved and ourselves for the role we played before or since. It is right to look critically at elements of the Agreement, but it would be a pity if we were to lose sight of the fact that it was an enormous achievement.

That is a major achievement which is the envy of the world. It is now looked upon as the international model. It is a very significant achievement and if it could be replicated in the Middle East and other areas of conflict, it would be a source of great joy. We should be very proud of that, as a people and as a country. The achievement merits recognition, particularly on the 15th anniversary of the Agreement and is something about which we should be celebratory. The positive effects of the cessation of violence are tangible, notwithstanding the issue of the flags and the risk from dissidents. The achievements are mammoth and merit both recognition and repetition. We should be so proud.

I totally concur with the points made by the previous speaker on education and unemployment, in particular. Unemployment is the scourge of the country, North and South of the Border, and is the great challenge for us now. Establishing the peace and bedding down the Good Friday Agreement was the great challenge of the past. The great challenge of the present in all parts of the island is unemployment, which will require very imaginative responses and great courage. It may also require restructuring in terms of examining issues such as the working day, retirement and other aspects of work. Radical solutions will be necessary, including stimulus packages. We must solve the unemployment problem, North and South. The unemployment black spots in the North are a major worry and have the potential to increase the risk to peace. It is wrong in itself that people are outside the loop in terms of their participation in society.

I ask the expert witnesses to outline the current obstacles to educational integration and the progress made on this issue. What specific steps do they believe are necessary to achieve greater integration? What should we be doing in this regard? I also ask them to address the issue of housing integration.

How does Dr. Jarman envisage the civic forum working and how would he see the civic dimension running parallel with normal democratic politics at local level? How would the two marry and where is the potential for conflict? In the South there are often issues with civic involvement in local communities and conflicts between civic society and local, democratically elected councillors and so forth. How does Dr. Jarman believe the two elements could work together and what needs to be done in this regard?

I am interested in the views of the experts on the new Irish, many of whom came here from Eastern Europe. Perhaps the numbers migrating to Northern Ireland were less significant than here in the Republic. I confess I am not up to speed on migration patterns in Northern Ireland but there was a significant inflow, south of the Border, of people from countries like Poland and so forth. To what extent have those who did migrate to Northern Ireland changed the situation there in terms of undermining the old sectarian model? Are new migrants changing the situation in terms of it not being a Catholic-Protestant question any more? How relevant are the new Irish in terms of creating a more normal society?

10:50 am

Mr. Francie Molloy, MP, MLA:

I thank the delegates for their presentations which raised a number of important points. The key issue is to be underlined is that this process cannot be seen to be done and dusted. There is a mistaken view that, to some extent, the peace process is done and dusted. Once the Agreement was signed, the various political parties went back into their own party-political camps, which took away from the Agreement. People had high expectations that, having been through the negotiations, the political parties had a reached a new understanding but very quickly the various parties went back to their old ways. Having been in the Assembly for a number of years now, I note that the debates, instead of improving the atmosphere, have actually caused it to deteriorate in recent months. We are going backwards in some respects.

The flag dispute raised a number of issues of concern. One was the policing of the protests, or rather, the lack of policing, which undermined completely the Parades Commission. The sitting down with loyalist paramilitary leaders, whom many thought were out of the equation, was also a concern. The commanders are still very much in place and senior police officers meeting them indicated that they still have significant control within their own areas. That highlighted the fact that if financial support is not given to loyalist communities, we will see exercising of strength on the part of loyalist paramilitaries and the flags dispute was part of this. The flags issue started off as an issue for Belfast but was very clearly directed out into rural areas and was used in various ways. In my own area of Dungannon, the flags issue at the local council had already been resolved years ago but the issue was raised again by the Orange Order and by loyalist paramilitaries. There was a driving back, so to speak.

The issue of sectarianism was raised on the "Talkback" radio programme yesterday and was discussed from several perspectives. The first point is that sectarianism is nothing new. It is not something that emerged as a result of the Good Friday Agreement and it did not emerge from new-found loyalism either. It has been in existence in Northern Ireland for a long time and was used by successive British Governments. The orange card has been played many times, when it suited. The response to the parades and flags issues were similar in that we did not get anything more than the standard sectarian response that we got in the past. That is one of the failures of the Assembly, that we did not get clear leadership from loyalist and Unionist representatives or real efforts on their part to defuse the situation. If anything, the issues were played up and were used for party-politics in east Belfast as much as anything.

The Agreement itself, notwithstanding many issues in it, was something that was drawn up as a working document, to some extent. There are a number of outstanding issues within the Agreement that have yet to be dealt with. There seems to be an attitude now within unionism that the agreement is signed, sealed and is over. The St. Andrews Agreement is part and parcel of that, of course. There is now a clawing back process under way. All of the issues that have come up are part of that clawing back or stalling. One of the issues that has been raised and used a number of times in the Assembly is that of the 30 signatures mechanism, which has been used by all parties in various ways. Instead of that mechanism being used as a last resort, it has now become the first resort, more or less.

The issue of integration is not a simple one. I live in a rural area and while we may not have walls and gates, we still have divisions and everyone knows their boundaries. I lived in an area which was termed a "murder triangle", which was very much surrounded and where people felt surrounded, yet within that area people worked together. To say we can simply educate everybody together, by force, is simplistic. It will not work. The same applies to the integration of housing because people have fears and social issues can be more powerful than housing issues. These social issues must be addressed.

The major problem with the Assembly, which I support and which is better than direct rule, is that it has become almost too local, with local party politics directing Ministers and the Assembly instead of the other way round, where the Assembly should offer leadership. While we may have moved forward, we are far from seeing the situation of a republican president in the Six Counties, unlike seeing a black president in America.

11:00 am

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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I will now hand back to panellists. Rather than everyone answering each question individually, will people pick out a few questions?

Professor Brandon Hamber:

We can arm wrestle for each question. A huge number of issues have been raised and I could not do justice to all of them. I will comment on the issue of the economy and young people and then integrated education. My colleagues can deal with the other questions.

There is no doubt issues of unemployment and youth alienation about lack of prospects are universally seen as key issues that lead to not only social disengagement but, potentially, to violence; I completely concur with the point made. The other troubling issue is that we have seen a steady decrease in voting levels, with young people becoming increasingly uninterested in the political system and civic life.

The Deloitte report into segregation highlighted that segregation costs about £1.5 billion when compared to other regions. Segregation costs money and is a drag on the economy. In my short presentation thinking about attitudes, behaviours and structural issues, I do not see them as completely separate from one another. Although I completely agree about the importance of economic growth and employment, it must be done within a context because if it happens in and of itself, it will not necessarily solve the problem. If young people are still growing up in segregated environments, where the idea of the market economy is still segregated, where a person will buy from one shop but not another, or live in one area but not another, it will undermine economic progress. We must address all of these issues and although it will make a dramatic difference if there are higher levels of employment, attitudinal differences and behavioural issues will not just fade away. If we look at a region like the Basque region, which is very comparable to many northern European economies, it has transformed the economy but not the conflict. These issues are all related.

Statistics on integrated education indicate there has not been significant progress. The peace monitoring report that was published yesterday stated there had been a minor shift in the numbers of young people entering integrated education but it is still only around 7%. There has not been a major shift in school integration patterns. What obstacles are in the way? Various authorities have developed during the years, some doing very good work, with bureaucratic structures in place where people have invested in those bodies. Parents might want to choose based on historical reasons where their children might go. Furthermore, because there are so few integrated schools, there is often no real choice. It is interesting that survey data on integrated education consistently show parents favour integrated education. Recently, one survey showed 79% of parents stated they would support their school becoming integrated. There is a groundswell of interest in the area.

At policy level, however, the notion of integrated education has steadily been dropped in recent years, which is troubling. A recent report from the Integrated Education Fund tracks all the policies and notices how the word "integration", despite being a key issue in the agreement, has become less of a focus. It is difficult to understand why but it raises concerns that we might be settling for an acceptance of current arrangements. There have been positive developments like the shared education programme, which encourages cross-schooling. We cannot force children into integrated education but leadership and commitment appear to be lacking, whether that is for a vision for the next five, ten, 15 or 20 years where children are schooled together or not. That has not been forthcoming so there is no clear direction in this area, which undermines the potential of the sector.

Dr. Neil Jarman:

I will also briefly touch on education but from a slightly different perspective. There are indications from some of the statistics on education of an increasingly consolidated class divide, where our top pupils at top schools are above the levels of performance in Britain. There are very high levels of qualification and very good quality schools. The bottom cohort, however, have performance levels that are worse than those in Britain. There is a very polarised system, not only in terms of community background, but by quality of service delivery. I elaborated in my first piece about the need to address socioeconomic issues and education and training are key factors in that regard.

The CRC peace monitoring report yesterday pointed out the divide is also emerging between girls and boys. Girls are much better performers at school, while boys are much poorer. That is not necessarily along sectarian lines between boys, although it has been highlighted recently that there is poor educational attainment in Protestant working class areas. Catholic working class boys, however are doing worse in school than Protestant working class boys. There is a real need to grapple with the integration of education and the overall quality of its delivery. That will feed into any potential transformation of the economy. We have comparable levels of unemployment to those in Britain but there are lower levels of people working. Unemployment plus other forms of not working mean a higher proportion of our population are not contributing to the economy and we must address that through a variety of ways.

On the point Mr. Francie Molloy made, policing is an area where I am concerned about the progress being made. The issues surrounding the flag protests highlighted that because public order policing is one of those areas where policing takes place in the public domain, it can be seen and people form their opinions about it quickly. Views on policing are largely based on policing in the public domain. I was part of a team that carried out research for the PSNI on community attitudes to public order policing that was completed and given to the service at the end of November prior to the start of the flag protests and which will be discussed at next week's meeting of the policing board. That found real concerns about some elements of public order policing, particularly the roles of TSGs. It raised concerns there is a two-tier policing system in place between community-based policing on one hand, which was seen as a child of Patten, and the TSGs and public order policing, which were seen as remnants of the RUC and, in some cases, the B-Specials were cited as the model. That crossed the sectarian divide.

The attitudes in the Protestant community were no different from those in the Catholic community. It did not matter whether one was in the Ardoyne, where there were high levels of conflict over public order, or in areas in which there was no policing, it was just a general view of policing. I think that will have been only exacerbated by the flags protest and the sense of the police facilitating these protests.

There is a concern that some of the gains that have been made in policing from 2001 to 2009 have started to slip back. That emphasises the point of the Agreement as being a work in progress. Let me comment on the point made by Deputy Joe O'Reilly on the civic forum. I see the potential for the civic forum to play two slightly contradictory roles. One of the challenges of the Agreement that we had not thought through at the time - that is becoming more evident - is the lack of a political opposition as every party is in government. One never knows exactly what set of policies will be voted on because it depends on the particular Ministries that each party holds. One cannot vote for the opposition as one cannot vote the government out. The civic forum could provide a platform for alternative views; for raising issues outside the structures of government and holding the government to account in some way. I would not see it necessarily as being an opposition function, I think it could also bring some of the expertise required to work with government to address some of the deficit in developing policy and thinking through some of the issues in civil society. I see the civic forum in the role of a partner that could help to address some of the deficits that we highlighted earlier in terms of lack of policy development and long-term thinking. These are two elements of a role for the civic forum. I do not see the way the civic forum functioned in the early years after the Agreement as necessarily being the model. We need to rethink how it was done but it has the potential to play a constructive role in taking the Agreement forward.

I will hand over to Peter Sheridan to deal with the remaining issues.

11:10 am

Mr. Peter Sheridan:

I will comment on some of the done and dusted issues raided by Mr. Francie Molloy. I think there is such a sense and it tends to make politicians complacent about where we are and to place the focus on the economy, whether in Ireland or in the United Kingdom. There is the danger of not dealing with issues which are a bigger long-term threat to the economy on this island than the current recession. I think we will get out of the current recession, be it in the next five to ten years, but if we do not deal with the signature weaknesses that we have and the outstanding issues of the Good Friday Agreement, I think they will become a greater long-term threat to the Agreement. There is a sense in the North of working together but managing apart. I think we need to deal with that issue. There are social tensions around the issue of the flags and the parades. As I work in loyalist working class communities, there is no doubt that among ordinary people there is a fear of loss or dilution of their ethos and symbols. Some of this might be as a result of how they understood what they got or did not get in the Good Friday Agreement. There is a genuine fear of losing their ethos. There are malign forces also at work who are able to get people on to the street but I do not think we should ignore the fears in working class loyalist communities. The peace dividend of jobs, that Deputy Joe O'Reilly raised, did not happen and therefore young people who are growing up, and were not here 15 years ago, have a sense of hopelessness. They have only the half dozen streets around them and have no sense they will get out of that environment which I think causes some of that fear of losing, which is part of the feeling in their communities. I agree with the point made by Mr. Francie Molloy, MP that the hostility and bitterness needs to move to recognition that consistently championing our own sides and their causes is not what a shared society is about. A shared society is not about a homogeneous society but it is trying to create a stable place in which all who live there, regardless of cultural or religious backgrounds and people see the place as home. For the new generation coming through, to which Deputy Brendan Smith referred, the old certainties of the past around nationalism, unionism, Catholicism, Protestantism are no longer there and I think we need to consider what impact that will have on us in the years to come.

I think we must consider whether peace is simply an absence of violence and the end of conflict or about people having enough resources to live dignified lives, which is related to the issue of jobs and education. If we are clear that peace is not just about an absence of violence but is about creating the circumstances in which people have the resources to live dignified lives, I think the direction of travel changes and the decisions we make in the coming years also change. Between the peace making phase of the Good Friday Agreement and peace building phase, there was a view in governments that once the Northern Ireland Executive was up and running, it should have the responsibility to get on with business. I think most of us would agree that the right thing to do was to give the Northern Ireland Executive that responsibility, but in hindsight some of the most difficult issues are the ones they continue to grapple with. The Northern Ireland Executive had been asked to build a new government, to look at issues such as water rates and the ordinary business of government and in addition to deal with sectarianism, segregated housing and education. The Six Counties are the equivalent size of Manchester with a community of 1.5 million to 1.7 million people. We would not hand some of the major issues to Croydon County Council outside London to deal with them on their own. Part of the refocusing at the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement is on the engagement by the British, Irish and the US Governments in supporting the Northern Ireland Executive to deal with the residue of the difficult outstanding issues arising from the conflict. If I would be allowed to rewrite the Agreement, I would ask the Northern Ireland Executive to focus on the future and build a new future and we, as the government, will continue to deal with the outstanding difficult issues the peace walls, residential and educational segregation issues. What is required is that support from the British, Irish and the US Governments to re-engage with the Northern Ireland Executive to help it along and not simply be critical of it. We are dealing with the trauma of the past 30 years and we should not be surprised that people who were former enemies are sitting down and trying to work things out. We could always say they could do more, and most of us got such a comment in the school reports. Yes of course the Northern Ireland Executive could do more but it needs the help and support from the Governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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Our next three offerings are from Mr. Mark Durkan, MP; Deputies Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and Seán Crowe in that order.

Mr. Mark Durkan, MP:

I also thank all three previous speakers for their very sharp presentations. Points have been made on a number of strands. The points made on education highlight a number of questions that need to be asked about the political structures. Mr. Francie Molloy touched on some of these, including the workings of the Assembly itself and the civic forum.

I have long believed that if we had not just retained the civil forum but developed it and allowed it to do what it was charged to do, to come up with the recommendations as to its own structure and working modalities in the longer term, the issue of education in relation to both the vexed question around academic selection and the dynamic towards more sharing of learning and better learning of sharing, we would be in a very different context. That is exactly the sort of issue that once it came up at the level of the Assembly, parties were seen to line up either for selection or against selection. It was seen that the Nationalist parties tended to be against selection and the Unionist parties tended to be for selection and it became absolutely brittle. There was no solution feasible for the Assembly because if a Minister were to put forward a legislative proposal for what he or she wanted to do, it would have been immediately cancelled out with a petition of concern.

Instead, any Minister wanting to pursue a policy had to do it by virtue of departmental guidelines, ministerial guidance, etc. That might be grand but once a different party gets that Ministry, then the guidance will be very different. This is an issue that needs to be settled by legislation so that schools and the systems know for a generation or more what they will be dealing with in order to plan and to order themselves. I also believe that settling the issue of academic selection in a positive, progressive way would have been one of the biggest releases for the integrated education offer. In the past, integrated education was often demeaned or whispered against as a choice of many parents on the basis that they were only choosing it because they were unsure if their children would get into the grammar school and they did not want to send them to the secondary school. It was the polite way of avoiding it. That was a terrible thing to say and it is a terrible smear. However, properly resolving the whole issue of academic selection in a way would have meant that schools would have to orientate and present themselves in different ways, in ways that would have created a drive for even more re-organisation with regard to the school estate. It would have opened up more, not just the offer of integrated education, but in terms of all of the other suggestions about how to have new shared learning spaces.

I refer to some of the difficulties about how the Assembly has not been allowed to operate as a legislative assembly and how, too often, policy issues that are serious public policy issues are simply privatised into the hands of Ministers. Because there is now just predictive use of petitions of concern, policy options are not even being tabled any more. The attitude is we cannot table that. It is as though people in the Assembly and in the Assembly committees are told there is no point asking about policy issues because the Executive has yet to decide. When the Executive decides something, there is no point in asking because the Executive has decided on it and all parties have agreed it and it cannot be disagreed. Mr. Francie Molloy's point is very similar to my own, that we are in a position now where we have an Assembly that appears to be accountable to an Executive rather than an Executive being accountable to an Assembly. When we were negotiating and designing the Good Friday Agreement our idea was that the Assembly would provide the opposition role in terms of scrutiny and challenge and that the Assembly and its committees would be prompted to provide that role by very good input from other sectors, from the different policy communities and partly from the civic forum. As alluded to by Dr. Neil Jarman, we hoped the civic forum would be a body that could actually do some policy out-riding work ahead of the Assembly and Departments, that it could look at some of the more difficult structural issues and maybe draw connections between what the Government might consider to be separate issues to be dealt with by separate Departments. The civic forum with its range of insights could perhaps see the connections between these issues and whether some issues are being held up by others. The civic forum began to give some glimpse of how issues could be considered in that way such as the issue of social inclusion and shared future issues. In my view there is real value at looking again at the issue of the civic forum not just in the North but also the consultative forum that was meant to exist as a North-South body. A consultative civic forum on a North-South basis can prove the case that there is sectoral neutral demand for better North-South co-operation and co-ordination and that it is not just something purely on the Nationalist agenda. It would prove and vindicate the case before it becomes a matter of political dispute that one side wants it and the other side is wary of it.

Despite all those little criticisms and frustrations we should not gainsay the point stressed by all three members that we now have a settled process. It is not a perfect environment; we will never live and work in laboratory conditions and we will have to cope with real life. I agree that we should not be complacent when turbulence is encountered but neither should we succumb to crash panic. Whatever the turbulence, we have machinery that can get us through it. However, we need to be thinking not just of the physics of how these arrangements work but also we need to pay more attention to the chemistry needed to make the agreement work so that it delivers and flourishes in the way it is meant to do.

The flags dispute raised questions about how the police were appearing to broker with certain people. It seems that local police commanders are too often advising people to talk to so and so in this or that local organisation or that political or politically related figure rather than to the police. This is not the sort of response people should be getting from police. It is not civic policing according to the ethic of Patten.

I refer to policing challenges arising from the implications of the Westminster justice and security Bill and more particularly from the crime and courts Bill. The justice and security Bill may have more implications for the courts and the issue of closed material proceedings to be used in cases of challenges to the state. These will raise fundamental issues in future. It is argued that it is going completely against the grain of Patten if NCA special constables are brought back in the North to operate on their own terms. That Bill even provides that some PSNI officers can be also NCA special constables while others may not be. This creates a possible difficulty of differentiation within PSNI as to different status. This is on top of the complications already there with regard to the MI5 role and the complaints many of us are receiving at constituency level about people in policing spaces being approached by people who have a different agenda which is a security service agenda beyond what is meant to be the PSNI remit. Those difficulties are there. I do not say this to detract in any way from the very significant progress made with regard to policing. The irony that none of us expected was that there was a period since the agreement when the one significant successful result of the agreement was the policing arrangements. The political arrangements were suspended. None of us would have expected that the policing arrangements were working in the absence of the political arrangements. Due to the quality of the policing leadership, including from people such as Peter Sheridan as well as the resolve of those who had committed to driving forward the new beginning in policing, this is what happened. This could be sustained for so long but other developments needed to happen to take things forward.

In a previous meeting of this committee we discussed the issue of the Bill of Rights. I made the point then that perhaps a robust, relevant and clearly articulated Bill of Rights might actually be an instrument that would give people better protection rather than merely relying on the negative vetoes built into the agreement. It may be a way of addressing some of the concerns evident in the flags dispute and at other levels as well. Based on our experience of the agreement and based on what we see as the shortcomings of how the politics or institutions are working, we can question what is the added value which a Bill of Rights might provide and what release might such a Bill provide for politics and the parties in order that they would not have to put themselves into corners with regard to some of these issues.

11:30 am

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin North Central, Labour)
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I thank our guests for their contributions and apologise for my late arrival. In the context of a presentation made to it previously, the committee was informed that the majority of young people between the ages of 18 and 26 in Northern Ireland are not even registered to vote. Does this give rise to a generational political disconnection and, therefore, does politics in the North still centre around the emotions which held sway in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s? Is it the case that the young people to whom I refer are so politically disconnected that they cannot even be bothered to register?

I do not wish to say anything to offend anyone but I get the impression that there is not really any political imperative to overcome sectarianism. This is because sectarianism is the lifeblood of the political party system. Political parties in the North identify themselves along particular lines of national identity and, therefore, overcoming sectarianism is not in anyone's political interest. Will our guests indicate how they believe the political designation within the Assembly is working? Is it time to re-examine the position? I understand the reason behind the inclusion of that designation at the outset but is it not giving rise to a situation whereby, as someone indicated to me, the Assembly is functioning in a dysfunctional way?

We do not have integrated education in the Republic of Ireland. We have a long way to go before we reach a position where there might be a semblance of integrated education for people from different backgrounds. Education in the Republic is very socially divisive and I presume it is religiously divisive in the North. At a recent meeting in Stormont, it was explained to me that an issue arises with regard to working class Protestants and Catholics. I was informed that working class Catholic children who attend second level Catholic schools are six times more likely to reach third level than are their working class Protestant counterparts. Mr. Sheridan referred to a different statistic in the context of working class males. Perhaps our guests could provide some clarification on the matter.

Given the level of emphasis placed on issues such as flag protests, policing, national identity, sectarianism, etc., is there a tendency to overlook matters such as social disadvantage and political disconnection?

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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Will our guests provide clarification with regard to the statistics involved? When Youth Work Ireland and Youth Action Northern Ireland made their presentations, reference was made to non-registration. I do not know whether the latter is specific to particular areas, to particular Unionist-loyalist areas or wherever else. If we could obtain clarification, it would be welcome. The statistics appear to show that the picture is somewhat skewed and indicate that the majority-----

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin North Central, Labour)
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The statistics indicate that a small majority of 18 to 26 year olds are not registered to vote.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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It is a small majority rather than the overall majority of such individuals.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin North Central, Labour)
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The figure was in the region of 52%. That might be incorrect but there is certainly a large cohort whose members are not registered.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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Clarification in respect of this matter would be welcome.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin North Central, Labour)
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That to which we are referring is having an effect on the way politics is run.

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome our guests. It is right to place the difficulties and the conflict we experienced in a historical context. The conflict did not just begin in 1968 or 1969 and it is important to consider from where it originated. It is also important to consider the position in other regions across the globe. Reference was made to a woman sitting in a particular seat on a bus in the US in the early 1960s. That woman could very easily have taken the decision to sit at the back of the bus. There are many people who would argue that perhaps it is right to keep one's head down and not say anything. This view is particularly prevalent among many officials who will say "Don't raise the issue because it will only add to the difficulties". Where there is institutionalised discrimination against people - different conflicts throughout the world were mentioned in this regard - individuals are going to rebel or argue or rise up against that discrimination. The Arab spring and other uprisings have shown this to be the case.

There are many present at this meeting who have grey hair. I find it difficult to come to terms with the fact that the Good Friday Agreement was signed 15 years ago or that it is 32 years since the hunger strikes. We have all experienced the emotion, pain, etc., relating to these events. For many young people, however, the slow pace of change is the major difficulty. That is the great frustration for all of us, even though we are 15 years down the line from the signing of the Agreement. Our guests referred to many of the issues. However, many of these have been parked or people have stated that they have been resolved. I am sure we all agree that ex-prisoners have a big role to play in the context of resolving the conflict, bringing their communities forward and so on. We established certain things in respect of former combatants and the matter was then parked and forgotten about because it was viewed as being resolved. We know, to our cost, that this is not the actual position.

Aspects of the Good Friday Agreement that have not been implemented have been identified. Is there an appetite for change in this regard? Reference was made to the civic forum. The example of a forum for discontent was put forward in this regard and perhaps it underlines one of the reasons some politicians did not want to go down that road. There is also the point that we represent civic society. In such circumstances, why would there be a need for such a forum? After all, elected representatives come from civic society. If one considers the many conflict resolution mechanisms used throughout the world, one will come across the widespread view to the effect that civic society must be involved. I am of the view that one of the weaknesses with the Good Friday Agreement is that we did not engage on this level. This matter remains outstanding.

I agree with the view that the Bill of Rights should be progressed but I again question whether there is the appetite in this regard. I also agree that the two Governments must be champions for change. Part of the problems arises as a result of the fact that both have taken a step back. Someone needs to take up the baton in respect of the civic forum and the many other outstanding matters relating to the Agreement in order to bring about change. There is a need for re-engagement in this area.

Our guests referred to the lack of change and the committee previously heard about an outbreak of rickets in west Belfast. It is 2013 yet such an outbreak has occurred. The position with regard to poverty has still not changed. Reference was also made to mixed housing. Given that there is not a huge housing programme, it would be difficult to ensure progress in this regard. On our recent visit to the city, people were discussing a particular complex in north Belfast. There was not a massive amount of funding for this complex but we all know about small seedlings.

On a day such as this it is important to discuss the huge changes we have witnessed in our lifetimes. In that context, a number of previous speakers referred to the disconnect, not only among young people. As others indicated, there is a disconnect between those who live in Protestant working class areas and Unionist politicians. There is also a disconnect between working class Catholics and republican and Nationalist politicians but not to the same extent. What can we do in respect of the disconnect to which I refer? Should unionism take up the running in this regard? Many of the meetings we attended recently were also attended by Unionist politicians and the same argument was put forward. What can the committee, the role of which relates to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, do in respect of encouraging the change which must happen within society?

We must address the outstanding issues as a matter of urgency. In that context, however, questions will arise as to whether certain people will lose out.

Achieving equality will mean a loss, supposedly, for some in society. That mindset needs to be changed.

I welcome the work in which the guests are involved with those organisations and groups that are disconnected from the political system. What can we do in that respect? The guests spoke about some of the so-called dissident groups, some of the loyalist groups and so on. In that context, is there a role not only for mainstream politicians, but for a committee such as this one? What would the guests urge both Governments to do now? Would it be to take up the mantle of being a champion for change about which Mr. Peter Sheridan talked? What else can both Governments do? If the guests had a magic wand to bring about positive change tomorrow, what would they like both Governments to do?

11:40 am

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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Before returning to our guests for their responses, I will take two more questions from Senators Cummins and Moran.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I thank the panel for their contributions. We would all agree that significant progress has been made and that should be celebrated. Dr. Neil Jarman made some challenging remarks in his opening comments about policies that were being formulated prior to 15 years ago on anti-poverty, matters related to the ageing population and other areas that have not been progressed, and that civil society feels marginalised. I would have thought those were the issues that would unite communities and that should be discussed by civil forums and civil society. It seems the Assembly is embroiled in issues that divide communities and, naturally, those matters are highlighted more than issues that would unite society.

Dr. Jarman mentioned in terms of the Agreement that there was no focus or policy in regard to future paramilitaries because it was considered they would fade away but, as we know, they have not. Is a security response the only one that can be given in regard to the paramilitaries? Is there any other way this problem can be addressed?

On sectarianism and the question Deputy Ó Ríordáin raised, some people believe the issue of sectarianism is not being addressed. Is there a political dividend for some parties to let things be as they are? We should concentrate on the many positive developments that have been achieved during the past 15 years but not forget the many issues that have been highlighted by Dr. Neil Jarman, in particular, and that will have to be addressed in the future.

Photo of Mary MoranMary Moran (Labour)
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I thank the guests for their excellent presentations. I do not want to rehash or reiterate what other people have said but I wish to pick up on a few points. Tremendous progress has been made. I live along the Border in Dundalk and travelling from Dundalk to Belfast now is a completely different journey from it was 15 or 20 years ago. That is to be very much welcomed.

The issue of sectarianism arises again and again in terms of the different education systems and a valid point was made about the notion of class in this context. There are people who strive to get their children into the best grammar schools in the North and who can afford grinds. This relates to the structure of the education system. We have the same problem in the South. The overall educational structure needs to be examined as well as the issue of sectarianism.

Another major issue, which I have raised previously. is that of the A level education system and students who have come through it attending university in the South and students from the South attending university in the North. There is a great deal of work to be done there. I am aware work is ongoing between some of the universities and work was done by the former Senator Martin McAleese and by Brian McGrath in DCU to encourage more cross-Border participation from students, North and South. Perhaps we could develop that further in terms of the Agreement.

How effective do the guests consider the North-South bodies have been? We strongly emphasised in the programme for Government their importance in improving the economic situation and in developing job opportunities. In what way can we improve or move them forward in their work when we look to the next 15 years?

On the issue of funding for projects that have arisen as a result of the conflict, what measures are in place to ensure that value for money is being secured? What improvements, if any, have the guests seen, or how well do they consider such money has been spent? What criteria are in place to ensure that such money is spent in resolving conflict? I do not mean to be disrespectful but if there was complete peace and harmony North and South, there would not be a need for some of this funding. Perhaps there is a desire to keep this ongoing.

On the matter of North-South co-operation on projects, one that is dear to my heart is the Narrow Water bridge project. The prospect its completion offers in terms of symbolism alone to mark the 15th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement would be of significant benefit. It would be helpful if we could have a definitive response from the northern side on the building of it because we are running against the clock on this one. If that matter could be settled in the very near future it would be a great project to show symbolically the link between the North and the South.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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I am sure many civil servants in the Departments of transport on both of sides of the Border will have listened to that last contribution. The panellists are free to comment on it but they may not have an insight into it.

I thank the members for their thought-provoking questions which provides a degree of insight for everybody. Before returning to the panellists for their responses, I wish to ask them if there is a role for an independent honest broker outside of Westminster, Belfast and Dublin in addressing the legacy of the conflict and legacy issues in the design of some construct around dealing with the past? We would appreciate their insight on that because from our contact with those in both communities in Northern Ireland, legacy issues and the weight of the past are issues that have come up and we believe they cannot be ignored.

Mr. Peter Sheridan:

I will try to answer some of the questions raised. Deputy Ó Ríordáin raised the issue of sectarianism being the lifeblood of the some political parties and asked if it was a raison d'être for them continuing. I have heard that argument previously. I would tend to be more benevolent than that in that I do not think people in the political parties deliberately set out to keep that in place. It is an issue of the difficulties involved. All of us struggle with how to deal with the issue of sectarianism and segregation. There is not the willingness to deal with it in the same way but I do not believe they genuinely sit down and say they will retain those extremist parties because that suits their interests. I do not think it happens in that way; maybe it does with individuals, but I do not think it is a deliberate policy by people.

In terms of the political designation in the Assembly, in the peace-building phase I have included institution building.

This is because we still are engaged in institution building, although at some stage in the future it will be moving to having an opposition. Consequently, it is part of that growing and as Professor Hamber noted earlier in terms of the Executive, this is not settled but was to get us to a place. However, the future must be different in that regard and when the time is right, the politicians will make the call to do that.

Deputy Crowe raised the issue of a disconnect with Unionist politicians. I think there is a fall back to the past, whereby in unionism in particular, political leaders were drawn from the more elite in society and were not necessarily embedded in working class communities. This probably is true today in that in respect of the SDLP and Sinn Féin in particular, their councillors and MLAs live in working class areas. This is not the case to the same extent among Unionist parties and I think they recognise that. As for what one does about it, I was disappointed two and a half years ago, when we applied to a special EU programme, together with a broad range of other groups, having identified some of these issues about flags, parades and how one might grow the next generation of politicians, community activists and political leaders, particularly in loyalist working class areas. We proposed an academy-style approach about educating young people, particularly in working-class Protestant areas but unfortunately, for some reason or other, the project fell. It involved quite a broad range of interest groups who were part of putting together the project with me, not least the former Senator McAleese, when he was a Member of this House. I believe we will be obliged to revisit this proposal because there is an issue as to how one bridges that gap between young people, whose default position still is towards paramilitary organisations, because there is that gap where political leaders do not live or work in those areas.

Senator Cummins raised the issue of the response to paramilitarism. While there of course must be a policing response North and South, there also must be other responses. We have fallen too quickly into the language of dissidents and dissident republicans and people now are trying to style themselves as the IRA again. Journalism and so on then begins to pick up on that language, to which we go back again very quickly, whereas we must think about them differently. They are people who are anti-peace, anti-Irish and anti-democratic and I do not believe one should have a single label for a group of people because one creates an identity for them, particularly among young people, and almost gives them a body of people. We talk about dissidence as though there is a body of people around it. Everyone is aware there is nothing wrong with dissent as long as it is not violent. We also must find a way of engaging and challenging people who see physical force as a way forward when the time is right to do that, which again is a political call. However, there are things people in communities and community organisations can do, as it does not necessarily sit at Government level and we must engage them. In addition, there is a sense that one either is Sinn Féin or a dissident. There is a whole group of people in the middle who may be disaffected with the direction of travel that Sinn Féin took but who are not necessarily going down the avenue of physical force. One must be alert to that group of people and must engage with them in this regard. There is an opportunity, both for the police and for all the Departments of Government, North and South, to give consideration to those key individuals in particular who are causing the most harm in society. For example, the case of someone who has a Housing Executive house in Derry, while also having one in County Donegal that he or she rents out, is not a policing issue. It also is a matter for other Departments. Consequently, the question is what role can be played by other Departments jointly North and South, in respect of those who effectively need a spotlight put on the back of their necks and who are causing the most harm in society. However, we should be public about this and state it is being done. Moreover, if we are to take such steps with people, it should be human rights-compliant and in step with human rights standards. There are of course also must be a policing response to it.

Senator Moran raised the issues of education, funding and value for money. I will leave the question of education to the specialist beside me. As a practitioner who is in receipt of some funding, one frustration I experience, particularly in respect of the European Union, is the focus on the bureaucracy. For example, as part of a project we were running recently, I brought a group of people to visit the Executive and the Assembly. I was obliged to carry out a single tender action for procurement in respect of a number of jugs of juice for youngsters who were to visit, because the Assembly has its own catering committee. I refer to the amount of time and effort required to carry out a single tender action. Moreover, all the subsequent questions were not about the value of the project or what happened therein but were about how many cups of tea and how many bums on seats matched those cups of tea. We must find a way to deal with such bureaucracy. I also work very closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which takes a completely different approach to how it monitors the money that is spent and the impact we are having. I recently met the auditors to talk about how we measure the impact, over the years to come, on the work and the money that is put in and how do we know we are being effective. This is a far more practical way of looking at it and I believe that bureaucracy has got in the way. Everyone understands the need to ensure that each receipt is covered but it is almost as though this has become the priority and not doing the business. This is one frustration I sense throughout the entire community and voluntary sector.

The Senator raised the issue of whether this keeps funding organisations, such as those represented here, in place. I look forward to the day when we do not need Co-operation Ireland, because I then will know we have got to the place where Northern Ireland is safe for everyone and one does not need organisations which carry out peace-building. I look forward to the day when that happens. As for being able to find an honest broker, it is absolutely clear that we must deal with the past. It is a weakness, in that it acts like a bungee rope in respect of almost everything we touch around the Executive and it pulls us back in. Whatever the model that must be put in place, we certainly need to deal with the legacy of the past.

11:50 am

Dr. Neil Jarman:

I will pick up on a few points. As for the questions Deputy Ó Ríordáin raised on statistics and data, I do not know the statistics on young people's registration to vote. However, I recommend a report we have mentioned a number of times, namely, the peace monitoring report from the Community Relations Council, which was published yesterday and basically the data are up to date up to the end of February. It is a good compendium of some of the publications, research and work that has been done and which might give members some indication regarding some of the statistics on education, for example, that are being discussed in today's meeting.

In respect of paramilitarism, I was thinking slightly differently, with more of a focus on the older organisations that have been around throughout the conflict. A number of those organisations or sections thereof have been making moves towards demilitarising and civilianising and this has been dependent on funding to drive the process. Such funding has been haphazard and, in some cases, particularly in respect of the UVF, has come to an end. This is partly because those processes are being driven internally within the organisation and there has been no external stick or carrot with which to move matters along. There is a willingness within some sections of the aforementioned organisations to find a way of moving forward to the new political realities. However, in the absence of policy, they are left largely to their own devices. The policy would help to frame that and it perhaps would need some element of the stick approach, as well as a carrot. However, it is about holding some of those people to account and asking what are they still doing? They should be asked what is their rationale and justification 18 years after the ceasefires.

Mr. Mark Durkan raised the issue of MI5, which is one of those emerging issues that is beginning to be voiced and expressed. The Committee on the Administration of Justice, CAJ, drew up a report about covert policing. It was an issue that came up in the piece we did on public order policing last year, when people questioned the potential role of MI5. There is a suspicion there about what is going on, without necessarily people knowing very much about it. However, the suspicion feeds in and starts to undermine a sense that progress is being made and suggests there is another dimension of a two-tier form of policing.

One issue that cuts across much of what has been discussed this morning is perhaps there are differing expectations of both the Good Friday Agreement and the peace. Professor Hamber touched on this earlier in respect of the peace-building issue, where one has a notion of a positive peace or negative peace, with the latter being simply the absence of violence while the former comprises moving on towards more social justice issues and dealing with all the structural issues that underpinned the problems in the first place. I certainly agree with Professor Hamber that we have got a sense of a negative peace but I am not sure how far there is a commitment to push that through to a sense of a positive peace.

I am not sure that there is a clear understanding of what that positive peace would look like. On some of the points that were made about where we take this and whether there is the appetite for taking it further, I am not sure there is in some places. People are quite comfortable with an absence of violence. Some of the issues we have touched on today are the socioeconomic issues that are beginning to become more evident and will, in turn, have potential in a society which is deeply divided and fragmented, which has paramilitary organisations still present, where rioting is seen as broadly acceptable and where we know where one riot will be on 12 July. If one starts to pull all of those matters together, it has the potential, with the right set of circumstances, to undermine. We need a discussion on the long-term expectations of peace building and that brings one to the issue of the role of honest brokers and, potentially, the role of the committee.

Deputy Crowe asked what potential role a civic forum would have because there are elected political representatives. In some senses, I would see that civic forum as playing the same role as this committee could play or of some other form of honest broker. The Agreement and the peace process needs all the support it can get and it should not be merely left to the politicians elected in Stormont if other people can play a role. There are those roles of challenge - about where it is going, what one has done and what one has not done. It is providing support. It is nurturing the process through. It is holding the institutions to account, seeing what needs to be done. Bodies like this committee can play a role in taking that process forward.

I have two brief health points. Deputy Joe O'Reilly mentioned migrants. There is approximately 4% to 5% of A8 and minority ethnic communities in Northern Ireland. According to the 2001 census, there were fewer than 1% from those constituencies. We have seen a four to five-fold increase in non-white Northern Irish people in the past ten years. It is a fairly significant transformation. In my view, it is positive. It increases the diversity. It puts more perspectives in the public domain. It challenges people's mono and duo-culturalism. One interesting issue from the launch of this peace building report yesterday was that the person who got the highest marks in Irish language GCSE in Northern Ireland last year was a Polish national. They can play a positive role in it.

I do not know enough about the work in North-South bodies but if there is to be the Narrow Water bridge, can they please use the architect who designed the Boyne bridge rather than the architect who designed the Toomebridge?

12:00 pm

Professor Brandon Hamber:

I thank the members. I also had made a note about the migrant issue because we had not addressed it. Interestingly, in the report to which we have now alluded on several occasions there is a phrase which refers to Northern Ireland now becoming a society of minorities, not only meaning new groups coming into the society but also how people are increasingly identifying their own identities as Catholic and Protestant or Northern Irish. That starts to raise some interesting questions in terms of what was raised about the bill of rights and other sorts of issues. One starts to ask how one can protect and express one's sense of minority rather than how one prevents the problems of majoritarianism. That starts to change the mindset over a period and that is particularly interesting.

Mr. Sheridan made the point about the value for money issue raised by Senator Moran. My comment was going to be fairly similar, that I think that what has happened over the past while has been an increasing focus on outputs rather than outcomes. It is not that outputs are not important or that auditing is not important. If we are to assist these projects - I would stand by the view that much of this work is good - we need to be looking at the outcomes and move away from this obsession with whether one counted this or how much did one procure on issues. It is not that those issues are important but that we need such balance.

On the second point in that regard, as I was coming to the committee today I went through the Agreement again. I was astounded by the number of times it talks about the importance of community work and community-level engagement on victims' issues and other issues. Some of that commitment is there and society has committed to some of that, but for me this reaffirms it.

My final comment would focus on what can we do. Several members raised the issue of there being a historic context and that sectarianism predates the conflict. All of that is absolutely true, but then it raises the bar for us. If these are deep historical issues, that means we cannot be complacent. If they have such longevity, no matter how good the Agreement is, they are deep and rooted.

The issue of international comparison also arose and what is important in that regard. Coming from South Africa originally, I am always asked what is the difference between here and South Africa. There are many differences, but one of the key issues is that, obviously, what is in place in Northern Ireland is an agreement not a settlement. It is not settled what the issue is in terms of what the constitutional disposition will be at the end of the day, whatever that might be. It is an agreement and a direction of travel that has been put in place. That is important because it means one must underpin strongly the constitutional way that everybody has now affirmed that they will pursue their political aspirations in order to deal with how that will unfold itself in the future in terms of the constitutional issue. That, for me, reaffirms the importance of building the economy, having that robust structure and ensuring that young people have a sense of trust in those institutions over the long term because this is a long issue that will work itself out as an agreement before it reaches some form of settlement, whatever that might be. It means we cannot be complacent about issues of segregation in a society because if one does not deal with those, one potentially leaves the seeds for conflict.

There are a number of specific issues which we have not touched on here today but which are really important. The Agreement talks much about the issue of victims, and we have not really addressed that issue today. My concern with that issue at present is that increasingly it is being turned into a technocratic issue. The separation out of what are victims' issues from what are victims' needs is happening at a policy level and more services are being put in place. There is the medicalisation of victims' needs and what is not being addressed or the much deeper questions which destabilise the process are matters around issues of justice or people's feelings of the need to deal with the past. For me, there is a really big outstanding issue. This committee or any other committee could start to help move that debate forward and say, "Let us engage in this in a serious way." This is not only about offering medical services. This is about who did what to whom and big damaging difficult questions about justice. At the same time, I feel very confident. If people were able to negotiate the Agreement, why can they not sit down and start to talk about some of these other issues if this is what the future needs?

In terms of what needs to be done, what would be valuable is a systematic analysis of the Agreement, not in a technocratic way but in asking what if things are said there that have not been followed through - whether these are victims' issues, the civic forum, the question of reconciliation and the big word "integration" that comes through. Let us systematically look at those issues.

What strikes me about 21% of people not being born when the Agreement was signed is that it makes one think that perhaps there is a need for some re-education about the spirit of the Agreement. I do not know whether colleagues shared the frustration during the flag protest, but there were times when people were saying things where I wanted to say: "You do know that your citizenship is guaranteed under this Agreement. This cannot change." Symbolically, it might feel damaging and hurtful if one's symbols are treated in a certain way, but certain matters are absolutely guaranteed in this Agreement. Maybe that points to the need for this re-education about what this Agreement is about and links to Mr. Durkan's point about the Bill of Rights as a potential vehicle to do this.

We have talked about the civic forum. The committee and various other political groups have the potential to reaffirm the commitments made within the Agreement. If we were talking about a 15 year marriage, people might say there was a need to reaffirm its purpose. The key aspects of the Agreement include integration and there is a need for policies on its aims which need to be reaffirmed. We must ask what our direction of travel is and where we ultimately want to be. As Dr. Jarman said, it is difficult to know, but in the absence of reaffirmation, we will not go anywhere fast. This is linked with the issue of leadership. At community level there is a deep suspicion that the political system is built on segregation and that there is no desire among politicians to change this. The view has taken root in many sectors, but I agree with Mr. Sheridan that matters are more complicated than this. If there was a clear sense of the direction of travel, as well as reaffirmation of the need for integration and a new society, it would start to dispel any suspicion.

There may be a need for different brokers to help to broach the difficult discussion required to deal with the past. Coming from South Africa, I note that this process will only work if local people own it. There may be a need for brokerage, but it must grasp the spirit within the Agreement.

12:10 pm

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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I thank the delegates for a very enlightening and uplifting morning and early afternoon discussion. The committee appreciates their interventions. I acknowledge the more peripheral meetings which have taken place; two, in particular. The British Academy marked the 15th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement a couple of weeks ago with Mr. Paul Bew. At the meeting I heard similar sentiments to those expressed today. We have come a long way, but there is much more work to complete. I acknowledge and thank the British Academy for organising the round table discussion. I also thank the US embassy for organising a round table yesterday to mark the 15th anniversary. The European Commission and 23 other countries were represented, which demonstrates the extent of international goodwill towards a successful outcome in Northern Ireland. It is important that the committee act as a conduit to feed back to Northern Ireland the international goodwill, efforts and offers of support. The Community Foundation for Northern Ireland is holding its conference next week on the subject of diversity. It is important that we feed back to groups such as the foundation the positive international efforts and acknowledgment of the ongoing work and commitment to the peace process.

I thank the three delegates who presented this morning. They have certainly added value to our discussions and the committee appreciates their insight and honesty on the challenges that lie ahead. We are closer to the beginning than to the middle, never mind the end, of the peace process. As one man pointed out to me, it may be a 100 year project. If it is, Co-operation Ireland will be around for a while yet. However, Mr. Sheridan should not panic. Within the process, we must be open to ideas. The very good ideas and suggestions made and presented to the committee today will certainly be discussed and run with. I thank members for their contributions which certainly added a great deal of weight to this important discussion.

The joint committee adjourned at 12.45 p.m. until 11.30 a.m. on Thursday, 16 May 2013