Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement

Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report: Northern Ireland Community Relations Council

10:20 am

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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On behalf of the committee, I am pleased to welcome from the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council, Mr. Peter Osborne, chairman, Ms Jacqueline Irwin, chief executive officer, Ms Sylvia Gordon, co-opted member and Mr. Tony Kennedy OBE, co-opted member.
The Northern Ireland Community Relations Council was founded in January 1990 as an independent company and registered charity. Its aim is to assist the development of greater understanding and co-operation between political, cultural and religious communities in Northern Ireland and to promote a peaceful, fair society based on reconciliation and mutual trust. We look forward to hearing about the work in which the council is involved which will lead to a society free from sectarianism and racism and support activity to promote a shared society with a future for all citizens in Northern Ireland.
I advise the witnesses that, by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. If they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given. They are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing ruling of the Chair to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or any official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I invite Mr. Peter Osborne to make his opening statement.

Mr. Peter Osborne:

I am accompanied by Ms Jacqueline Irwin, chief executive officer, Community Relations Council, CRC, who has spent a lifetime working in promoting better community relations and on the reconciliation agenda in Northern Ireland. She is leading the CRC through a particularly challenging time, as well as an interesting and important time for Northern Ireland. Ms Sylvia Gordon is also a director of Groundwork Northern Ireland, an organisation that practices conflict transformation and peacebuilding through regeneration.Members of the committee will have visited Belfast several years ago and seen some of the excellent work she has led in working at interfaces and removing one of the interface barriers at Alexandra Park. It is incredibly challenging work. Mr. Tony Kennedy is a former chief executive of Co-operation Ireland. He has a lifetime of experience and, although he has retired from Co-operation Ireland, continues to work in a variety of initiatives promoting reconciliation in Northern Ireland and greater cross-Border co-operation. This wealth of experience reflects the wealth of experience that the CRC has as a whole and has been delivering for the past 25 years.
Reconciliation is a key element of the Good Friday Agreement, mentioned in paragraphs Nos. 2 and 3, with all parties committed to reconciliation in Northern Ireland, between North and South and on these islands. It is worth reading that agreement again sometimes as it is a visionary document that sets a high bar in challenging us all about future relationships on these islands. This was reflected in subsequent agreements. The St. Andrews Agreement, signed up to by all parties in the Northern Ireland Executive, referred to a society free from sectarianism and racism. We believe these are important and critical commitments which need to be followed through in policy and practice on the ground.
The third peace monitoring report published earlier this year made several points. It highlighted that the moral basis of the Good Friday Agreement may be evaporating; the absence of trust has resulted in an absence of progress; and the use of the police as human shock absorbers to deal with failure elsewhere. The report essentially stated several issues must be addressed to make reconciliation real for the long term. In this report, we wanted to highlight some of these issues, draw attention to them and challenge policymakers to ask what more can they do to make the reconciliation agenda on the ground.
The CRC welcomes the greater involvement of the two governments in recent weeks in pushing forward talks to address some of the critical political issues in Northern Ireland. That does not reflect the failure of local political parties, however. For many years, they have demonstrated significant and positive leadership. However, as guarantors of the Agreement, the two governments have an important role in Northern Ireland. The involvement they have now has been overdue for the past three years.
While that strategy and policy leadership at a political level is important, it is also important reconciliation is delivered from the ground up. Reconciliation in Northern Ireland, however, is entering a crisis point for several reasons. Part of it is because of the issues around political leadership, strategy and long-term support for the vision outlined in the Good Friday Agreement. That then is reflected in the resourcing of organisations important in that sector which can make it happen on the ground. There is a funding crisis with those groups that deliver this significant and important work. It is piecemeal, ad hoc, short term and not hitting the streets anywhere near quickly enough. It is also not enough. Central funding for reconciliation work within the Northern Ireland OFMDFM, Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, amounts to £13 million while the CRC distributes £2 million. Two years ago, £60 million of public investment was provided to a Titanicvisitor centre in Belfast. While it is a positive building which attracts many visitors, it would take the CRC 30 years to put that sort of investment into reconciliation and peacebuilding work. If we do not address reconciliation and peacebuilding, the children of the visitors we get to the Titanicbuilding now may not come back to visit in 30 years because we have not built the peace.

Building peace is a critical priority. When one looks at things like interface barriers, and others can talk much more cogently about this, there is a target to remove interface barriers by 2023 in the current programme for Government. There is some very good investment through the International Fund for Ireland and also perhaps from the peace programme next year. There will be a few million pounds going into the removal of interface barriers. It will focus on the hardware, replacing one fence with another fence. It looks better. That is very positive incremental work. To remove them, however, it is necessary to have investment in building relationships either side of those barriers. It is key for communities in those areas on either side to start to trust each other well enough to remove those barriers ultimately. I do not think any of us has any real knowledge of where the funding for that relationship building work will come from in the critical period from 2015 to 2020. If there is no investment in that work, the interface barriers will not be removed.
This relates to fulfilling the commitments in the Good Friday Agreement and other agreements to take reconciliation seriously and to resource reconciliation work. It needs to be resourced on a long-term basis and it needs to be outcome based. Groups, organisations and individuals - who show such courage on the ground undertaking the sort of work Ms. Gordon and many others do - should know that they are supported by Government and should be able to plan long-term. They cannot do that at the moment. Given the issues with funding, its scale and piecemeal and ad hoc nature, some of those groups will go under in the next few months or years. The infrastructure supporting reconciliation is in crisis. It also needs to be co-ordinated at a regional level, with a body at arm's length from Government, which would have the effect of removing it from the immediacy of the politics and economics within Government, supporting that sort of reconciliation work in the long term.
I know the committee visits Belfast regularly. I invite the committee on behalf of the Community Relations Council to come and meet those groups doing this reconciliation work on the ground, to hear them and take evidence from them directly, independently and impartially. We certainly would be happy to organise those meetings. As we want to embed peace and ensure we do not return to more violent times in years to come, it is critical we prioritise and properly resource the reconciliation work that is needed on the ground. It is not being resourced properly at the moment.

10:30 am

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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I thank Mr. Osborne for the powerful presentation. The committee was in Belfast and no doubt it will gladly accept the invitation to visit again. I am concerned that the funding is on an ad hoc basis and that it is not enough. Reconciliation is very much a part of the Good Friday Agreement and this committee certainly supports the Community Relations Council. I agree that all these things should be outcome based. It is clear from the work carried out by the council that it is very much outcome based. The committee congratulates the council on that. I will seek the approval of the committee but I suspect it would be only too delighted to be of assistance. I invite Members' questions and call Deputy Brendan Smith.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome our guests. Mr. Osborne gave a clear outline of the situation pertaining in Northern Ireland at the moment in relation to the need to build on the reconciliation work. Unfortunately, he also paints a gloomy picture. That gloom regarding certain parts of civil and political society in the North comes to us through other channels. Mr. Osborne states quite rightly the important role of both Governments as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement. Both Governments need to be involved practically on a daily basis. I am not making a political point. It is a point I made to the previous Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, and I also made it to the current Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Flanagan.

On the Haass proposals, I have argued consistently that the two Governments should be part of those particular negotiations on the basis that when we had substantial progress - the Downing Street declaration, the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998 and the St. Andrews Agreement - the two sovereign Governments were the driving agents in making that progress. I have argued constantly since the end of December last year when, unfortunately, the talks did not end on a successful note that both Governments would have to be more than bystanders or interested observers. They would have to be in the room and part of the negotiations.

I welcome the statements of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Right Honourable Theresa Villiers MP, at the end of September and of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Flanagan that it appears the new round of talks will have the active involvement of both Governments. I sincerely hope it will and I think it is absolutely necessary. We cannot allow these issues to continue to be a sore point. They have to be dealt with. It is as simple as that. We are 16 years on from 1998 and the theme, as Mr. Osborne has clearly outlined, running through the Good Friday Agreement was reconciliation. We had, for the first time, an agreement that gave us an inclusive political architecture for all of Ireland. This was overwhelmingly endorsed by all the people of this island at the end of May 1998. What the people ratified and adopted has not been implemented. We can point to the failures, the deficits and the work of both Governments.

We can also point to the deficit and the work in the Northern Ireland Assembly and in the Executive. Some of the outstanding aspects of the Good Friday Agreement - Acht na Gaeilge, the establishment of a North-South consultative forum, the need for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland - are all devolved issues. The Bill of Rights must be agreed between all parties in the Executive and in the Assembly. The commitments in relation to Acht na Gaeilge were devolved, if I recall correctly, in the St. Andrews Agreement to the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, with the agreement of the Executive being required. On the establishment of the North-South consultative forum, I asked during Question Time in the Dáil on Tuesday who is threatened by a civic forum. It is a no-brainer that it should be established. Both as a party spokesperson and as part of the work of this committee, I have spoken to many communities who feel they have no voice and that no one represents them. Surely civic society could play an important role in that respect. While it will not satisfy entirely the needs of every community, we need to get those structures in place.

Mr. Osborne mentioned one other thing that I wish to address. I would always be quite wary of establishing another body. One of the things I have thought, as a representative of two southern Ulster counties, Cavan and Monaghan, is that we have had far too much duplication and in some instances not the optimum return on the investment in different projects over the years. This was because projects grew as the situation emerged and that was understandable. There is a case for greater co-ordination and less duplication. I am concerned when Mr. Osborne says there is a need for a body which would have an overarching architecture to pull together all the reconciliation work and ensure adequate funding is provided. I understand what he has in mind and I can see the value of it but I hope it would not be just another body to add to the numerous existing bodies. The do exceptionally good work in very straitened circumstances, as outlined by Mr. Osborne. Surely a Department should have in its remit the provision of funding for reconciliation work, which is very important, and the Department should be the agent to ensure the groups are adequately funded and there is a proper return to the taxpayer. What has been outlined to the committee, and it is an issue that should be of concern to it, is that the work and the lack of funding is in crisis. That is an issue we need to take up and raise in representations to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and with whomever we can.

The violence in Belfast on Monday night or Tuesday morning, when there was an attack on the police patrol and there was also a bomb alert, is of concern. These are criminals who are commonly referred to as dissidents. I do not use that word. The term "dissident" had a certain meaning but, unfortunately, these are criminals masquerading as dissidents.

Another concern I had was the statement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, MP, over recent days that she would establish a panel on contentious parades. I fear this will undermine the work of the Parades Commission. The Parades Commission, particularly the previous one - I am not sure the present commission is as strong - did good work in very difficult circumstances. To have another review or panel examining the Parades Commission's decisions, which did not suit some communities, could be dangerous. I hope my view is wrong, but I suspect it is not. My sincere thanks for the presentations and for the work of the different groups over the years. We are all aware of the work of Mr. Kennedy, who met us many times here in the Oireachtas in different guises.

10:40 am

Photo of Martin FerrisMartin Ferris (Kerry North-West Limerick, Sinn Fein)
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I thank Mr. Osborne for his presentation and welcome him. The key to the success of reconciliation is leadership from a political and electoral side, from local government, business leaders, churches – given that the North is a very sectarian society – and sporting bodies, which can be sectarian and can be manipulated to be sectarian. Leadership must come from the ground up in communities. Mr. Osborne mentioned the absence of trust. The question is how to structure leadership to build trust across communities. Much of the progress that was made happened early in the process, because it was driven politically by both Governments and, significantly, by the US Government, the EU and the Nationalist and Unionist leadership. Both Governments took it for granted early on that this was irreversible and, therefore, it went off their radar. This has delayed the building of the trust and reconciliation and the achievement of a more secular, pluralist society.

Mr. Osborne’s presentation is an indictment of everybody. Over 90% of children are educated in separate schools. Reconciliation will not happen overnight but must be long term. It has been a hobby horse of mine that a major part of reconciliation is to break down the sectarian divisions, and when sectarian divisions begin at kindergarten, we have a problem. Mr. Osborne mentioned the City of Culture year and it is an example of how leadership can bring communities together. The PSNI band played at the Derry Fleadh Cheoil. It is very significant that it happened in a city with a huge Nationalist majority, whereas in places where there are significant Unionist or loyalist majorities there does not appear to be the same good will towards building reconciliation. I say this with disappointment and a sense of a challenge. What must we do to promote reconciliation? Dissident republicans are probably more active in Derry than in other parts of the Six Counties, yet there is a progression towards reconciliation in the wider community. I put this down to community leadership.

Mr. Osborne mentioned a cultural war being talked into existence and referred to unemployment, lack of education, particularly among young Protestant boys compared with Roman Catholics, a lack of jobs and a sense of latching onto any issue that will give an identity in opposition to another identity. It is all part of the equation and while I hope it changes, I am disappointed it has never been dealt with. A significant positive statement - I do not want to use the word “gesture” - towards the other community came from Martin McGuinness when he met the English Queen, shook her hand and went to Buckingham Palace. He was reaching out to Unionism, and it was very courageous, knowing where Republicans are coming from. It was right to send the statement out. The Nationalist leaders condemned the attacks on the PSNI. It is in contrast with what happened around the flags issue and the riots, when similar political leadership did not come from the other side. I am very strongly of the opinion that the only way we will get a more progressive approach from Unionist leaders is for the British Government to drive it, just as it drove the Good Friday Agreement by persuading Unionists it was the way to go. The Unionist leaders went to a place they did not want to go but were compelled to because the British Government persuaded them it was the proper way to go, in the interests of peace and reconciliation.

When one examines it, one sees the challenges ahead and the disappointment that we are not where we should be. However, we are also in a far better place than we were 20 years ago. We have come a long way. We have come out of a mist of political violence, struggle and war - whatever people want to call it - to a situation in which we can talk about it and try to address it. Part of reconciliation and addressing the reasons for conflict in the past comes from communities reaching out to each other, accepting each other's existence on an equal footing. Deputy Smith mentioned a bill of rights. A bill of rights is for everybody, not just one community. It is about the obligation on powerful governments and structures such as the EU to ensure it happens. It will not happen in five, ten, 15 or 20 years, but will be generational because we must move from a situation where many of us were part of conflict in the past, were born into it and lived through it. We must wait until the next generation comes through. We must put the foundation stones there for the next generation to be able to move into a normal environment. This is a major challenge to us all.

Much depends on funding for community groups and activists on the ground. We sat here with people such as Jackie McDonald who are doing very good work in their constituencies to build peace and reconciliation with other communities, but they are strapped for funding. It is very small money for big structures to contribute towards building reconciliation. There is a moral obligation on them to do it, as there is on us as political leaders or representatives of our section of the community to help build the reconciliation by addressing the problems of the past and building a foundation for the future.

Central to all of that is to break down the barriers of sectarianism, which comes about at kindergarten height. There is an obligation politically, religiously through the religious institutions and through businesses about employment. A person from one area of a particular religious persuasion will have a better opportunity of employment than someone coming from a minority area and vice versa. That needs to be dealt with.
I mentioned sporting bodies. Every aspect of society that is part of the wider community has a role to play. If there such a thing as a structure, it means bringing all of that together. It comes back to both Governments. Both Governments have a moral obligation to deliver what they said they would deliver in the Good Friday Agreement, the St. Andrews Agreement and all the talks that took place prior to that and subsequent to that to bring that about.

10:50 am

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the witnesses and I thank Mr. Osborne for his presentation. Two issues are predominant in the presentation and are obviously critical to getting a post-conflict society, to use the terminology. First is the question of integrated schools. The Northern Ireland Community Relations Council document states:

The Good Friday Agreement had provided the integrated-schools movement with what seemed like rock-solid endorsement, but subsequent expressions of policy emanating from the Assembly, such as the Programme for Government (2011-15), the Education Bill (2012) and TBUC (2013), all failed to mention integrated education.
There is obviously a problem in that area. There is a problem even with the attitude to integrated education within the power-sharing structure. Following the theme Senator White mentioned earlier, is there anything our committee could do that would give an impetus to action on integrated education? I accept there are all sorts of interest groups involved in the North and there are religious interest groups involved in maintaining the status quo. Having said that, there is an onus to try to move it. Educating people together is the big key.
The document states that because of economic necessity shared campuses are being developed. They are sharing facilities between the two religions for financial reasons. I suppose that is a step in the right direction. How widespread is that? What could be done to give this impetus? I agree with Deputy Smith that the two Governments need to be involved. When there is no movement they need to urge movement and create impetus. This may be an area where the two Governments should do more.
The other critical issue is youth unemployment; it is obviously critical as a potential feeding ground for dissidents. I note the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council's comment that young Protestants are now finding it harder than Catholics to break into the jobs market. It stated that in the 16 to 24 age bracket 24% of Protestants were unemployed and 17% of Catholics were unemployed. Apart from the fact that there are encouraging economic signs, are there specific actions under the EU Youth Guarantee scheme? What specific actions could be done to get at this?
Deputy Ferris mentioned the culture war. Does the Protestant community feel their culture is under threat? Is one of the bigger problems now the insecurity of the Protestant community and how can that be addressed?

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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I invite our guests to answer the questions posed as best they can and to comment on some of the observations.

Ms Jacqueline Irwin:

I will pick up on a few of the points and then pass over to colleagues. I apologise if I miss anything and the members should feel welcome to come back on it.

On the Agreement, we have all underestimated the extent to which it is as difficult to stay within the terms of an agreement once it is signed, as it sometimes can be to reach the agreement in the first place. I believe we have underestimated the extent to which we need to very systematically watch progress post a political settlement. That is the big learning over the past couple of decades. In that sense today is no different from any other day. The challenge is to keep going, recognise where the dips are, identify them and deal with them, and keep going.

So what is unique about the circumstances we find ourselves in at the moment? It is a bit of a perfect storm as Mr. Osborne has said. We have well-rehearsed political difficulties at the regional level. In some ways there is nothing new about that, but they are fairly difficult and well-reported matters. At the same time we have a falling away of the resources to support keeping the work going. There are two dimensions to that. One is the international component, the very welcome support we have had from Europe and America over many years - as well as from the Irish Government, if I may say it. Some significant amounts of that funding are falling away just at the same moment as we are having some local domestic difficulties within our own budget. So that notion of just keeping going is under some degree of practical threat.

Another issue is structural change. We are almost a couple of decades into the Agreement at this stage and there is a shift coming. We have considerable change ahead of us regarding local government reform. That will change some of the structures. It represents a great opportunity to do more collaborative working to think about these issues in the round. I completely agree with all members who made reference to that. So there is an opportunity. There is also a degree of threat because for the new councils there will be a bedding-in period. They have been many practical issues to resolve. There will be a falling-way of some of the staff who would have been familiar with these matters in the natural wastage that occurs during these changes. So we have a structural component to this at the same time.

Within that structural dynamic and taking time into account, we also have a generational shift. I completely agree with the member; it probably will be the next generation who can really move things on. However, we also have some evidence to suggest that the next generation might be just as thirsty to go back again if we were not very careful - they will have forgotten. That is unbelievable in some ways, but it is also a very worrying feature. We have to be really careful that the learning that our generation has and the dreadful experiences that our generation has, that the best of what to do about dealing with conflict and deal with social cohesion is passed on to those who come after us so that they know how to take care of these matters as we move forward.

I will now deal with some of the specific issues raised. On integrated education, members will know there is a model that is favoured at the moment in the region, which is referred to as shared education. This is built on the notion that we need to start where people are and get them used to the idea of being engaged with each other, which may include shared campuses, shared facilities and working together on some specific projects. We believe there is a great deal of truth. It is not possible to start from somewhere other than where people find themselves. There are many people who are not yet ready for integrated education. However, if the proposal is to start with shared education, then on this question of keeping an eye on whether we are implementing the spirit of the agreement, we should ask whether shared education will get us to where we need to be quickly enough. So the question then is whether we have the luxury of time here or whether we need to take time much more seriously.

Every child who goes through a separated education system is one child who has lost the opportunity of working and living together. That is a price to be paid and we should measure it every time we make the choice to leave the issue for another while to be addressed until we all feel better about it. I would frame the question in those terms.

A member mentioned the great effort being made at local level, as has been the case for many years, and the way in which that links to political and other change. I completely agree with that view. If we are to challenge ourselves about that, what has been missing over the last period of time has been a degree of connecting all that up, whereby we would have a sense that all of those individual worthwhile efforts are greater than the sum of their parts. We have failed to get to the point at which that feels like a connected-up, resilient movement for change that can weather the storms of political challenge. We have not quite got there yet, and this next phase of peace-building needs to take that opportunity into account so that we can see where we can get with that matter.

I wish to make one a final comment, before handing over to my colleagues, about the committee's participation, which I welcome. Whenever the sovereign Governments get involved in the issues of the region, it is described sometimes, even by the Governments, in terms of something having failed, that politics at the local level has not managed to do whatever it needs to do and therefore the guarantors need to step in. There is of course an element of truth to that. If we go back to the Agreement - not only the spirit of it but what is written down - we can see it is unique. It is not only a question of regional involvement, which would be a smaller measure in many ways; it leaves room for North-South, east-west access. It is that aspect that triple-locked the safety of the peace process. It would be helpful if we were to remember that and to think again about the way in which we could do it. We are still learning and we are in the next phase of the post-political settlement. Rather than viewing it in some sense or other as our not having managed to get to where we need to be - we are very sober-eyed about how far we have got and what more needs to be done - we should revisit some of the early difficult agreements that were reached and really honour them.

11:00 am

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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Thank you, Ms Irwin. Does anyone else wish to contribute?

Ms Sylvia Gordon:

I thank the Chairman for this opportunity to address the committee. I am very fortunate that I have worked in north Belfast in particular over a number of years. All of the work to which Mr. Peter Osborne alluded in his opening comments was achieved not only by myself and my organisation but in collaboration and partnership with other people in the voluntary and community sector local to the Duncairn interface. I adopt a glass-half-full approach to this. In terms of lack of leadership in communities, I have been fortunate to observe and be part of very positive leadership across the community divide, particularly in the Duncairn Gardens area of North Belfast, which allowed for the transformation of Alexandra Park in particular and the symbolic opening of the peace gate there. I am disappointed that we as a society have not built on that momentum and that example of what could be achieved in regard to reconciliation work.

In terms of the investment that is required, it is an investment in people. It is about people. One does not build relationships with an organisation; one builds a relationship with one's neighbour or colleague. The investment that Ms Irwin and I are talking about requires an immense amount of time. We have underestimated the time required to build confidence and trust and to do proper, authentic reconciliation work. People are really challenged whenever they see that type of work, because it is unusual and unique. Some people perceive it to be a threat. Also, some people are concerned about what this will do and its impact further down the line. As we know, politics in Northern Ireland is played out at a local and community level and we need to bear those dynamics in mind also.

In terms of what we do for young people, we need to give them opportunities. We must understand and appreciate that not everybody is graced with a good start in life. I have been involved in a number of youth programmes, some led by my own organisation and others led by other people in the voluntary and community sector, and I have not come across one young person who does not want to work. I have come across young people who desperately want the opportunity to be involved, to be part of society and to do something positive. From our point of view, we need to provide opportunities, and if we provide opportunities we can then start to address many of the issues that will allow us to deal with interface barriers at some time in the future. We must remember that those are physical barriers. They are a physical manifestation of the ills of society, and we must address the ills of society if we are to have any real vision or hope of removing these barriers. Sometimes we need to change the focus of our aspirations and how we might set out to challenge, overcome and deliver on the objectives of the Good Friday Agreement.

I take the opportunity to thank the reconciliation fund, because it is one of the funders that has allowed us to work in creative ways. As a result of all the bureaucracy, the PEACE III programme does not necessarily allow an organisation to work in the creative and imaginative ways needed to deal with issues that arise the night before the issues it must deal with the next day.

Another concern for me - this is something we must consider - is the cuts we are facing in Northern Ireland regarding a number of issues that need to be sorted out at Stormont. We have a police service that is now saying it is under pressure, that it will not be fit to deliver and that community policing is out the window, so to speak. Where does that leave the people in all those local communities who aspired to work through the rule of law and engage in policing for the first time in a meaningful, productive and effective way? If we see some of those relationships disappearing, that leaves us in a very worrying position.

Another concern is a statement that was made the other day, which we have flagged as an issue - namely, the issue of dissidents and criminality, which was mentioned here this morning. They know we are facing an issue and they will exploit that. This brings me back to my reference about young people. If we can work with young people in a meaningful and effective way, that reduces the opportunity for those young people to be manipulated in other ways. It is something that must be considered very carefully.

I support what both Mr. Osborne and Ms Irwin said. The British and Irish Governments are the guarantors of this Agreement and we need to see that on almost a daily basis at this stage. A colleague of mine coined a phrase, "The British and Irish Governments both stepped off the stage too soon." We need them back on the stage fairly quickly, and I know the members are working towards that. That is a positive from our point of view.

The resource issue is critical for those in the voluntary and community sector who are engaged in this type of work. While we were travelling down on the train, we discussed the way in which people sometimes viewed us as a reconciliation industry. I assure the committee that we are not in this for the good of our health. We are involved because of our passion and love for the place from which we come and our commitment to the peace process. I challenge anybody who says we are an industry. It is difficult, challenging and risky work. Only this year, there was a protest outside our building in Duncairn Gardens by people who were unhappy about the consultation process concerning the Alexandra Park gate opening. That consultation was thorough and the protest was grandstanding on behalf of people who were threatened by progress. A pipe bomb was also thrown at the building recently. It was a viable device and we were evacuated for two hours while it was made safe. I have a job in hand in reassuring staff and partners. That is a drain on my time and everybody else's. Colleagues in this field of work have been threatened, put out of their homes and subjected to verbal and physical attacks. Even though we are 20 years into the process, we have a long way to go. Our responsibility is to bring as many people as possible on that journey.

11:10 am

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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This committee has been existence for three or four years. From my experience, this is the most serious meeting we have held; it is heartbreaking. As a committee, we should avoid being political between ourselves. I think of all the people who work morning, noon and night to consolidate the peace process. We met Dr. Haass in the early days of his engagement and could feel his optimism, but there was heartbreak at the end. I put it down to the British Government and its reluctance to put its shoulder to the wheel. If the issue involved the mainland - I used that word before and got into trouble for it - the UK Prime Minister would not be so distant from it. This committee is responsible for monitoring implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and we have to take these issues by the scruff of the neck. I blame the two Governments. I have to be political now by pointing out that the late Albert Reynolds put the screws on President Clinton who, in turn, gave John Major a good push to make progress in the North. That has to happen again. Dr. Haass was left helpless because the British Government did not support him. Deputy Brendan Smith referred to the lack of serious business at the Executive, which is caught up in petty squabbles, rather than taking the core issues by the scruff of the neck.

We have met Jackie McDonald. The loyalist people feel they are floundering and have no leadership. The bottom line is that they feel ostracised by people in the North. The leaders want to consolidate the peace process, but the people in their backyard are critical of them.

I am glad that we heard from the delegates. For my part and on behalf of my colleagues, I will do everything I can to help them. All of a sudden, it will break out again and there will be more moaning and groaning. We know that it is serious on the ground because some people are bursting to get involved in trouble. I would love if the committee could make a statement today that we believe there should be integrated education. Unless children go to school together, we cannot expect them to have open minds to the other side. We need to go for broke in the media today. The Chairman does not have to give out about his own party, but he could on this issue. It is vital to the peace process that we act more speedily. Instead of taking a medium-term view, we should be taking action now. I am emotionally upset having heard what the delegates had to say. On behalf of all the people, North and South, who invested their efforts in the peace process, I am disappointed that it is languishing because of the failure of governments, including the failure of the American Government to put the screws on Mr. David Cameron and support Dr. Haass whose heart was in the right place.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator for a very helpful intervention. I think we will include the issue of shared education in a communiqué from this committee.

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Independent)
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It is sometimes seen as a cliché to say a meeting acted as a wake-up call, but it is applicable to what we have heard today. Ms Gordon referred to accusations that the Governments were stepping off the stage too soon. That is the beginning, middle and end of the problem. We are all responsible in this regard. I listened with interest to Deputy Martin Ferris's remarks. I was in the Oireachtas at the time of the ceasefire in the early 1990s and during the exciting period between 1994 and 1998. We have moved a long way from that era, but, sadly, we have also taken our eye of the ball. There were feelings of optimism and hope during those years which have not been regenerated in the past decade. People have bought into the concept of no going back. We all know that there will be no going back to the awful violence of the late 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s and are very happy with this, but we could well go back to a phase which might see monthly bombings and occasional murders, rather than daily bombings or weekly murders. That would also be entirely unacceptable.

We must address a myriad of difficulties. I am concerned that a new marginalised community is evolving. Until the mid-1990s in what I might call the old Northern Ireland, marginalised communities had a degree of interest in politics and engaging. One side of the community supported Sinn Féin, while the other supported the DUP. For a number of reasons, these parties have become politically dominant. The Sinn Féin-DUP axis was traditionally on the margins, but it is now a new establishment.

Now there are people who are excluded from that establishment. We are talking about people who, let us be honest, were previously almost comrades in arms. A total of 90% of those people have moved on to a better place economically, socially and politically but 10% are now in the new margin. This is something we really need to be concerned about. These people are the new marginalised who see their former colleagues and allies in a much better place. One sees resentment, jealousy and all those human attributes. We must try to address the concerns of those people. It goes back to investment and jobs. I do not know whether it was Ms Irwin or Ms Gordon who said that she did not know any young people who do not want to work. This is as applicable to the Republic of Ireland as it is to Northern Ireland and is the reason the question of investment must be looked at again. It is not a problem of the past two, three or four years but of the past decade.

There has been complacency and sometimes an unwillingness to recognise how far we have travelled. On at least six or seven occasions over the past 12 months in the Seanad, I asked that we would observe the momentous events of 1994 and that we would have statements or a debate but it just did not happen. I looked at the Dáil debates in the summer and early autumn and wondered where the debates reflecting the 20th anniversary of the ceasefire were. As far I know, they did not happen either. We are getting very excited, perhaps rightly so, about commemorations from a different period and what sort of commemoration, debate and approach we should take but I would certainly like us to reflect much more deeply on why and how 1994 happened, why and now 1998 happened and how we can progress things. I would be more concerned about recent history and the future than what happened tragically 100 hundreds years ago. We need much stronger political engagement to deal with what I see as the new marginalised because while those new marginalised communities and people are there, we have significant difficulties.

We could speak all day about integrated education. Perhaps I will be politically correct in respect of this. In a perfect world, we would be driving it forward and it would be happening. In respect of the communities in Northern Ireland, we must respect that progress can sometimes drip very slowly. If one pulls the entire rug from under the feet of people who are clinging on in some way to old traditions and an older view of the world, fear and doubt could set in to a dangerous degree. I would love to see children being educated in a very integrated fashion but I do not believe there is an instant overnight forced solution. If we cannot at least integrate in the classrooms, we should look very carefully at the school curriculum and the way teachers are being allocated and try to ensure that there is a balance coming from a teaching perspective and not just from the students in the classroom. There is a candidate for election to the Seanad who could tell a story about difficulties in that regard. We can sometimes look a bit too simplistically at the debate about integrated education in Northern Ireland. We must respect tradition and traditions will change very slowly. There are lots of ways to assist, support, encourage and bring about integration and it does not always require a big stick.

I welcome the presentations. It is a wake-up call and a strong call on our governments, Ministers and all of us politically to acknowledge where we have come from but to realise that we cannot stand still. There must be significant re-engagement in the process to keep it moving forward because if it does not move forward, it will go back. It is not going back to the bad old days but it can still go back to bad places and we must be very vigilant in that regard. As a non-member, I thank the Chairman for giving me the opportunity to make those comments.

11:20 am

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal South West, Independent)
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I thank the witnesses for their presentations. It has been a very interesting discussion. The one thing that probably many people have not realised is that making peace is a generational issue. Many of us have not come to terms with the fact that it is probably going to take another 20, 30 or 40 years for it to work its way completely through all of society in Northern Ireland. The one thing that would worry me slightly about getting the two governments involved in the process again is that at previous stages when the two governments and the US have been involved, it has always been to get concessions from republicans to move things forward. I fear that during the current phase, it will be more a case of Unionists getting concessions that move things back. There has always been a trade-off that Unionists have got something, be it decommissioning or the IRA saying it had gone off the field, to progress things. When one looks at how the lines are drawn now in terms of flag protests and the fear of the undermining of the Unionist identity, the only thing they can do to get concessions is to move back in terms of political developments so I would be a bit worried about that.

It is interesting that of the ten points of interest in the peace monitoring report, three or four of them apply to loyalist working-class communities and the difficulties they have. That is where the real crux of the problem is. There is no political leadership for working-class loyalists or Protestants. The DUP and the UUP have traditionally viewed them as cannon fodder over the years and have given succour to the loyalist paramilitaries by attempting to distance themselves from them but at the same time, everything they are doing is inflaming and stirring up the situation. I do not know if this is something for the witnesses and the Community Relations Council but work needs to be done in working-class loyalist communities in building political leadership that looks at the conditions they are in, the source of those conditions and how to grow out of them. I do not know whether this is something that can be part of the witnesses' work, whether anybody is doing this work or whether it is down to trying to get fledgling political organisations up and running within those communities. It does not necessarily always have to be around reconciliation. When one sees the levels of educational attainment and everything else, one can see that there are serious problems. Unless those problems are addressed, we will always been be on the brink of something going badly wrong.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome everyone. I apologise as I was delayed chairing a session in the Dáil. I was interested in what the witnesses said about unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, in Northern Ireland. There is an issue there about qualifications and skills. I think it was talked about in the presentation I read. Obviously, much of that goes back to the education system we have discussed. I am very much in favour of shared education or Educate Together as we call it in some schools down here. As some colleagues have said, there is an issue with regard to what is called the ethos of a school. Could the witnesses tell us how hard is it to break away from that? There have been situations in the Republic of Ireland where people have a preference for an all-Irish school - the Gaelscoil movement - or the traditional diocesan school, be it a parish school or a diocesan college. We have Educate Together in a small way. Parents might vote with their feet when they send their children to the local school. It is a difficult one. I recall how 40 years ago, I was very lucky to get a job as a primary school teacher in Galway city. It was the first co-educational school in Galway city. Some people thought it was revolutionary and more people thought that we were crazy and that we would shake the foundation of the State, to use the phrase.

It was normal to me because, as a young child, I went to a small country co-education school. There is that issue. I do not know whether it is the same in other countries. It provides an example of how difficult it is to get away from the different types of education available. I suppose I could mention also the convent schools, in terms of various religious orders providing education. How does that issue translate in trying to get employment, having the necessary qualifications and skills, and the gender gap? That is the only question I have on education and tackling unemployment.

11:30 am

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Kitt. I now want to bring in Mr. Tony Kennedy. I am sorry for keeping him so long.

Mr. Tony Kennedy:

I have no problem. I will make up for it, the Chairman need not worry.
I am retired as chief executive of Co-operation Ireland almost six years and it is nice to be back meeting the committee. Many of the arguments we are advancing I was probably advancing six or seven years ago when I was speaking to the committee's predecessors. The peace monitory report quite rightly states there has been very substantial progress but if we were honest with ourselves, 20 years after the ceasefires and 16 years after the agreement, even those of us who knew it was a generational issue thought we would be further on than this.
I will pick up on a number of points. The Haass talks have been mentioned quite a lot. It is essential that there is resolution around the proposals. They were not Haass's proposals. They were proposals he distilled from the inter-party talks. I always felt they should have been called the inter-party talks chaired by Haass rather than Haass getting the blame for them because it was the local people who were involved. It is essential that those are sorted, but it is not sufficient. The Haass proposals are essentially dealing with the political elements and a number of matters around that and, subsequently, there will still be the work that needs to be done on reconciliation.
The issue of leadership has come up a few times. There should be leadership, but one of the problems has been that leadership has been sporadic. A couple of years ago, the First Minister, Mr. Peter Robinson MLA, showed leadership by turning up at Casement Park to watch a GAA match with the Deputy First Minister, Mr. Martin McGuinness MLA, but that was it. It happened and then it disappeared afterwards. The British Government has been criticised here - I agree with a lot of that - but it was not only the British Government that lost focus. The Irish Government lost focus as well. Understandably, given the economic circumstances that were being dealt with down here, it was certainly something that went off the radar.
What one needs is leadership, but one needs it within a clear policy context. There are clear statements about what should be done, both in the Northern Ireland programme for Government and in the Good Friday Agreement. It is about a full range of work, but what we have got, as mentioned in section 1 of the short leaflet on the peace monitoring report, is:

the model on offer from the top is peace without reconciliation. A culture of endless negotiation has become embedded and, without a vision of a shared society to sustain it, the peace process has lost the power to inspire.
That is almost exactly it.
We need to look at what we do in Government Departments - this is North-South as well as inside Northern Ireland. Programmes should not divide. They should not encourage separation. One should be looking positively at ways in which actions that are taken encourage peaceful cross-Border co-operation. There has been a lot of progress made on that, although there is still some way to go.
Mr. Osborne spoke about a regional body that should oversee this. There is a regional body that should oversee this and since I am no longer on it, I can say this and spare his blushes. That regional body is the Community Relations Council, which should be empowered to take greater responsibility in overseeing this work.
We need to address the issues of security. If members can get a copy of the Irish Newsfrom Tuesday of this week, it spoke about the divisions that exist in housing. A housing executive spokesman stated that there are over 500 symbols of paramilitary murals, monuments, etc., in estates throughout Northern Ireland and it was difficult to stop this happening because the estates were single-identity estates. A single-identity estate, in plain English, is an estate where persons cannot live because they are the wrong religion because it is either completely Catholic and a Protestant would be afraid to live there or completely Protestant and a Catholic would be afraid to live there. A single-identity estate is a polite way of saying it is a estate where the minority, whichever it is, has been intimidated and has left. What the police advises the housing executive is that although it is within its power to take these symbols down, the police felt it would cause too much community contention. What that means is that illegal paramilitary organisations would attack those who took the symbols down. Therefore, we are in an environment where these symbols exist in estates that have been made single-identity estates and the police is advising that nothing be done about it because there will be riots. That is a collapse in law and order and it needs to be dealt with.
We know what needs to be done. It has been working steadily for years - I did it in Co-operation Ireland. One brings people together at the community level on what they have in common. One gets them to trust each other and talk to each other. Then one gets them to honestly explore their differences and start to understand where each other is coming from.
Although it is most acute in the Protestant working class at present, this is not exclusively a Protestant problem. When one hears loyalist organisations talk about the lack of political leadership, what they mean, in fact, is that people do not vote for them. On the Protestant side, people still vote and the Northern Ireland level of voting is still high. There may be a lack of political leadership but the politicians still get votes. I am not sure any of the members here would like to be accused of a lack of political leadership because constituents were not voting for somebody else rather than themselves, and the members need to look at that as a political point.
I will give a couple of specific examples of useful incidents that can happen but fall by the wayside. Ten years ago Co-operation Ireland, together with the Centre for Cross-Border Studies and the then Institute of Public Administration, ran a training course over ten weeks with civil servants from North and South. They got together, they carried out joint projects and they heard lectures about each other's political system. We based this on what had been done in the precursor of the Europe Union after the Second World War when French civil servants went to work in Germany and German civil servants went to work in France to develop understanding. We ran this on approximately €20,000 a programme. We got funding from the Special EU Programmes Body for a while. It collapsed because we were unsuccessful in persuading both the Irish and British, and Northern Ireland, Governments that this was a programme worth sustaining. It is a cheap and easy way of bringing people together and developing understanding, but it went to the wall.
The issue of culture has come up. Culture is vitally important and Derry City of Culture was a tremendously strong example of what had been done. Derry City of Culture is replicated in a range of other cultural events, such as Féile and the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival. There is a range of events across Northern Ireland, all of which have heard in the past week that their funding is being chopped by the Department of Trade and Industry because the Tourist Board will no longer fund cultural events. To show that none of this is costless, the Twaddell Avenue protest costs £40,000 a night to police. The funding that is being cut from 61 cultural organisation is one month of policing of the Twaddell Avenue protest. There are real costs in this regard.
Another place where there are real costs are schools, as members mentioned. I suggest at some stage the committee ask for information on the unit costs of training teachers in Northern Ireland. If the committee is told the truth, it will be told that the unit cost of teacher training in Northern Ireland is 40% higher than in other parts of the United Kingdom because there are separate education systems and separate colleges. One of the odd aspects right the way through is that we have relied on schools and teachers to promote reconciliation. One takes children who go to a single-religion school, one sends them to a single-religion teacher training college, and then one sends them back into a single-religion school and states it is their responsibility to promote cross-religious work. Most of these teachers' lives have been outside this. Co-operation Ireland ran a programme for years called Civic-Link, which brought schools together in a structured way looking at projects over a year but it has also gone because of the absence of funding. These programmes fail to be funded right the way through.
We are facing a funding crisis because the rest of the world has got fed up funding the reconciliation programme in Northern Ireland. More funding came from the European Union, through the PEACE programme, and from others, primarily the Americans, through the International Fund for Ireland, than both Governments put in for on-the-ground reconciliation throughout these years. Although the Reconciliation Fund is a good one, and one of its nice aspects is it is much less bureaucratic than most others in that one expects returns but it is not dreadful, it is still at a comparatively low level. It has always seemed odd that Northern Ireland is one of the most affluent places of conflict across the world but it expects all of its funding to come from the rest of the world. The poor sods in South Africa had to fund theirs themselves. Sierra Leone had to do so also.

Everywhere else had to fund it themselves, but Northern Ireland expected the rest of the world to pay for it. The Governments and the people should be paying for this sort of thing.

We are at an odd stage. Substantial progress has been made, but there has been a belief that politics alone is enough to do it. In reality, it requires long, slow, patient work of bringing people together. It is not enough just to bring Catholics and Protestants together. Every time Rangers play Celtic in Scotland, many Catholics and Protestants come together but it does not promote peace and reconciliation. It must be done in a sustained, managed, co-ordinated way. People must feel safe. If people feel their culture is being threatened, that is not cured by saying "that's tough". It is cured by working out the threats, getting people to talk it through, and building a long, sustained programme. It needs proper investment, and we do not have any of that at the moment. I ask this committee to go back and ask what the Irish State's sustained, co-ordinated programme for developing reconciliation within Northern Ireland and between North and South is. What are different departments required to do? What are the measures against which we assess their performance? The chair mentioned at the beginning the need for an outcome-based approach. What outcomes is the Irish State seeking from this and how is progress measured? Likewise for the British State and the Executive. If it is not measured, it is not done. By doing that, one begins to clarify it.

It will not be me, because I will shortly be off community relations completely, but I suggest that this committee invites the Community Relations Council back annually to report on the state of play.

11:40 am

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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Would Ms Irwin like to contribute before Mr. Osborne sums up?

Ms Jacqueline Irwin:

No, thank you.

Mr. Peter Osborne:

I thank the members of this committee for their contributions and the support they have shown. I would not underestimate the importance of that, in their capacity as individuals and as representatives. When people, like Ms Gordon and many others, within communities are taking on such a significant amount of work, sometimes at personal risk, and having to deal with the stress of that and the difficulties that come with it, we must not underestimate the importance of providing that verbal and moral support. It is important that people feel that the work they are doing is valued, and that will help them to continue with that work, so I thank the members for that.
I will return to a couple of issues before summing up with two or three other points, as the Chair has suggested. The City of Culture is an important event to look at. People in that city will say there is no model, but that they have a number of underlying principles that have driven the success of what has happened up there. It is very impressive when one sees what has happened. For example, loyalist bands have taken part in various festivals in the South as well as in the North, and the police band received a standing ovation coming into Guildhall Square during the City of Culture year. It was a transformative experience in that city. The underlying principles are underlying principles for any area where there is dispute or where there is contention, whether over parades, flags, or anything else. People were motivated in that city to do it. They wanted to come to an agreement, they wanted to reach resolutions and the motivation existed. In other areas, the motivation still does not exist. The relationships were developed over many years. It was not an overnight success. Some of the groundwork was carried out in the 1980s and the 1990s and it led to something over recent years where the relationships and trust were built. There was also leadership. That leadership was very impressive across the community divide. It is one of the reasons the Community Relations Council, for example, gave a civic leadership award to Willie Hay, a DUP MLA in that city, who is the current Speaker of the Assembly. That award could also have been given to other elected representatives from other parties in that city, but it was business leadership as well as community leadership, law and order leadership and residents. Combining those three elements led to success. Those three elements are lacking in other areas, but when they are present, one tends to get results. They have achieved a huge amount in that city, and it is important to reflect on it.
Someone raised the issue of the civic voice. We have been considering this question for some time now, because the feedback we get on the ground is that people feel they are not being listened to and that their voice is not heard as strongly as it should be. This is one of the reasons that for the recently drafted racial equality strategy, for example, the Community Relations Council brought together a range of black, minority and ethnic groups. We agreed a common platform with them, which was the first time that has happened. Sixty organisations have signed up to that so far, and it is hoped there will be more over the next few weeks as well. That is civil society getting together, agreeing the critical issues that must go into a new strategy, which it is to be hoped will result in their voice being heard. We need to reflect on how that sort of vehicle is used, because at the moment there is no vehicle for civil society to be heard as well as it could be.
It is important for the committee to continue to engage in this process. It may be important for others to re-engage with it because the point was made, correctly, that this will take a generation. Political agreement is one thing, and although it is very important, political agreement does not build the peace. The peace is built on the ground by organisations doing that work. This will take 20, 30, 40 or 50 years to do before we can say that Northern Ireland is at that reconciled stage we want it to reach. This committee may well be meeting in 20, 30 or 40 years time to continue to consider these issues. That is the reality and we must get our minds around that. This is a long-term process.
It is useful to raise the issue of shared and integrated education. It is a complex issue, as people have said. Shared education is important, but shared education must mean that children are brought together, not just that buildings are used by two different schools. People within the movement understand this, and integrated education is the maximum outworking of that, but there are huge complexities around it. For me, the underlying issue is something that Mr. Kennedy mentioned, and that is mentioned in the peace monitoring report. Shared and integrated education are components of reconciliation work and we want to see peace with reconciliation. The peace monitoring report says quite clearly that at the minute we have peace without reconciliation. We want to move to peace with reconciliation. Reconciliation is a key component of the Good Friday Agreement. It is right up there in paragraph 2 and paragraph 3 in no uncertain terms and in a very visionary way. The underlying issue is more important in some ways than the specifics, important as they are, of shared and integrated education or other aspects. We must take reconciliation seriously. We need peace with reconciliation.
In looking at reconciliation, one cannot get away from issues around, for example, resources and funding. The sector that does the work on the ground, the people who must at times deal with pressures, stresses and intimidation because they are trying to move us into a different place, needs resources and support. I will put it in context. The Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, OFMDFM, the body that is primarily tasked with promoting good relations and reconciliation, has a budget of £13 or £14 million for this, and £2 million is allocated by the Community Relations Council on a regional basis. I hope I got my zeros right, but I think that amounts to 0.001% of total spend in Northern Ireland. If we want peace with reconciliation, if we want to support the Good Friday Agreement, the investment in reconciliation must be significantly more than that. It must be long-term and it must be outcome-focused.
One must ask whether the commitment in the Government and elsewhere is significant enough when that is the amount of funding that is allocated. At the minute it is ad hocand piecemeal. The Governments have done tremendous work recently, for example, the visit of the Queen to Ireland or President Higgins to London. Those were incredibly positive things and symbolically important events which sent out critical messages. They showed that peace building and reconciliation are taking place across the islands.

The really important part of that is ensuring we get it right in Northern Ireland, because that is where relationships are critical to this process and where relationships could sour everything else. Funding and resourcing in the North for reconciliation is an issue on which we need to refocus.

I thank the committee for giving us this hearing and for its continuing interest in our work. I reiterate the need for peace with reconciliation, and ask members to continue to consider whether we are adequately resourcing it and supporting the groups involved in it. As I said, the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council will organise for the committee to take evidence in Belfast from these groups. That will give members an opportunity to hear from the horse's mouth about the critical work of building the peace and the issues arising in that regard in Belfast and elsewhere in the North.

11:50 am

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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My colleague, Senator Jim Walsh, who is very active with various religious groups across the community in the North, has come down specially from the Seanad and would like to contribute.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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Senator Walsh is welcome to do so.

Photo of Jim WalshJim Walsh (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Chairman and apologise for being late. I am not a member of the committee, but Senator White apprised me of the issues being discussed at this meeting. The Chairman and I, as members of the Committee on Sovereign Matters of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, have spoken with various groups in the North, and much of what is in the report would not come as any great surprise to us. I note the delegates homed in on the situation of working class Protestants, the dearth of educational opportunities available to them and the historic lack of value placed on education within that community. This situation presumably arose out of the discriminatory system that operated in the North for many years and the Protestant community's status as the dominant community, with easy access to work in the shipyards and elsewhere. Only this morning, I spoke with a former loyalist prisoner who gave the same feedback on this issue.

Education is key to advancement and an opening of the mind to alternative ways of living. In the meantime, however, sectarianism seems to be going on unabated in the North. It is a significant part of what is happening there. People have, to some extent, reversed to tribal positions and there seems to be very little political leadership in this regard. If the Executive is not having its hand held, it seems to come apart at the seams. I understand an attempt is being made - perhaps more on the loyalist side than the Nationalist side - to utilise a lack of education on the part of some people and appeal to the lowest common denominator in order to secure political support. I do not know how one deals with that.

The two Governments seem to have become detached from the process. As the delegates stated, there must be an urgent refocus on and recommitment to pulling it all together and resolving the issues. That will require a concerted effort. The problem, here and in Britain, is that both Governments are preoccupied with other issues. When elections are coming, the attention is not forthcoming which this project requires. I do not have any great solution other than to say that we might do more on cross-Border engagement and community activities. Some 32 or 33 years ago, I was involved in a twinning project with Newcastle in County Down. People got involved in that and several Nationalists told me they could not believe some of the people on the loyalist side who, through their involvement in it, had turned 180 degrees from their original position. Sometimes we underestimate the potential of that type of community activity.

What is the delegates' view on the role that can be played by schools? At a certain point while the violence was still going on, various projects were funded whereby schoolchildren from the two communities would travel together on trips to the United States and Europe. Those types of initiatives help to sow the seed for a different type of society. I might be wrong, but there does not seem to be much of that going on these days.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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Some of the issues the Senator is raising have already been discussed.

Photo of Jim WalshJim Walsh (Fianna Fail)
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I understand, Chairman.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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The final speaker will be Deputy Martin Ferris.

Photo of Martin FerrisMartin Ferris (Kerry North-West Limerick, Sinn Fein)
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The report refers specifically to the problems encountered by young working class Protestant males. We are told that 24% of young men aged 16 to 24 are unemployed in Protestant areas, compared with a figure of 17% in Catholic areas. Am I correct in saying that, proportionally, the largest percentage of unemployed young people would be in working class areas in east and north Belfast? There should be a targeted focus on creating employment opportunities in those areas. The report refers to the description "Protestant male" as being a speed bet for trouble. Certainly most of the trouble around flags and other issues emanated from east Belfast and, by extension, north Belfast. Part of the solution has to be around creating jobs in a targeted way for those areas. Uneducated working class people, be they Protestant or Catholic, are in need of an outlet through work or training. Unfortunately, however, the proposed cuts in welfare will exacerbate the problems in those areas. We need forward thinking on these issues.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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That is an interesting point.

Mr. Peter Osborne:

I thank Senator Walsh and Deputy Ferris for their comments. The report is very stark in showing up the issues associated with educational underachievement. They are issues for both communities, not just the Protestant working class. Indeed, the report shows there is a significant and similar need on the Catholic and Nationalist side. Proportionately, however, the need within Protestant working class communities is even more stark.

Senator Walsh is correct that we must have a strategic approach, encompassing investment within the school gate as well as outside it. There is a need to look at how communities and families engage with education in schools and with other work within communities that can help to increase the desire of young people from Protestant, Catholic and other backgrounds to work on improvements for themselves by engaging in training and education. Within the school gate, there also is a need to consider greater investment in those areas where there is clear underachievement. We need to put more money into schools in disadvantaged areas, on both sides of the community. There are wider education issues around policy, which we probably do not have time to discuss here. The figures are very stark for Protestant working class boys. If we do not turn this around, there is potential for that group to take its frustrations out in many negative ways. We see some of that manifesting itself in east and north Belfast through other kinds of disputes.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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I thank Mr. Osborne, Ms Irwin, Ms Gordon and Mr. Kennedy for attending the meeting. When I first got involved in politics, many years ago, a friend said to me that the fight is never what the fight is about. Through the valuable work they are doing, I am sure the delegates will agree that the issues are never as clear as they should be.

Regarding the budget, I understand the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's allocation for reconciliation is €2.7 million.

I will be writing on behalf of the committee to see if we can increase that. It is money very well spent. We had an opportune time to visit Ms Gordon's committee and see the work it has done. Ms Gordon outlined the issue of outcome-based funding. We would always like to see something that is outcome based because sometimes money is thrown at things. Regarding the British and Irish Governments, we will certainly remind them that more focus needs to be put on the Good Friday Agreement. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, has spent a lot of time in Northern Ireland along with the former Minister, Deputy Gilmore, and many other Ministers. Perhaps sometimes we need to rethink that. One issue with which we have a difficulty on this committee is that we have had no involvement from Unionist MPs. I am trying to be helpful here. I believe it would be a great gesture and also would be invaluable for a Unionist MP to engage with our committee. I understand their difficulties but I am putting out that invitation again.

12:00 pm

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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I have one other point concerning chairing the meetings North and South. It was raised the other day that we might have one meeting here and another one in the North.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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We will discuss that again. Ms Gordon also mentioned positive leadership and those ills of society and I think we need to change focus, bringing people together. One issue she mentioned concerned integrated and shared education, which is certainly unique and needs to be fostered. Deputy Ferris also raised an issue about targeting unemployment. I have visited the Titanicexhibition three times in east Belfast. I am sure it has created much-needed employment. I agree that we need to focus on shipyards or something similar that would help to target unemployment in an area.
The Derry City of Culture has been absolutely incredible. I do not think that good news story has gotten around the country. I was delighted to see one or two of the Unionist or loyalist bands down at the Fleadh Cheoil in Sligo. This is the way forward and we need to highlight the positives that are happening. It is worrying that, as the Community Relations Council report states, the moral basis of the 1998 peace accord has evaporated. The absence of trust is also worrying. We need to get trust back again.
I thank the witnesses. It has been a very useful meeting. We will try to ensure that we meet with the Community Relations Council on a regular basis, because it represents all the good work that is done. The committee will visit it in Belfast or elsewhere on an outreach visit to see the local and community groups involved in reconciliation. Reconciliation is a word that we sometimes put at the back of our minds, but it should be very positive.
When one sees the cost of Twaddell Avenue, which I was at as well, and when Ms Gordon talked about the 40% higher unit cost of teacher training in Northern Ireland compared to the UK, these are issues that also need to be addressed. We will endeavour to seek more funding for very worthwhile projects. The people in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland need to unite. The issue of politicians going to the lowest common denominator is not unique to Northern Ireland. We need to unite the people of Ireland and if this committee can be helpful that would be positive.
On behalf of the committee, I wish the Community Relations Council well in its future work. It is difficult work that has made a difference, and we want to work with the council.

The joint committee adjourned at 12.25 p.m. sine die.