- AN OVERVIEW OF COMMUNITY RELATIONS IN NORTHERN IRELAND
Northern Ireland has reached a critical
turning point in its troubled history. The ceasefires, in place
for seventeen months heralded an end to the bombings and bloodshed
so characteristic of the province for more that a quarter of a
century. This, in turn, has led to an interim dividend of improved
business confidence and an upturn in tourism.1 As
quickly as the announcement of the ceasefires came, the Irish
Republican Army (IRA) announced its ending on 9th February 1996
with the bombing of London's Docklands. Recriminations abounded
and the British Government was accused of "dragging its feet"
in attaining a constitutional settlement. Since then, Northern
Ireland has witnessed a breakdown in law and order (July 1996)
over traditional marching routes and community relations seems
to be at an all time low. Yet this political and security turmoil
belies an on-going policy commitment on the part of the UK government
to achieving "equality and equity" between the two communities
in Northern Ireland. A series of reforms, introduced in the 1980s
have targeted social, economic, political and security issues.
Alongside and complementing these, another set of measures have
been aimed at alleviating deep-rooted community divisions.
Central to the implementation of these
measures, was the establishment in September 1987 of the Northern
Ireland Central Community Relations Unit (CCRU). Reporting directly
to the Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, the Unit is
charged with "bringing the two sides of the community towards
greater understanding".2 The importance attributed
to the Unit is evidenced by the fact that in 1995/96 it received
£5.3m out of a total Government spend for Northern Ireland
on community relations and cultural traditions of £8.4m.3
Since its inception, CCRU has implemented, funded and evaluated
a broad spectrum of community relations initiatives. In an effort
to engender public support within a politically sensitive minefield
the Unit has had to tread very carefully. Specific goals for
programmes have been framed in fairly generic terms concentrating
primarily on facilitating contact between Protestants and Catholics.
The approach adopted is informed by the contact hypothesis which
argues that cross-community contact can assist in improving tolerance
for diverse cultural traditions. This "contact model"
is based on theories of inter-group and inter-personal behaviour
emanating from the work of social psychologists during the 1970s
in the USA. The promotion of contact between Protestants and
Catholics within the difficult context of Northern Ireland appears
to be a laudable goal. There is some evidence, which has challenged
the conventional wisdom, that contact of itself is a sufficient
means of effecting long-term attitudinal and behavioral change.4
Rather it is argued that the quality of, and the conditions under
which contact takes place, as opposed to its extent, are more
important determinants of successful outcomes.
This paper has four main aims. Firstly,
to consider the body of theoretical literature on inter-personal
and inter-group contact and the concomitant principles of good
practice which have emerged from it. Secondly, to highlight the
emergence and role of CCRU within the context of the UK Government
approach to community relations in Northern Ireland. Thirdly,
to categorise the broad range of projects supported by CCRU and
subject them to a "matching" exercise wherein their
relative contribution to effective contact is assessed according
to the principles of good practice emerging from the theoretical
literature. Finally, in light of the empirical data, the conclusions
will suggest how good practice can best be effected. This research
review is based on evaluations commissioned by CCRU and conducted
by independent consultants on twenty-two cross-community and single
identity projects in Northern Ireland.
[The following table is taken from page
15 of the report.]
A Taxonomy of Community Relations
Programmes in Northern Ireland
The approach by CCRU, thus far, has
been to support those programmes which can demonstrate, on paper
at least, a commitment to improving community relations in Northern
Ireland. Objectives set by the Unit are non-prescriptive and
have been broadly interpreted. This has generated a wide variety
of projects. Most can claim to promote contact between Protestants
and Catholics, though not all enhance community relations or engender
mutual understanding amongst participants. Indeed, the above
review lends support to the argument that contact can be ineffectual
or, more worryingly, counterproductive, if it is not augmented
by conditions which accommodate intergroup as opposed to interpersonal
relations. The most successful projects evaluated are those which
not only satisfy the conditions for successful contact, as proposed
by Hewstone and Brown, but have adopted a strategic approach to
their implementation. The importance of strategy is a theme running
though every category in the taxonomy and the issues which emerge
may contribute to the ongoing theoretical debate on what constitutes
Superordinate goals, co-operation, cross-cutting
social categories, equal status through expectation states are
presented by Hewstone and Brown as equally important in providing
a context for successful interaction between disparate groups.
The research review, whilst recognising the value of these conditions,
suggests that best results are achieved if they are prioritised
according to the stage of development reached by the participant
group. Ideally, when a group has not previously engaged in contact
work, but is committed to doing so, it is important to address
expectation states. This is best done at an intra-group level
through single identity projects, where fears and prejudices can
be addressed in a safe environment prior to contact. Following
on from this, and addressing the issue of contact, it is important
to ensure that the condition of cross-cutting social cleavages
is met. This ensures that the selection of participants reflects
common characteristics (such as class or common interest) which
subordinate potentially volatile religious and political identities.
Issues with which both groups identify, such as sport, music,
art or community development concerns, can provide a context for
exploratory and tentative contact at a non-contentious intergroup
level. Eventually, when relationships have been established,
differences can be addressed. Whilst expectation states and crosscutting
social cleavages lay the foundation for interaction, superordinate
goals can be employed to galvanise participants on the basis of
their shared interest. Co-operation is less of a condition than
an outcome of this process, shifting the focus from intra-group
to inter-group. To ensure -optimum success, the research review
suggests that Hewstone , Brown's conditions might be best presented
as a continuum in which expectation states and cross-cutting social
cleavages are inputs, superordinate goals are part of the process
and co-operation the desired output. Inherent to this approach
is a commitment to development proposed by McCartney wherein intra-community
and basic level contact work are progressed at a pace which is
acceptable to participants. The ultimate aim being to promote
meaningful interaction between Protestants and Catholics at inter-group
level. The approach to community relations at the macro-level
in Northern Ireland thus far has been to support initiatives at
the grass roots level which can demonstrate a commitment to addressing
the community relations problem largely through contact work.
Government policy towards funding in this relatively new area
has been sufficiently flexible to allow for an iterative process
which can build upon trial and error. The challenge now confronting
practitioners and policy makers alike is to hone and refine much
of the existing practice at the individual project level to best
meet macro community relations objectives. An urgent need for
reflection on rudimentary approaches to cross-community contact
now exists. The fragility of the "peace process", evidenced
by the recent (July 1996) breakdown in law and order in Northern
Ireland, demonstrated how little has been achieved to bridge the
gulf between the communities in ten years of community relations
work. Effective cross-community contact can lead to mutual understanding;
segregation heightens mistrust and breeds fear - an environment
in which terrorism can flourish.
1. Interview with Maurice Hayes, Belfast
2. Central Community Relations Unit,
Community Relations in Northern Ireland (Belfast: CCRU,
3. Joe Hinds, "Community Relations/Cultural
Traditions Budget NI 1995/96", A Journal for Community
Relations Trainers and Practitioners (Community Relations
Council, Belfast, Autumn 1995): 8-9.
4. Miles R.C. Hewstone and Rupert J.
Brown, " Contact is not Enough: an intergroup perspective
on the contact hypothesis", in Contact and Conflict in
Intergroup Encounters, edited by Miles R.C. Hewstone and Rupert
J. Brown (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986), 1-45; R. Fisher, The Social
Psychology of Intergroup and Intemational Conflict Resolution
(New York: Springer-Verlag, 1990); Clem McCartney, "Problem
Solving in Community Conflict", Unpublished discussion paper
5. Central Community Relations Unit,
Brief to Consultants 1993.
6. Gordon W. Allport, The Nature
of Prejudice (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1954).
7. See Brown, Group Processes: dynamics
within and between social groups.
8. Yehuda Amir, "Contact Hypothesis
in Ethnic Relations", Psychological Bulletin, Vol.
71 (1969): 319-342.
9. W. G Stephan and C. W Stephan "The
role of ignorance in intergroup relations. " in Groups
in Contact, edited by N. Miller and M.B. Brewer (New York:
Academic Press, 1984).
10. Ibid., 181.
11. Rupert Brown, Group Processes.. Dynamics within and between groups, (Oxford:
12. Brown, Group Processes.. dynamics
within and between social groups, 215.
13. Ibid., 235-238.
14. Brown, Group Processes: dynamics
within and between groups, 221.
Hewstone and Brown, Contact, op.cit.
16. See Brown, Group Processes: Dynamics
within and between groups, 239.
18. See Hewstone and Brown, Contact
in Intergroup Encounters, op.cit.
19. See Hewstone and Brown, "Contact
is not enough"
20. R. Fisher, The Social Psychology
of Intergroup and International Conflict Resolution (New York:
21. Peter Lemish, "Cultural Conflict
and the Curriculum" (Paper delivered at the annual meeting
of the American Research Association, San Francisco, 1989).
22. See McCartney, Problem Solving.
23. Colin Knox and Joanne Hughes, "Cross-Community
Contact: Northern Ireland and Israel - A Comparative Perspective,
" Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 1 (Summer 1995):
24. Community Relations Council, "What
the Local Parties Say on Community Relations, Community Relations
Council Bulletin 8 (1992).
25. Central Community Relations Unit,
Community Relations in Northern Ireland.
27. Northern Ireland Curriculum Council,
Cross Curricular Themes - Consultation Report (Belfast: NICC,
28. Alan Smith and Seamus Dunn, Extending
Inter-School Links: An Evaluation of Contact between Protestant
and Catholic Pupils in Northern Ireland (Coleraine: University
of Ulster, Centre for the Study of Conflict, 1990)
29. For a full breakdown of expenditure
in 1995/96 see Hinds, "Community Relations/Cultural Traditions"
30. For further details see Colin Knox
and Joanne Hughes, "Community Relations: A Research Review,
" Unpublished report, Centre for Research in Public Policy
and Management, University of Ulster (October 1994).