CCRU home background on CCRU community relations equality and equity research


Joanne Hughes and Colin Knox



Dr Joanne Hughes
School of Public Policy, Economics and Law
University of Ulster
Shore Road
Ph. (01232) 368896
Fax. (01232) 362805


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

1 Key reconciliation bodies Bodies (public, voluntary, independent) set up with a specific community relations or reconciliation brief - Community Relations Council
- Corrymeela Community
- District Council Community Relations Programme
2 Community/economic development - community relations
Organisations, agencies and projects established originally with a community development brief, now incorporating a community relations agenda - Central Churches' Committee for Community Work
- Comerstone Community
- Harmony Community Trust
- Co-operation North
- East Belfast Community Development Centre
- City of Belfast YMCA
3 Cultural traditions
Bodies involved in the support of language and history as a means of promoting mutual respect and understanding of diverse cultures -The Ulster Society
-The Ultach Trust
- Federation for Ulster Local Studies
4 Education, training and personal development
Projects, programmes or bodies with an education, training, personal development or information gathering remit, some of which have a community relations component - Women's Education Project
- Ulster Quaker Service Committee
- Columbanus Community of Reconciliation
- Irish School of Ecumenics
5 Reactive community relations
Organisations established in response to specific paramilitary atrocities and in support of a public mood towards peace and reconciliation - Families Against Intimidation and Terror
- The Peace and Reconciliation Group (Derry)
- Enniskillen Together
- Community of the Peace People
- The Peace Train Organisation
- Women Together for Peace


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 successful contact.

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 Telegraph, 18/9/95.

2. Central Community Relations Unit, Community Relations in Northern Ireland (Belfast: CCRU, 1992).

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 1994.

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:

Blackwell, 1988).

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.

15. See Hewstone and Brown, Contact, op.cit.

16. See Brown, Group Processes: Dynamics within and between groups, 239.

17. Ibid.

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: Spring-Verlag, 1990).

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): 205-228.

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.

26. Ibid.

27. Northern Ireland Curriculum Council, Cross Curricular Themes - Consultation Report (Belfast: NICC, 1990)

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" :8-9.

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).
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