Centre for the Study of Conflict
School of History, Philosophy and Politics,
Faculty of Humanities, University of Ulster
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Resolution Orgnisations (ISPO) Northern Ireland Report Feargal Cochrane
This is the Northern Ireland report which presents the regional findings of the ISPO project. The report was written by Dr Feargal Cochrane (Lancaster University) and Professor Seamus Dunn (University of Ulster). The project was conducted within the Centre for the Study of Conflict at the University of Ulster in Coleraine.
This project would not have been possible without the guidance and assistance provided by a steering group of academics and practitioners, together with the leadership of the project directors Professor Benjamin Gidron, Ben Gurion University, Israel, and Professor Stan Katz, Princeton University, USA.
We would like to thank the following members of the Steering Group for the useful advice they provided over the last two years: Professor Adrian Guelke, Queen University, Belfast, Mr Quintin Oliver, formerly of the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA), Professor Ed Cairns, University of Ulster, Coleraine, Dr Deirdre Heenan, University of Ulster, Coleraine, Professor Sally McClean, University of Ulster, Coleraine.
The International Advisory Board and the other research team members also provided the project with fresh insights and perspectives and we would like to thank the following people for their valuable contributions: Mr Alan Abramson; Professor Helmut Anheier; Professor Galya Golan; Dr Adam Habib; Professor Manuel Hassassain; Professor Tamar Hermann; Dr Virginia Hodgkinson; Professor Wilinot James; Dr Dirk Rumberg; Mr Raviv Schwartz; Dr Rupert Taylor.
A great deal of help was also given to the project from a Northern Ireland Advisory Committee which was established at the beginning of the study and we would like to thank the following members of the committee for their assistance. Mr Gerry Bums, Parliamentary Ombudsman, Ms Evelyn Collins, Equal Opportunities Commission, Ms Joan Harbinson, Race Relations Commission, Mr Paul Sweeney, District Partnership Board, and Ms Maeve Walls, Citizen ‘s Advice Bureaux.
The last word must go to the groups themselves and the many individuals within the NGO sector who participated in the project and are too numerous to mention. Their willingness to talk about their organisations and give up valuable time to the study have given this report its vibrancy and richness and we thank them very much for their co-operation and assistance.
It goes without saying that any inadequacies or inaccuracies in the text of this report are those of the authors alone.
Objectives of the project
This work reports on a study of the voluntary (non-governmental) sector in Northern Ireland with special reference to activities in the area of peace and conflict. The project was one element in a set of parallel studies set in South Africa, Israel/Palestine and Northern Ireland. The research set out to ‘study the characteristics, modes of operation, and contributions of non-governmental peace/conflict resolution organisations’ (P/CROs) active in Northern Ireland, where peace/conflict resolution organisations are defined as: ‘voluntary/non-governmental organisations advocating peace/reconciliation/co-existence between the feuding ethnic groups/peoples on the basis of mutual recognition and use of negotiations rather than force.’
There were therefore two broad questions motivating the work. On one level we set out to contribute to public knowledge concerning the evolution of peace and conflict resolution organisations (P/CROs) in Northern Ireland. We were interested in questions such as: why these groups emerged when they did; what type of people participate in this sector; why did they join; what motivated them to remain; why did they leave; and, finally, what attitudes did these P/CROs have with regard to the political conflict in terms of its causes and possible resolution.
In addition to gaining a greater understanding of how the P/CRO sector evolved and operated, the second major aspect of the project was to study the impact of this work upon the social and political fabric of Northern Ireland and assess the strengths and weakness of the sector as a whole.
Rationale & Background
For the past two decades, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have played an increasingly important role in progressive social change throughout the world. In three recent centres of political conflict, Northern Ireland, South Africa and Israel/Palestine, a diverse array of peace/conflict resolution organisations were involved to some degree within the political process, prior to, during and after the establishment of major peace agreements and ceasefires. This study inquires into the structure and behaviour of such groups, and poses the question of what their role in the peace process has been and what impact they have had on their respective societies.
The ISPO project is the first major internationally comparative effort to analyse the nature, role and impact of NGOs engaged in some aspect of peace/conflict resolution activity across four regions of recent political conflict. With the movement towards peace in 1993-1994 of South Africa, Israel/Palestine and Northern Ireland, we wanted to investigate the role played in society by the NGO sector and their respective contributions to civil society.
The Centre for the Study of Conflict at the University of Ulster, Coleraine, has been responsible for conducting the research in Northern Ireland under the leadership of Professor Seamus Dunn.
The NGO community is, in comparative terms, extremely large in Northern Ireland. A recent survey conducted by the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NIC VA) estimated that over 5,000 NGOs were active here, with an annual turnover of over £400 million, and this in a geographically small area with a total population of about one and a half million people. One consequence of this is that the language and terminology used to describe the organisations was varied and inexact: expressions such as voluntary, community, third sector, and independent sector are cumbersome and, at best, approximate descriptors. Within Northern Ireland the most common descriptor used is ‘the voluntary sector’ and this will therefore be used quite a lot in this work. The peace and conflict resolution sector within this is, in addition, extraordinarily diverse, and this diversity emerges out of a context where there is an absence of regulation and structure, with individuals and community groups having the freedom to begin work as activists and practitioners ` and even as trainers - in areas such as community development, mediation, reconciliation, inter-group contact, and human rights activism. Finally, the development of the P/CRO sector has been facilitated and encouraged by funding from the British government and the European Union in an attempt to encourage reconciliation and conflict resolution activity. In addition the Northern Ireland government has encouraged growth in this area as part of its strategy to promote good social, cultural and community relations between the two communities.
The international comparative project was managed by a team consisting of two directors and a set of international advisors. In addition, within Northern Ireland, a local steering group made up of nine academics was established. Both of these groups met regularly and decisions about the work were developed and structured through these channels.
The first task was to select groups for study, and this was done in conjunction with both steering groups. Three sets of variables were involved in this selection process, and these are described in more detail below. The first set (variables A) was related to the particular context of Northern Ireland. The second set (variables B) contained four general categories of NGOs, applicable to all four areas, generated in discussions with the other teams of researchers and the steering groups. The third set (variables C) were chosen to ensure that various demographic and structural variables were taken account of.
Perhaps the central problem in carrying out this task was (and is) the particular nature of NGO activity in Northern Ireland. Almost all NGOs here would argue that their work, whatever its special focus, has a role to play in the creation of a peaceful and progressive society: on the other hand, very few of them would designate themselves as exclusively to do with the promotion of peace and conflict resolution activities. The consequence was that a good proportion of the organisations chosen for study had an agenda and a programme that included peace and conflict resolution activity as a part - or as an incidental consequence - of their work, rather than its central focus.
It was therefore important to obtain a sample of P/CROs that - in so far as it was possible represented well defined aspects of the very wide and disparate range of groups existing in Northern Ireland. By the very nature of this complexity, there were no completely inclusive categories and it was decided that there should be representation from such general categories as: Conflict Resolution; Reconciliation; Community Development; Cross-Community; InterCommunity and Single-Identity. That is to say, we decided to look at the P/CRO community in its broadest sense. For example, the group Women Together for Peace was selected because it fitted into the reconciliation category; on the other hand Dove House Resource Centre in Derry and UCAN (Londonderry) would define themselves more as community development organisations rather than peace groups. We also chose the Clogher Valley Rural Development Centre, which does not see itself as an overtly peace/conflict resolution organisation but which includes this function in the course of its general work. Finally it was felt to be important to ensure the inclusion of one group based in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, and one that no longer existed.
So, the particular context of Northern Ireland made it important to take account of matters such as the following:
Discussions with the other groups involved in the international research led to the view that the organisations to be chosen ought also to be capable of being categorised according to their most obvious general (probably context-free) function. The four divisions chosen to ensure this were:
TABLE 1: GENERAL FUNCTION CATEGORIES
The first major task was to choose a representative sample of organisations from the very large body of available organisations. This process was complicated by the unstable nature of Northern Ireland society at that time, where violence was still a daily routine, where no local government structure existed, and where non-governmental organisations came into existence and disappeared again at regular intervals. In an attempt to ensure that the project in Northern Ireland was able to keep in touch with the volatile political and social dynamics of the society, two local advisory groups (in addition to the international steering group) were established. The first of these was made up academics, and experts in the area of non-governmental organisations within Northern Ireland. This group met very regularly and its members and the staff of the project were in almost constant contact, especially during the early part of the project. In addition a second group of senior people chosen from the civil service, the office of the ombudsman, government equality units, and so on, also met with the project staff at least twice each year. This second group helped the project to keep in mind its aim that the outcomes of the work would have value for the progress towards peace and stability in Northern Ireland.
Using the variable sets described earlier, along with much discussion with all the various advisory groups and individuals, including a series of meetings between the director of the Northern Ireland project, the research officer and the local steering committee - an initial list of 70 organisations was compiled, chosen to illustrate the scale and diversity of the P/CRO universe in Northern Ireland. In particular this original choice paid close attention to the extent to which organisations had either an explicit or implicit aspiration towards helping to promote a climate of peace and social stability within Northern Ireland, or had a programme of activities that included the practice of conflict resolution. The research involved in listing organisations, classifying them in various ways, adding and removing possibilities, led very quickly to the realisation that many organisations interpreted their role in quite general social terms - such as making Northern Ireland a more democratic and civilised society - but usually allied to a specific set of aims, such as the care and resettlement of prisoners, or the promotion of community economic development. The peace and conflict resolution’ dimension to such work was often of considerable worth, but often was not the primary aim, although many argued that peace could only emerge if the other dimensions of the society were taken care of.
The 70 organisations on this first list were therefore eclectic and wide-ranging in their central focus, aims, size, location, and so on. As well as detailed consultations as described, we also used our own specialist knowledge of the NGO field within Northern Ireland, together with published lists of groups provided by the annual reports of funding agencies such as the Community Relations Council and the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust. The final list therefore was not, and could not be, a scientifically representative sample of the 4,000+ groups within Northern Ireland. But we are in no doubt that the organisations chosen did represent the main functional, social and structural divisions within the complete body of organisations.
Between July-December 1996 these 70 were reduced to a set of 36 groups that could validly be designated as having either an explicit or implicit focus on peace/conflict resolution activity. In making this second selection it was important that the four categorisations (Service Delivery, Advocacy, Dialogue and Consciousness Raising) agreed with the other involved research groups in Israel/Palestine and South Africa were satisfied. The role of the groups as peace/conflict resolution organisations was already established in the first selection of 70 groups, so it was possible to concentrate on the allocation of groups to these four categories, while trying to take account also of the other demographic variables such as size, location and so on. Once again the process of selection was one of consultation and discussion.
The 36 groups selected are shown overleaf in Table 2. They have been allocated into the four categories of Service Delivery; Advocacy; Dialogue and Consciousness Raising. This does not imply that the groups define themselves in such terms or that many of the organisations do not cross these boundaries and perform several of these functions. This is an organisational definition and the category into which each was placed represents our assessment of the main focus of the organisation.
Following a meeting of the four research teams in South Africa in January 1997, it was agreed that the sample of organisations was too large and that this should be refined. Ten organisations were therefore selected for the international study from the 36 selected in the first part of the study, making careful use of the data already assembled about the larger set. The ten were chosen to incorporate as wide a range of variables as possible along the following indices: size; function; demographic spread; cross-community; inter-community; single-identity; reconciliation; conflict resolution; community development; existing and non-existing.
The main data gathering instruments for phase II of the project involved a series of semi-structured interviews with members of the participating groups, together with organisational literature that has either been published, or distributed internally. A common interview outline was agreed between the four research teams, allowing sufficient flexibility for regional variation while at the same time covering similar areas such as organisational evolution; attitude to the conflict and its possible resolution; participation/people involved; nature of funding.The ten organisations selected for study in phase II of the project are listed alphabetically below.
LIST OF TEN ORGANISATIONS FOR PHASE TWO
This chapter concludes with a short section in which the ten organisations are described with respect to their formation, mission, geographic location and focus of activity. The succeeding chapters bring together the ten organisational ‘stories’ around a range of selected themes which emerged from the qualitative study of the groups. These include: context and historical background; origins and evolution; attitudes to the conflict in Northern Ireland; people and participation; funding; and impact and efficacy.
The Ten P/CROs -Organisation Profiles
1. UCAN (Londonderry)
The Ulster Community Action Network, UCAN (Londonderry) was formed during the summer of 1995 in the Waterside area of Londonderry. Its roots lie in the Ulster Community Action Group formed in 1973 as an umbrella organisation campaigning for what were perceived to be the interests of the Ulster Protestant community. This organisation had itself emerged from the loyalist paramilitary movement. UCAN (Londonderry) therefore, while an autonomous organisation, has its roots in working-class loyalist areas and evolved out of the paramilitary community, though they claim to no longer have any paramilitary connections. They adopted the UCAN title from a shadowy Northern Ireland-wide movement which acted in the 1 970s and 1 980s as an umbrella organisation, bringing together Protestant working-class business and community leaders on a radical loyalist political agenda. UCAN (Londonderry) is trying to establish itself as a regional version of its older sister organisation. It concentrates on providing information and assistance to local community organisations relating to resource acqnisition, applying for grant assistance and so on. While it claims to be a non-political organisation, UCAN (Londonderry) places a great deal of emphasis upon promoting what they see as their ‘Ulster British’ heritage and combating what they perceive as being the decline in these values under the inexorable progression of the Irish Gaelic culture. As might be expected from this short description of its evolution, focus and ideology, UCAN (Londonderry) is a ‘single-identity’ rather than a cross-community organisation. It has very limited resources with a small number of committed volunteers and no paid staff.
2 Families Against Intimidation and Terror (FAIT)
Families Against Intimidation and Terror (FAIT) is a single-issue direct action pressure group, formed in 1990. It focuses on highlighting and trying to stop paramilitary ‘punishment’ attacks and intimidation against the civilian population in Northern Ireland. These attacks are normally carried out by both republican and loyalist paramilitary organisations, in response to what is deemed to be anti-social behaviour such as joy-riding drug-dealing or other criminal activities. Those attacked are almost exclusively urban working class youths. FAIT is both a campaigning organisation, lobbying against what it perceives to be human rights abuses and trying to mobilise public opinion over specific instances of intimidation, and a service-delivery organisation, acting on behalf of, and providing information for, individuals who approach them for assistance. FAIT claims to be a non-political organisation and has members from both sides of the community. It is one of the smaller groups in the study having a budget of around £30,000 and only two paid employees, one of whom is part-time.
3. Women Together for Peace
Women Together for Peace is a reconciliation organisation which came into existence in 1970, in response to the rise in sectarian intimidation and violence in Northern Ireland. As its name suggests, it is a gender-specific organisation which attempts to provide a voice for women caught up in the conflict. It started life as a loose collection of autonomous locally-based women’s groups, gradually changing into a more centrally led campaigning organisation. Women Together for Peace began life as a direct action movement confronting incidents of violence and sectarianism within interface areas of the Greater Belfast region. Their activities were responsive to the environment that surrounded them, so members would go out to clear up after bomb explosions or to stop stone-throwing incidents between rival gangs of youths. The organisation also had a significant social element, bringing women out of their houses and providing them with support and solidarity within the context of the group. The main concern of Women Together for Peace today is to encourage dialogue, communication and mutual respect between the two main communities in Northern Ireland. It continues to engage in direct action such as holding vigils for peace and supporting Catholic church-goers during the height of the Hanyville picket.
4. Quaker House
Quaker House is a joint project run by Quaker Peace and Service on behalf of British and Irish Quakers. It is structured in a non-hierarchical way, aided by the fact that it is a small organisation with only two staff at any one time, who are a married couple of practising Quakers. The group was founded in 1982 in an effort to make a contribution towards reconciliation and justice within Northern Ireland. The work they do is underpinned by the spiritual ethos of Quakerism which places an emphasis upon finding understanding and respect through dialogue. Quaker House is a terraced building in South Belfast near Queen’s University. The present representatives are Alan and Janet Quilley who took up their posts in 1993. The main focus of their work concerns talking and listening to politicians, community representatives and church leaders. They also provide facilities for confidential dialogue to take place between individuals and groups who may not otherwise meet.
5. Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ)
The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) was formed in 1981 as a civil rights organisation with a particular focus on the criminal justice system. The general context related to the deteriorating political situation in the early 1980s and the difficulties presented to the British government of devising and operating legislative procedures for dealing with politically motivated violence within a human rights context. There was a strong feeling among the original activists that issues of justice and fairness were inextricably linked to the conflict and needed to be addressed if it was to be resolved. There was a desire to draw together a coalition of legal expertise from across the political spectrum to focus on issues surrounding the criminal justice system and the administration of justice and to make interventions on such issues. It was hoped that the establishment of the CAJ would combat the prevailing tendency to dismiss or marginalise people who made interventions around these themes. Today the CAJ has developed this role of legal critique on the operation of the criminal justice system, and combined it with a service-delivery function, intervening on individual human rights cases.
6. The Ulster People‘s College
The Ulster People ‘s College is a community-based residential educational resource. It has its roots in the community and voluntary sector and emerged to fill a gap which it was felt the statutory agencies were not providing for, namely, the low educational attainment and subsequent socioeconomic difficulties of urban working class communities in the Greater Belfast area. It began as a joint initiative from trade unionists, academics and various community organisations and is now based in one of the wealthiest suburbs of South Belfast. The Ulster People ‘s College claims to; ‘provide education and training for community development and enhances solidarity between communities.’ In addition to its service-delivery function as an educational facility, The Ulster People ‘s College also seeks to contribute to the process of peace and reconciliation through the twin educational programs of community development and democracy and citizenship. When profiled last year by a local Belfast newspaper, Johnston Price, the College's Head of Education Training and Development, summarised the organisation’s focus. ‘The college was really set up to achieve two main objectives -one was really to help people tackle social and economic problems that they experienced in working class areas in Northern Ireland and the other was to look at political and cultural divisions that exist.’ The Ulster People's College began life in 1978, though did not formally constitute itself, or run educational programs, until 1982. It has grown from very humble origins with no core funding or paid staff, into a moderately sized NGO with an annual budget totalling several hundred thousand pounds.
7. Clogher Valley Rural Development Centre
Clogher Valley Rural Development Centre is a cross-community initiative which seeks to provide social and economic resources for the Clogher Valley area in County Tyrone. It was established at the end of 1991 by a group of people concerned that the region’s peripherality - falling between the major towns of Omagh, Armagh and Dungannon - was having adverse consequences for the development of the Clogher Valley region. When a derelict building became available in 1991 an effort was made to develop it into a community resource. A cross-community aspect was desired because the area was very mixed in terms of its political and cultural complexion, yet there was no one place or facility which could function as a neutral venue to bring both communities together in an unthreatening manner. Funding was applied for from the Central Community Relations Unit (CCRU) and the Community Relations Council (CRC) to help with initial expenses and a series of public meetings were held to get nominations for the group’s management committee. Today the Centre employs a number of people and acts as a community resource and neutral venue for the Clogher Valley area.
8. Peace Train
The Peace Train formed in 1989 in response to the IRA’s periodic blowing up of the Belfast/Dublin railway line. It constituted itself into two autonomous and legally separate committees in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. The first meeting of the Peace Train took place in the Stormont Hotel in Belfast in l989. The idea was to run trains between Belfast and Dublin to protest at the specific action of the IRA in blowing it up, and highlight a more general opposition to paramilitary violence. Seven Peace Trains ran between 1989 and 1995. The main activists within the Northern Committee were well known figures from the arts and politics, while the Southern Committee was dominated by trade union activists. At its peak, the Peace Train got several hundred people supporting it in journey’s between the two cities. The organisation had little impact on the level of IRA bombing which took place either generally or on the railway line specifically. It gradually got overtaken by internal personality clashes and wound up in 1995, though by this time the bombing of the railway line had stopped following the IRA ceasefire of the previous year.
9. Springfield Inter-Community Development Project (SICDP)
The Springfield Inter-Community Development Project (SICDP) is a community development organisation situated along the interface area bordering North and West Belfast. It is a single identity group which works for parallel development within both nationalist and unionist working-class communities. While much of the focus of SICDP is on socio-economic issues, it sees this regeneration as a first step towards the rebuilding of the communities and an essential prerequisite for any subsequent inter-communal rapprochement. The SICDP brings together former loyalist and republican paramilitaries within its management structure and the current staff leader, Billy Hutchinson, is a leading member of the loyalist Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) and a former Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) prisoner. The Springfield Project became formally constituted in 1990 and sees itself as being a catalyst for change within the communities it deals with, maintaining a low public profile.
10. Dove House Resource Centre
Dove House Community Trust is the legal parent body of Dove House Resource Centre, a building in the Bogside area of Derry which has been used by local community workers since 1984 as an advice facility for the local population. The vast majority of the catchment area of Dove House is represented by working-class Catholics, most of whom would adhere to an Irish nationalist/republican political philosophy. The organisation’s most recent development plan; The New Departure, explains when and why the group was formed. It is a single-identity community development association which focuses on addressing social and economic deprivation in the local area and the needs of its client groups such as the old, the young, women and the unemployed. Dove House contains individuals who, in a private capacity, play a more political role in areas such as contentious parades and policing issues. It currently acts as a community resource and employs young people on a number of projects.
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