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Templegrove Action Research Limited:
A Public Hearing on Minority Experiences in Derry Londonderry, Part 1



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Text: Ruth Moore, Pauline Collins, Dave Duggan & Marie Smyth ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna

1.

BACKGROUND

In September 1994, Templegrove Action Research Limited began a two year project which was to investigate aspects of the shifting population balance between Protestants and Catholics in Derry Londonderry. As part of that investigation, research was conducted in two enclave areas, Gobnascale (Catholic) and The Fountain (Protestant) in which some of the central questions were directed at uncovering the reasons why people remain living in certain areas, whilst others move out; what is the quality of life for those who remain; and how people perceive themselves on the majority-minority axis.

In terms of politics with a large "P", Derry Londonderry is a city in which the usual Northern Ireland Protestant majority/Catholic minority dynamic is invented. Discovering ways in which majorities facilitate, and respect minorities is crucial to political progress in every political arena, if the dominant-subordinate dynamic of the past is not to be replicated. It was with this in mind, that Templegrove Action Research embarked on organising a public hearing in which the diversity of minority experience in the city could be explored.

Templegrove Action Research Limited decided to proceed with the setting up of a minorities hearing in the summer of 1995. Funds were sought and secured from the Community Relations Council, Derry City Council, the Inter-Church Reconciliation Fund for Ireland and the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust.

When administering a questionnaire in Gobnascale, one woman told us that she didn't fit in to any of the categories of Unionism or Nationalism in our questionnaire because she was profoundly deaf and therefore politically marginalised. This woman's marginalisation from what is perceived to be "real politics" - or politics with a large "P"- in Northern Ireland, was, we suspected, not unique.

Our public hearing, held, as it was, in the Guildhall at the heart of the city's political life, was our contribution to bringing the diversity of minority experience in from the margins. We propose to disseminate the material contained in this report as widely as possible. We invite voluntary, statutory and business organisations to consider its contents with a view to reviewing their policies and practices in the light of the observations and recommendations made here.

Templegrove Action Research Limited decided to employ Dave Duggan to organise the hearing, facilitate groups and individuals wishing to make submissions, and to prepare the draft report. The decision was a good one. I would like to record our thanks to Dave for his energy, commitment and skill in carrying out this work. We enjoyed having him as part of our team.


Marie Smyth,
Project Director,
March 1996.


Executive Summary

On February 21, 1996, Templegrove Action Research, a community-based research organisation, held a public hearing in the Minor Hall, The Guildhall, Derry Londonderry on the experiences of minorities in the city. The hearing had been widely advertised in the local press and broadcast media. Written or verbal submissions were invited from individuals or groups who considered themselves to be a minority for whatever reason, and wished to make a public statement about their experience of life in the city. Individuals and groups who were intending to make a submission were asked to be brief, and to make recommendations for changes which they would like to see in policy and practice in the city. They were asked to respond to the question, "What kind of city do we want?"

A panel was formed to hear the submissions, composed of: Christine Bell, The Queen's University and Committee on the Administration of Justice; Mary Mulholland, Rights Now and North East Forum on Disability; and Patrick Yu, Black Perspectives Committee, Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work and Chair and a founding member of the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities.

Templegrove had employed Dave Duggan specifically to facilitate the hearing and to encourage and support groups and individuals in preparing their submissions. Initially, responses were received from a number of groups, and these groups prepared and submitted written submissions in advance of the hearing. Dave approached a number of other groups, such as the Traveller's Support Group who did not respond to the advertisement, but who were clearly within the remit of the hearing. For the most part, however, those who made a submission were defining themselves as minorities, rather than Templegrove imposing that definition on them. Support, in the form of typing and duplicating, discussion and preparation was offered to groups and individuals preparing submissions. The facility to make an anonymous submission, which would be read by Templegrove staff at the hearing, was available, and this facility was used by one or two people.

Public bodies and policy makers were asked to send observers to the hearing, and the press were notified through a series of press releases. Ensuring wheelchair access, the installation of a loop system and the securing of the services of an ISL signer were part of the process of establishing the hearing.

In all, twenty submission were presented at the hearing and the text of these submissions and the responses of the panel are contained in chapter 3 of this report. A further six submissions were received after the hearing and these are also contained in chapter 3.

The hearing was a vibrant, moving and fascinating occasion, which was well attended by the public and other interested groups. A list of those who signed the attendance sheet is included as Appendix 1. A full evaluation of the hearing is contained in chapter 4. The main value of the hearing was in gathering evidence about the situation of minorities, empowering groups and individuals to prepare and present public statements on their situation, and the emergence of the beginnings of common themes and experiences across a range of groups. Some of the experiences which were common to more than one group were: fear and a sense of threat; actual violence; lack of access to public spaces and amenities; language difficulties; lack of separate provision for separate identity groups including education; health and social services and leisure facilities; having the needs of the group ignored by policy makers and planners; and a sense of invisibility in the city. A series of recommendations arose out of the submission presented and these, together with Templegrove's recommendations, are contained in chapter 5.


INTRODUCTION

The multiplicity of experiences of people in our city are often submerged in the seemingly overwhelming urgency of the 'green/orange' debate. The pervasiveness and the priority given to this debate means that other concerns are ignored, other voices are often drowned in to the seemingly endless racket of the often bloody disputes about national identity. Those drowned voices are lost and unheard, and this is our loss. This loss is the loss of the wisdom, insight and experience which those voices have to offer. It is also a loss of our own ability to bear witness to the pain of marginalisation, on which no one minority group or section of the community has a monopoly.

A mechanism for addressing this loss involves widespread consultation, full inclusion and a ritualised space within which the voices can be heard. To create such a mechanism was the task undertaken by Templegrove Action Research, when it decided to develop a public hearing process for minorities in the city.

The rationale and brief of the hearing was the desire to promote social inclusion and raise awareness of the responsibilities of majorities towards minorities. This involved contact with, and seeking submissions from, members of minorities in the city. The context of the sectarian division is ever present and the question "What kind of city do we want?" was designed to provoke a wide range of views and recommendations. The process of organising the hearing and the contents of the hearing would then be written up in a comprehensive published report for wide dissemination.

The key element in this process was the use of the discourse of 'minorities' at a hearing day. This language gave permission to a diverse range of utterances to be made in public. Individuals and groups were enabled to formalise their concerns and their desires and present them in a supportive environment created by the attentive listening of the panel members and the formal process of a public hearing.

This process presented a challenge and an opportunity through which considerable empowerment occurred. Increased confidence and clarity resulted, so that the hearing day itself was a celebration of the richness and diversity of experiences of people in the city.

The Board and Staff of Templegrove Action Research are pleased to have contributed towards a richer, more complicated view of our city. This more complicated view is of concern and interest to all citizens, but particularly to those among us charged with developing policies and visions for the future.



Dave Duggan
March 1996


The international context of the work

The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10th December 1948 opens with Article 1:

      "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
      They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act
      towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

This declaration, coming as it did at the end of an horrific war in which mass murder on the basis of a vision of racial purity played an important part, has particular resonance. And in the years that followed further assertions and commitments have been made internationally, so that it is increasingly possible to talk about the development of a "human rights culture" in the world.

      "Over the years, further and more detailed provisions have
      been adopted in such fields as the prevention of discrimination;
      the rights of women; the rights of the child; prevention of
      slavery, servitude and forced labour; human rights and the
      administration of justice; freedom of information; freedom of
      association; equality and non-discrimination in employment;
      human rights related to family, marriage and youth; social
      welfare, progress and development; the right to enjoy
      culture; human rights related to nationality, statelessness
      and asylum; prevention, prohibition and punishment of war
      crimes and crimes against humanity, including genocide, and
      humanitarian law in armed conflict." (1)

The process of establishing Article 1 as a reality is far from over, and while many advances have been made, much development is still called for. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights focuses on the particular rights of minorities in a number of articles.

Relevant for minorities are, for instance, the provisions on freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Universal Declaration Article 18). Members of any religious group are entitled to manifest, in public as well as in private, their religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. Equally relevant is the right to freedom of opinion and expression (Universal Declaration Article 19), which includes the right to seek, receive and impart information through any media and regardless of frontiers. This right clearly includes the right to use one's own mother tongue and to receive and to give information in that language; on this basis, minority groups can assert their right to protect their own language. The right to freedom of assembly and association is outlined in (Universal Declaration Article 20): Minority groups are entitled to organize for the promotion of their interests and values by forming their own associations. Furthermore, everyone has the right to participate in the cultural life of the community (Universal Declaration Article 27). This implies, also, that members of minority groups have the right to carry on their particular group culture. (2)

The local context

Specific factors in our own society impinge on the possibility of human rights. The most obvious of these is the major political and social conflict which exits in Northern Ireland and which is manifest in a variety of ways, including violence. This conflict has had the effect of reducing the multiplicity of experience and narrowing the political agenda to the exclusion of everything but the "national" question. This is illustrated by the question put to a local person, "Are you a Catholic Hindu or a Protestant Hindu?" (3)

It is significant that this work happened at a time when considerable political change was under way and political uncertainty prevailed. A number of large scale consultation and visioning projects are being undertaken by, for example the City Partnership Board, into which the outcomes of the minorities hearing can be fed. A seemingly new willingness to address marginalised groups has become apparent. For example the "Outline Strategy proposals 1996-1999 : Urban regeneration in Londonderry" state:

      "special emphasis will be placed on involving those most
      socially excluded in the design and implementation of
      projects seeking to meet their needs" (4)

It is within this broader context, and that of Templegrove's other work on sectarian segregation, that, in late 1995, a decision was taken to undertake an investigation into the experience of minorities in the city. It was decided to employ the mechanism of consultation and a public hearing. The outcomes of this investigation are situated alongside the main outcomes of the work of Templegrove Action Research.

 

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