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Templegrove Action Research Limited:
A Public Hearing on Minority Experiences in Derry Londonderry, Part 2



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

2

METHODOLOGY

As an action-research project Templegrove Action Research locates its work within the community, while utilising good academic practice in a manner that acknowledges research as a tool for increasing social awareness and achieving social change. In practical terms, this means that the manner in which the research is conducted, the methods used, the approach adopted - namely the process - is regarded as of great importance. Traditionally, research has focussed more on the results, - the content of what people say - or the product. Our approach is to balance these two, process and product.

A commitment to the dynamic of process and product informed the way we set about organising the hearing. It seemed clear that if we were to simply announce a public hearing in the press and turn up on the day, that many of those whom we wished to consult or hear from would not participate. The effects of years of marginalisation, difficulty in accessing resources, lack of confidence, language difficulties and many other factors could,- and do - prevent people from participating in such events. We recognised the importance of providing encouragement, support and back-up for individuals and groups who wished to make a submission. We adopted the following strategy:

- engaging with the citizens of the city through the public media, focussed mailings and personal contact;
- supporting individuals and groups who wished to participate
- seeking advice and support from relevant agencies with experience of minority issues
- incorporating features to ensure maximum participation and accessibility, for example......
- designing an occasion which was formal, yet welcoming; rigorous yet non-threatening
- appointing members of a panel who had relevant experience and knowledge in the field who could offer us attentive listening and generous reflection.
- to record the proceedings of the day and the submissions presented
- to make the outcomes of the day available to the public through a published report
- to seek to engage with policy makers in the city to ensure that the outcomes of the process are considered by policy makers in the city and beyond.

Our commitment to the individuals and groups who made submissions was that their views would be received in public at a formal hearing and forwarded to policy makers in the city.

We asked those submitting presentations to be concise - to produce a two page document which expressed their current concerns and their recommendations for policy or action.

Informing Principles

Essential to the success of the whole process was the commitment to openness and inclusion. This was made evident in all public communications in which we indicated a willingness to receive submissions in any and all forms, inviting people with special needs for translation, or physical access for example, to make them known to us so that we could ensure that all such needs were met as thoroughly as possible. The advice of individuals and bodies such as the Sensory Support Service was crucial in assisting us to carry out this work.

The issue of who was defined as a "minority" was dealt with by the adoption of a strategy which allowed individuals and groups to define themselves as minorities, rather than us imposing the definition on them. When the hearing was advertised, the wording of the advertisement was broad, and the publicity aimed at attracting submissions emphasised inclusiveness, so that, without exception, those who made submissions had made a definition of themselves as a minority. This was a relatively easy task for some individuals and groups and more complex, even controversial for others.

A PUBLIC PLATFORM
FOR MINORITY EXPERIENCES
IN THIS CITY

        Have you ever asked yourself how minorities feel about the
        city? Perhaps you've always had opinions about this and would
        welcome an opportunity to go public with these opinions.
        Templegrove Action Research invites you to prepare and make
        a formal submission.

        A public hearing for minorities to express current concerns and to make formal
        recommendations to policy makers in this city is planned for the Guildhall on
        the 21st February 1996. The aim is that the process will focus public and civic
        attention on the concerns of minorities. The submissions will be received by a
        panel of distinguished individuals with a working background in this field.
        The outcomes of the hearing will be presented to policy and decision making bodies.

        If you are interested in making a submission and require further information and
        assistance, contact Dave Duggan. TEL/FAX 01504 374556. If you will require
        translation or technical assistance on the day, contact immediately.


The hearing created an opportunity for groups in the community to use this platform for a purposeful expression of their views and experiences. An excerpt from a press release illustrates the approach.

        "as the next phase of their work on sectarian division
        and segregation Templegrove Action Research will
        hold public hearings where groups who perceive
        themselves to be minority groups can make presentations.
        This hearing will provide a platform for all minority
        groups to present their experiences and views about living
        in the city. The aim of this is to promote social inclusion
        by raising awareness of the responsibilities of majorities
        to minorities."

This open and inclusive stance presented a challenge both to the citizens of the city and to the project itself, by locating the work firmly in the contested area of rights and privileges situated in our own unique historical and political circumstances. It aimed to ensure that the work was relevant to local realities, in a way which was not prescriptive and which potentially related to other political tensions and debates.

Minorities in the city were invited to address the question, 'What kind of city do we want?' In this way we hoped to encourage the emergence of a newness in visions for the city that had not previously been heard.

Practicalities

Using this approach, we began to organise a hearing in the Minor Hall of the Guildhall on Wednesday 21st February 1996. Phone, mail and personal contact with individuals and groups who responded to the call for submissions ultimately led to 15 submissions being presented in advance of the day, 5 submissions being presented on the day and 6 coming in after the event.

The choice of venue was significant for a number of reasons. the venue chosen had to be perceived as available to everyone. It had to have status which would add weight to the event, and it had also to be accessible to a wide variety of people with special needs. The Minor Hall of the Guildhall proved to be the most satisfactory venue available. Guildhall staff were familiar with the requirements of such an event and dealt very professionally and sensitively with the demands we placed on them.

On the advice of the Sensory Support Service, we sought an interpreter competent in Irish Sign Language for the deaf. Currently no one is employed in the city in this capacity and, though staff in the Royal National Institute for the Deaf in Belfast were very helpful, they were unable to direct us to an interpreter. Attempts to get an interpreter from Dublin were similarly unsuccessful. We were fortunate, in the end, to find Gloria McGinley, a trainee interpreter, whose work on the day was greatly appreciated by a section of the audience.

With the assistance of the Sensory Advice Centre and Lorcan McLaughlin, our sound technician, we installed a 'loop system', which enhances microphone sound through a public address system. This was used by people in the audience wearing hearing aids. We also offered translation support to a group who wished to make their submission in Irish.

The layout of the hall was designed so that the submitters were facing the three person panel.

The public in attendance could hear presenters through a public address system, a loop system and could read presenters through the ISL signer. These arrangements marked the event as a hearing rather than a debate, and ensured the primacy of the role of listening rather than debating. This was important in order to provide an atmosphere of safety for those who were 'going public' for the first time. The formality of the setting and the process served to convey value and importance on the submissions being made.

Seating was designated for the public and served by the loop system, and separate seating was designated for observers from official bodies. As part of the public address system a tape-recording of the hearing was made. These were then transcribed and integrated into the body of this report.

On the advice of the Board of Directors and Advisory Group of Templegrove Action Research, a number of individuals were invited to sit on the three-person panel. It was decided to invite people from outside the city with a broad experience of issues facing minorities. This was intended to afford a wider field of reflection and broaden our vision beyond the confines of the city. We were fortunate in securing the services of three individuals who brought a wealth of diverse experience to the day, and whose participation we have greatly appreciated.


The Panelists

Christine Bell, who chaired the panel, is a Lecturer in Law at The Queen's University of Belfast. She is the Chairperson of the Committee for the Administration of Justice, and a well known speaker and writer on issues of human rights and women's rights both locally and internationally.

Mary Mulholland is the Chairperson of the North East Forum on Disability and the treasurer of Rights Now Northern Ireland. She first got involved in the disability movement in 1990 and was an office bearer in the Motherwell District Disability Forum in her native Scotland, before moving to Northern Ireland in 1993. Mary has experience of multiple sclerosis in her immediate family, and she herself has used a wheelchair since 1992, as a result of an osteo-arthritis diagnosis made in 1968.

Patrick Yu is an awaiting trainee solicitor, and a former senior social worker. He has an LLB from The Queen's University of Belfast, and a Diploma in Social Work from Hong Kong Baptist College. Patrick is a member of the Black Perspectives Committee of the Central Council on the Education and Training of Social Work, UK, and founder member and Chairperson of the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities. He also sits on the management committees of both the Chinese Welfare Association and the Chinese Chamber of Commerce (Belfast). He has served as an Executive Committee member on the Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese and worked as Executive Secretary to the Commission. He was also Chairperson of the Social Security Sub-Committee of the Social Security Committee of the Hong Kong Council of Social Services, and a member of the Social Welfare White Paper Committee appointed by the Secretary of Health and Social Welfare of the Hong Kong government.

 

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