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Templegrove Action Research Limited:
A Public Hearing on Minority Experiences in Derry Londonderry, Part 4
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Text: Ruth Moore, Pauline Collins, Dave Duggan & Marie Smyth ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna
At this stage, only a preliminary evaluation of the Public Hearing
on Minorities is possible, since the medium and long term outcomes
of the hearing and of the dissemination of this report are not
yet known. It is likely that an external evaluation of the entire
work of Templegrove Action Research, including an evaluation of
the impact of the minorities hearing, will be conducted by external
evaluators some time after September 1996. At that time, those
evaluators will be better placed to conduct a thorough evaluation
of the effects and outcomes of this hearing. In the interim, we
will begin the evaluation process here.
What was achieved?
A hearing of evidence and views from those who consider themselves
to be in a minority in the city took place in a public civic place.
Potentially, this event could open up a longer and more extensive
public discussion about the position of minorities in the city.
The hearing established a broader range of groups, all defining
themselves as minorities, than had been envisaged until that point.
All those who made submissions came from groups or interests which
could be said to have been under-represented in the public arena.
The hearing, and associated report has afforded these groups and
individuals a public opportunity to make their case to a wider
The process of preparing submissions, and delivering them at the
hearing was an opportunity to make causes and views known. It
stimulated some groups to formalise their positions, and other
individuals to get together in groups and put forward a common
position. Two individuals, after listening to other submissions
at the hearing, decided to prepare and make submissions, having
come to the hearing not intending to do so. Therefore, there is
some evidence of the empowerment of participating groups and individuals.
At very least, the report of the hearing provides a resource by
collecting together under one cover the views and positions of
a disparate collection of interests, all of which consider themselves
to be in the minority.
The examination of the minority-majority dynamic in a broader
way, introduces a new perspective on the relationship between
the "two main communities" in the city. This examination
point to a series of principles which can apply to the relationship
between minorities and majorities such as the need for safeguards
and tolerance for minority cultures and views. It also points
to another dimension for application of the consideration of the
situation of minorities.
Through the medium of a public hearing, the civic debate on "minorities"
was informed in a manner which broadened it beyond the narrow
and typical "orange and green" sectarian limit, yet
still included sectarian issues. It is significant that two submissions
raised the issue of the position of the Protestant community in
the city. These submissions marked a departure from the "orthodox"
discourse in which Protestant/Catholic relations are usually discussed.
Also significant that these two submissions, together with a third
- that of Donnie Sweeney - raised the position of the "minority
within the majority" and by default, the "double minority"
experience in Northern Ireland.
The use of the hearing to raise the issue of the Protestant minority
in the city made the connection between minority rights and the
mainstream political discourse in Northern Ireland. Some of those
who made submissions had commented that they steered clear of
"politics", and felt alienated by sectarian discourses.
The two submissions from members of the Protestant community potentially
carried the emotional weight of this alienation. These submissions,
therefore, represented the most potentially contested area of
the hearing, highlighting the 'double minorities' aspect of the
political conflict in Ireland, whereby the Catholic community
is a minority in Northern Ireland and the Protestant community
is a minority in the whole of Ireland. Yet these submissions sat
alongside other submissions coherently, and common themes could
The value of examining local majority/minority issues was appreciated
beyond the city boundary and the presence of people from Project
Portadown as observers at the hearing was designed to further
their plan to attempt to the process in their own town, where
the minority-majority situation is reversed. Potentially, the
hearing provided ideas for other groups seeking mechanisms to
deal with sectarian situations elsewhere.
The attempt to inform civic debate from within the framework of
majority/minority dynamics has hopefully made one step in advancing
the possibilities of social inclusion in the city. The use of
action research methods has meant that not only was data on minorities
in the city collected, and the potential policy impact of this
data maximised, but that the research intervention was a positive
and empowering experience for the participating groups and individuals.
The success of the project in facilitating a total of 26 submissions
to a public hearing was gratifying within the resources available.
The budget for the project is presented as Appendix 3. The human
resources of the project (four people) were deployed very efficiently
and the flexible, creative talents of a small team employed to
The reality of the breadth of social exclusion has now begun to
be documented. It is now a matter of pubic record that there exists
a wide range of individuals and groups who feel that their particular
minority view should be included.
What could have been better?
The project was achieved within modest financial and human resources.
However, Templegrove Action Research succeeded in raising the
budget it aimed for. In retrospect, a slightly larger scale project
would have allowed more time to be spent with groups to support
their own development towards making a public statement. It would
also perhaps have ensured the participation of more individuals
Similarly, longer notice to the public bodies and policy makers
and their inclusion at the planning stage would have potentially
increased their participation and thereby their sense of ownership
of the findings. As it was, the attendance of official observers
was disappointing. Only a few agencies, a representative from
the Northern Health and Social Services Council, Western Education
and Library Board Educational Welfare Officers, the Community
Relations Officer of Derry City Council managed to attend. One
political party, Sinn Fein, was formally represented.
Other observers were present, including local students, individuals
working in sectors who have a particular interest in minorities,
and a group from Portadown. The hearing occurred at the start
of a major public planning hearing on the Sainsbury Proposals
and more notice could have been given to the public agencies.
This requires Templegrove Action Research to attempt to engage
the public agencies and policy makers in responding to the publication
of the report.
An opportunity to confirm the connection with mainstream agenda
is offered at the publication of this report. Templegrove's commitment
to those who made submissions was that the material gathered at
the hearings would be tabled with policy makers in the city, and
that commitment can now be met at the point of publication of
In conclusion, the success of this process is that it succeeded
in galvanising responses from such a range of groups. It has confirmed
the usefulness of a discourse of minority rights when planning
for the city's future. The content of the submissions enriched
the understanding of the diversity of the city and provided a
base of information about that diversity as plans are made for
the future. The focus on minorities has underlined the complicated
and diverse natures of the experience of life in the city, even
as monolithic identities tend to be imposed on this same city
by the political conflict.
"...(T)he recognition that these two sides are fragile constructions,
that within them there are individuals who feel drawn to all sorts
of views or practices that transcend the boundaries of the community
identity into which they are constantly interpellated.....There
are not two traditions in Northern Ireland but a plethora of inter-related,
combining, conflicting, competing and aligning attitudes and cultures."
We hope this report will contribute towards deepening the knowledge
of the range of differences that exist in Derry Londonderry and
will substantiate the challenge to build social inclusion as a
cornerstone in visions and policy for the future.
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