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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

4

EVALUATION

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 city audience.

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 be discerned.

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 capacity.

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 and groups.

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 the report.

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." (6)

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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