CAIN: Democratic Dialogue: With all due respect - pluralism and parity of esteem (Report No. 7)

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With all due respect

Pluralism and parity of esteem

Conclusion and recommendations

This report began with a presentation of the two-sided nature of parity of esteem: a potential solvent of conflict on the one hand, a potent weapon on the other. And our research has been sobering in this regard.

It is impossible to read the interview material, reinforced by the focus groups, without developing a deep sense of two ethnic groups, and their leaders, fundamentally talking past each other, inhabiting largely hermetically sealed discourses with a clear inner logic but utterly incompatible with each other. Close reading of the argument, particularly with the representatives of the parties, shows that, if anything, the gulf is wider than it appears on the surface: superficially similar words betray wholly different interpretations. And because of the radical nature of these disjunctures, and how they replicate themselves across a raft of concerns, they cannot be readily negotiated away - say by offering nationalists a bit more north-south institution or unionists a bit more internal power.

And this, in itself, leads to the first policy conclusion. Parity of esteem has tended to be pursued in recent years, not as if it were a complement to pluralism, but as if it stood in contradiction. In other words, there has been little apparent concern as to whether measures seen to promote parity of esteem might inadvertently also consolidate stereotypical ethnic group roles and so attenuate pluralism, thereby further diminishing the scope for meaningful intercommunal dialogue.

In the international debate around this issue, such concern has been much more evident. A cynic would say that it suits both unionist-minded public officials and nationalist-minded activists for nationalism to receive a cultural booster - as long as it keeps to 'its own. It is remarkable that only Tom Hadden and Kevin Boyle have really aired this concern domestically, in their presentation of the choice facing Northern Ireland as that between separation and sharing.[1]

Yet in an additional set of focus groups conducted recently for Democratic Dialogue, it became clear this was also a popular concern - that entrenching cultural identities was risky since opposed identities were the perceived source of the problem. And what this research project highlights, in the round, is that not only must the already extremely poor intercommunal communication not be further impoverished, but there is also an overwhelming need for the promulgation of greater intercommunal understanding. Frankly, there is no chance of moves towards a settlement getting off first base unless the different players feel at least some empathy for (rather than just hear or misinterpret) what others say.

As in every test of popular opinion ever done in Northern Ireland, in these latter, unrelated, focus groups, participants volunteered integrated education way ahead of anything else they could suggest as likely to encourage conciliatory intercommunal feelings. While, formally, government policy is now to promote integrated education, there is no evidence that the Department of Education, captured as it has historically been

by denominational (as well as class) interests, pursues this policy with any enthusiasm. It should be given much more, public and wholehearted, ministerial and other official endorsement, at every level.

Currently, there remain far too many parents for whom the integrated option is not a real one, as the focus groups for this project confirm. It must become just as 'normal' as the segregated choice. The goal must be to bring about a level playing pitch wherein a parent can choose an integrated school, and that choice be effected, as easily as a decision in favour of the denominational alternative.

The focus groups also confirm the desire for closer residential integration, tempered by concern about its realism. But there is no reason why pilot integrated schemes could not be developed, as suggested by the Opsahl Commission and the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. This is an area where the growing involvement of the social sector in housing provision could be of innovative value, in the design of such projects. While allocation could still be on basis of need, as in existing segregated estates, tenants would thereby be able to express a choice for mixed housing. As both Opsahl and SACHR recognised, this would require some government financial support to counter-balance the uncertainties associated with integration.[2]

The second major conclusion from this study is that it really is futile to hope that agreement on measures under the rubric of parity of esteem (or indeed much else) is going to emerge spontaneously from the inter-party talks, whoever is in attendance. The intellectual wherewithal is simply not there, as our interviews show, for such agreement to be found by the participants.

The implication of this is at one level as Hurst Hannum reads the Northern Ireland case: "[T]he imposition of a reasonable and responsive solution from above may be a necessary first step towards a more permanent settlement, as a way of avoiding the 'democratic' stalemate that might result from uncompromising political extremes and intimidation."

But this should not be read as a recipe for top-down 'passive revolution'. Ernest Gellner rightly spots the potential (though no more than that) of civil society in making co-existence possible. "In fact," he argues, "civil society is based on the denial of ideological monopoly, on the acceptance of compromise on deep issues concerning the nature of things, on doubt, irony and all kinds of adjustments."[3]

Stephen Ryan stresses the role of non-governmental organisations in a 'peace-building' (rather than simply 'peace-making') strategy: "[C]ritical social movements, in particular, can explore new political spaces, extend horizons and establish connections. They may develop a new language of dialogue to replace the language of conflict and sectarianism."[4] In so doing, NGOs which embrace cultural diversity can provide an important counterweight to ethno-nationalist statism.[5]

The exigencies of equal opportunities legislation in Northern Ireland have rendered it common for organisations to have a defined equal opportunities policy and responsible senior officer. This policy could be extended to the wider objective of promoting cultural diversity both within the organisation and in dialogue with other cognate bodies. Community and voluntary organisations, in particular, should consider inclusion of such commitments in their constitutions and mission statements, where they have not already done so, with larger organisations designating a senior staff member as having particular responsibility for implementing the policy (though not to the exclusion of others). Even full and frank internal discussion of why such an initiative was required, sensitively handled, could be a valuable way of raising the issue.

The third major conclusion is about the significance of parity of esteem itself. Within one view, of course, it is a matter of no consequence - if everything in Northern Ireland is, ultimately, 'political', then a political settlement agreed by the parties will resolve it. The very evident intellectual limitations of the thinking of the parties on parity of esteem, as evidenced by the interviews, itself implicitly reflects this 'it will be all right on the night' assumption - and one recalls how the power-sharing executive of 1974 rapidly agreed on the abolition of the old Community Relations Commission.

The implication of this study is the contrary: the significance of issues like parity of esteem lies precisely in that they are more manageable, discrete themes, amenable to positive and tangible innovation in policy and practice, including by non-governmental actors. Thus, as Ryan puts it, thinking particularly of NGOs, "The idea of a plurality of small moves forward rather than one breakthrough is an attractive one, not least because it recognises that peace is more than successful mediation."[6]

One of the ways in which the issue can be manageably addressed is by incorporating, and rendering justiciable, existing minority rights guarantees into Northern Ireland's embryonic constitution - the Northern Ireland Constitution Act of 1973. The second SACHR report suggested incorporating a statement into the act requiring government policies to deliver equality of treatment and parity of esteem, allowing individuals/ organisations thereby to seek redress through the courts or for non-complying government initiatives to be declared ultra vires.[7]

But since then the UN declaration, the Council of Europe framework convention and the minority languages charter referred to in the introduction have all been promulgated. So in addition to the general statement SACHR recommended, these more specific provisions should also all be incorporated into the act, so rendering them, merely exhortatory in their current form, also actionable in the Northern Ireland courts. This would mean that the key areas of concern about cultural recognition would not only be symbolically endorsed at the heart of the state but would also have real material effect. Whether it was felt that the existing courts system in Northern Ireland could address adequately this new jurisprudence or whether it was felt desirable to establish a specialist constitutional court would be a matter for expert debate.

Either way, this move would be a crucial indication that Northern Ireland's constitution was indeed understood to be an evolving, pluralistic one, able to recognise all residents of the region as equal citizens in their diverse and equally legitimate ways. Such an initiative would also have the merit of being easy to implement and being defensible solely on the basis of universal values as interpreted by bodies, like the UN and the Council of Europe, whose bona fides are unquestioned by any Northern Ireland faction. It would thus not need to attend upon inter-party agreement in talks.

Moreover, this approach would have the not inconsequential final advantage that these international conventions are universal - and so can be appropriated to address the concerns of all 'persons belonging to' particular national/ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland, including the Chinese community, travellers and smaller groups. It does not thereby fall foul of the 'two teams' syndrome, with the consequent unintended effects of enhanced polarisation and marginalisation of groups not defined in Protestant/ Catholic terms.

In particular, this approach offers us the value base for innovative constitutional thinking on Northern Ireland. It provides a legitimation and clarification of the intercessionary role (rather than the famously vague 'more than consultative but less than executive') of the republic's government in the region. And it provides a preferential focus on the concerns of the Catholic community, including the securing of redress against any depredations of its rights - yet in a manner non-threatening to liberal-pluralist Protestant opinion.

Similar principles apply to the policy-oriented arena, currently addressed by the Policy Appraisal and Fair Treatment 'equality-proofing' guidelines, introduced in 1994. Indeed here it is worth underscoring the scope of the PAFT guidelines, which not only embrace all potential national and ethnic minorities but considerations of gender (and sexual orientation and marital status), having/not having a dependant, age and disability. And they apply to the all government departments and 'Next Steps' agencies.

But the status of these equal-treatment guidelines, not defined by law, is unclear. As Osborne et al have reported, while the Central Community Relations Unit at Stormont has a 'challenge role' in equity issues, it has no power to insist that departments pursue any particular policy or action in the context of PAFT. The Lead Officers' group established to co-ordinate departmental responses to PAFT has not functioned effectively. Not all departments have the information collection mechanisms to make PAFT judgments on the basis of adequate data. Implementation can vary from a positive approach based on 'sensitivity' to a negative, 'checklist' attitude. And the response of nondepartmental public bodies has been uneven.[8]

For all these reasons, it has been argued that PAFT should be put on a legal footing. But the issue has been clouded by being linked to a specific proposal by Christopher McCrudden. Dr McCrudden argues: "PAFT should become an anticipatory, participatory, and integrative tool for identifying where proposed actions are likely to advance or retard the achievement of the greater material equality of particular groups in Northern Ireland."[9] This would include a statutory responsibility upon the Northern Ireland secretary to reduce progressively material inequalities'.[10]

Dr McCrudden envisages the process, albeit delimited by screening and scoping, as covering a wide range of public bodies and a wide range of their actions. By a process derived from environmental impact assessments, he anticipates such bodies being required to subject proposals to assessments of their compatibility with the inequality-reduction criterion. He envisages this allowing scope for public participation, before and after PAFT impact statements are prepared.

Some of the practical problems of detail thrown up by Dr McCrudden's paper - particularly the major challenge of screening and scoping to reduce the idea to manageable proportions - are aired in a SACHR paper by Nigel Hutson.[11] But more substantive concerns about putting PAFT on a legislative footing in the manner he suggests have been advanced by Tom Hadden and others, some of them relating to the issues raised earlier in this conclusion.[12]

Prof Hadden points out that in fact PAFT arose in the context of a UK-wide equal-opportunity policy initiative (of limited political depth). This raises immediate problems as to giving real purchase to its application in the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, especially given that differentiated approaches are required to address the different types of inequality in the region (without creating a hierarchy between them): many of the 'parity of esteem' concerns, for example, of those who identify themselves as Irish in Northern Ireland are decidedly non-material, being of a symbolic nature. Moreover, there is the challenge of ensuring coherence with the separate demands of the third public expenditure priority - specific to Northern Ireland - of 'targeting social need'.

Secondly, the logic behind going beyond the equal-treatment focus of PAFT in the way Dr McCrudden suggests is to achieve substantively egalitarian outcomes - reducing 'material equalities'. Outside of the former Soviet bloc, where aspiration and reality mightily conflicted, such quasi-constitutional policy requirements have always been abjured. There is, therefore, a disturbing lack of models on which to draw: the case of environmental impact assessments is unique precisely because in that policy area there is a specific need to avert adverse substantive outcomes which to a developer represent a mere externality. This must raise real questions about the political realism of the idea.

Conversely, however, the attempt to extend a UK equal-opportunity scheme to achieving greater substantive equality between various groups in Northern Ireland suffers from the additional difficulty that the biggest source of substantive inequality does not fit into an anti-discriminatory policy framework - and so would be unaffected by placing PAFT on a statutory footing in the manner suggested.

That category is class. Research by Vani Borooah and others has demonstrated the self-evident point that class inequalities in Northern Ireland are significantly greater than sectarian inequalities.[15] Yet the problem is that class inequalities are not amenable to a discourse based on the notion of 'discrimination', linked as they are to other disadvantages, such as in educational qualifications, and so to poorer life-chances in the labour market. On the contrary, equal-opportunity policies are largely about ensuring that those with the same qualifications, etc, enjoy the same labour-market opportunities.

Fourthly, the UK origin of PAFT makes it blind to the dynamic towards sharing or separation referred to earlier. Parity of esteem allied to sectarian apartheid would hardly be a policy achievement to trumpet. Efforts to secure it must thus be allied to equal prosecution of the work of reconciliation, and patient commitment to build, house by house and school by school, more integrated community life. Thus, in his authoritative survey for the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in Dublin of arrangements for group accommodation, Asbjørn Eide stresses:

The legitimate competing approaches to nationhood must not preclude the development of a civic society in Northern Ireland, in which each community can participate on an egalitarian basis ... It is assumed that any measures leading to further physical separation within Northern Ireland based on communal identity should be avoided. The experience in other parts of the world, including Bosnia, to divide [sic] land by ethnic or religious identity, is so frightening that it should be avoided at all costs.[14]
Prof Hadden therefore argues that, rather than moving to give the PAFT guidelines legal force, a new set of policy priorities should be formulated as follows:
(a) parity of treatment and esteem between the two main communities;

(b) less inequality between rich and poor;

(c) reconciliation between the two main communities;

(d) fostering communal sharing and reduction of communal separation; and

(e) equal treatment in respect of race, gender, and disability.

Prof Hadden's approach avoids the elision from equality of opportunity to equality of outcome - except where the latter is the appropriate focus, such as in the reduction specifically of inequalities of income across the board.

Legislation could certainly be introduced in this context to ensure that procedures for policy appraisal, ensuring they match these strictures, were both more determinedly pursued and more transparent than PAFT has proved, in the spirit of the Osborne et al research and the McCrudden and Hutson papers.

The advantages of this approach are that it would give civil servants clearer policy guidance: at the moment, as one senior Stormont official put it, "We haven't a clue what we're talking about on PAFT and how to take it forward." And it would elevate TSN (redefined as (b)) above its current marginal status, where it is subordinated as a priority to 'law and order' and 'strengthening the economy.[15] It would, however, sustain the concern with a raft of inequalities and while recognising their different character - in particular how central 'parity of esteem' is to the religious dimension - establishes no hierarchy between them.

But one has to recognise the limits of this endeavour. Ultimately, the challenge in Northern Ireland is one of generating, and sustaining, the political will to secure an egalitarian society, guaranteeing individual opportunity for all, with maximum public participation. That, however, is a matter for the interplay of political forces and democratic argument. It is an argument which its liberal - left advocates have to keep on making and winning, rather than expecting a once-and-for-all guaranteed outcome, reliant on administrative mechanisms thereafter.

Discussion of PAFT and TSN inevitably raises the issue of fair employment. This report has touched on the latter concern - perhaps even more in terms of the fears attached to it by some Protestants than the hopes of many Catholics. We do not, however, attempt in this conclusion to discuss it in more detail, as it is pointless to do so given (at the time of writing) the imminent publication of the quinquennial review of the legislation by SACHR.

Salutary indications are nevertheless available in the argument of Pete Shirlow et al that existing 'group rights' thinking has failed to address intra-group inequalities and unnecessarily fostered Protestant alienation from the very idea of fair employment. They point to a broader attack on the so-called 'structural factors'- class, educational disadvantage and so on - to achieve further progress in reducing intercommunal employment differentials, while similarly addressing the plight of socially excluded Protestant communities.[16]

Looming even larger in this report has of course been the issue of parades. But here the North review has done great service, not only for its specific recommendations but also for its wider discussion of the broader themes involved.[17] Indeed, the former need not detain us for long, because the new Northern Ireland secretary has committed a Labour administration to implement the North recommendations in full - notably that an independent commission should be empowered to issue binding adjudications on whether and under what conditions particular parades go ahead.[18]

It is the broader perspective which the review adopts which is revolutionary in its potential, once one recognises, as North does, that the parades controversy represents in many ways the Northern Ireland problem - and in particular the challenges of pluralism and parity of esteem - writ small. And it is the discourse it deploys which begins to offer the new language which this report has indicated is a necessary if not sufficient condition of progress.

The first, dramatic claim of the review is its emphasis, rightly, on the internal nature of the conflict - not 'internal' in the sense of advocating a UK-oriented, unionist outcome, but internal in the sense of a recognition that, as with all such ethno-nationalist conflicts, it is the antagonism between the communities involved themselves, rather than the role of external actors, which is crucial to the problem and central to any settlement. It has been neglect of this fundamental truth that has allowed government to preside over the dramatic polarisation, most visibly manifested at Drumcree in 1996, almost without seeing it coming:

The sources of the problem lie within our society - not just within the deviant political behaviour of the few, but with the inability of the many to deal positively with difference and with shared time and space.

The solution to the problem equally lies within our society. The question is whether we have the will to bring forth from the reservoirs of goodness and integrity in this community the resources to deal with the pain and the pressures which arise out of living together yet apart, as we have done for so long.[19]

The second remarkable feature of the review is its refusal of relativism. As the first chapter of this report stressed, relativism provides no basis for resolving conflicting group claims - on the contrary, it encourages the protagonists to pursue them more avidly, since force majeure will prevail, as both sides in the parades controversy have come to suspect in recent years. More generally, the whole principle that Northern Ireland's conflict - and the problem of parity of esteem within it - will be negotiated away by the parties, by trading their existing incongruent positions, is rendered utterly incoherent by these relativist premises.

In this context, what the review does is not simply to juxtapose unionist and nationalist claims, but to mobilise a transcendent rhetoric of 'fairness' and 'reasonableness' - to considerable effect, it might be said, given the opinion-poll support it demonstrates for its principal propositions - allowing government to adopt a much more proactive and potentially widely supported approach not attendant upon party vetoes:
We were given the very clear impression, from all the evidence available to us, that the great majority of people desire a peaceful and just resolution of these difficult issues. We hope therefore that most people will he prepared to accept what fair-minded people would accept as being reasonable solutions in local situations. We believe it is essential to encourage that constituency to be as broad as possible, and that those who would seek to object to constructive and reasonable proposals are positively influenced by the fair-minded majority.[20]
Finally, the review, recognising as it does that parity of esteem obscures the sharp asymmetry of claims by each side, makes a fundamental break with what might be called a 'rights absolutism' guaranteed to lead, not to comity and reconciliation, but to endless protagonism and polarisation. The "civic values" it draws upon entail the following:
a) recognising that rights carry responsibilities, and are not absolute, which is seen most clearly in the fact that neither what are often described as the right to march' nor the rights of residents are absolute,
b) exercising rights with both restraint and responsibility, and with respect for the well-being of others in the community,
c) working together to create a society that not merely tolerates hut positively celebrates cultural diversity.[21]
These three key insights are in fact the most valuable way for this report to conclude, perhaps preserving a modicum of optimism that progress may be possible. They represent, together, a Gestalt shift on the part of government and a clarion-call to civic responsibility to all those social actors who can play a part in moving towards a Northern Ireland more at ease with itself.

Which brings us finally to the quest for a political settlement. It is a bizarre paradox that the determined prosecution for seven years of such a quest, ever since the Bangor speech in January 1990 by the then Northern Ireland secretary, Peter Brooke, has been matched with such apparent unconcern about the steady polarisation of society in Northern Ireland, before and since - polarisation which is so strongly manifested in the focus groups for this report and which by definition has rendered the possibility of 'sufficient consensus' on a settlement an ever-receding goal.

This polarisation is no accident. It ultimately arises because of the inability of government to transcend the language of the past which, as demonstrated earlier, is hopelessly obsolete in the context of ethno-nationalist conflicts in the 1990s. By merely laying side by side the majoritarian claims of unionism, vis-à-vis the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, to resist unification, with the long-term majoritarian alternative of nationalists, to secure the latter objective through 'rolling integration', far from ameliorating the terms of the conflict, government has merely institutionalised it.

And, as the interviews and focus groups make clear, nationalists, mindful both of the weight of historic grievance and of their modern assertiveness and power, will not accept majoritarian concepts of Northern Ireland - even the qualified majoritarianism of more moderate unionists. Nothing less than full equality is any longer acceptable.

Equally, increasingly defensive and frightened unionists are not going to be rolled over into all-Ireland structures, via a 'dynamic' north-south body which looks increasingly like a proto-government of a united Ireland. Nor will they accept joint authority as a stepping stone.[22]

There is no doubt that if unionists insist - with considerable justification, in terms of international legal precedent - on the absolute principle of the inviolability of territorial integrity, then no accommodation is possible. There is also no doubt that if nationalists insist - again with many international conventions to call in aid - on the absolute right of the people of Ireland to self-determination, again no settlement can be achieved.

And so we come to another paradox: if the debate about parity of esteem has been characterised by ever more vociferous assertions of rights, on either side, its resolution actually depends, as the North review so insightfully realised, on a willingness not to prosecute rights to the ultimate, a willingness to temper rights with restraint and responsibility.

In other words, a Northern Ireland settlement will only be possible when at least some unionists are persuaded that they would rather govern the region in full partnership with nationalists than have someone else (now Britain, perhaps eventually Dublin) do it for them. This would mean abandoning their 'right' to have Northern Ireland defined as unequivocally part of a sovereign and territorially bounded tK, but far from this entailing their further disempowerment it would empower them - on a par with their nationalist colleagues - in assuaging the 'democratic deficit'.

Equally, a Northern Ireland settlement will only be possible when at least some nationalists are prepared to say that they will 'set a boundary to the march of a nation', that such a settlement is not simply a staging - post to somewhere else. Of course, it can and must involve strong north-south institutions for policy co-ordination island-wide, for its intrinsic mutual benefits and its recognition of the nationalist sense of an island-wide community. But if such institutions are, like their northern counterparts, to have a reconciliatory, trust-building character, it must be clear that one side is not simply there to make up the numbers - that there will be an optimal equilibrium reached well short of unification, as the outgoing government in Dublin well recognises.[23] True, this means abandonment of the idea of an eventual nationalist 'victory', but the point of equilibrium is a never-before attained summit of real equality and parity of esteem.

What this means, for unionists and nationalists alike, is the positive achievement the North review envisions - of working together to create a society celebrating cultural diversity. But such a society is inconceivable unless both sides abandon absolutist insistence on 'sovereignty' versus 'self-determination' and come to embrace the idea of multi-cultural citizenship held out in the opening chapter. As Fr Eamon Stack, chair of the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition, puts it

Today we hold that liberal democracy, with its fundamental principle of free and equal citizenship, is the best form of government available to us. It has been able to accommodate, on the basis of equality, groups which are otherwise fundamentally divided on moral, philosophical, and religious grounds. In Northern Ireland, however, we cling to ideologies of romantic nationalism and confessional democracy, such as have led Europe to destruction in the past.[24]
And where does this leave the role of government? Again, the implications are revolutionary. Following the arguments of Delanty earlier, government - both governments - need to forsake the opportunist 'quick fix' of indulging extremism in the hope of peace and accommodation: that way, as we now know, lie dashed hopes, polarisation and despair. It must turn to the determined long haul of building moderation: only that way can the widening intercommunal gulf of the past near three decades begin to be narrowed.

This is patient, footslogging work. It has no photogenic attractions, boosts no political egos, and is reducible neither to slogan nor soundbite. But like the fable of the tortoise and the hare, it is the only long-term guarantee that a Northern Ireland defined by pluralism and parity of esteem can be achieved - rather than, as now, appear an ever-receding horizon.

What does this mean in terms of practical agendas? Take symbols. In line with the North philosophy, Bryson and McCartney recognise the right of those acting provocatively or for sectarian reasons to express their views, while insisting they do not have the right to limit the free expression of others. Setting rights against responsibilities, they therefore recommend greater tolerance of other people's display of their symbols and a recognition that one's own should only be expressed in the least offensive way, bearing in mind the sentiments of opponents.

It might he possible to develop symbols which would not replace anthems and flags, but which would manifest a sense of shared heritage and identity. Bryson and McCartney call for legal limitations to avoid excesses which interfere with the greater good and with the rights of others.[25] And the more detailed recommendations of the North review, such as the guidelines for whether parades should be permitted and codes of practice for parade organisers, fill this principle out. Surely it is not beyond the capacity of reasonable people to accept display of the Union flag only on a par with elsewhere in the UK of today (that is, hardly anywhere or ever), without nationalists demanding that the Tricolour (flown only on some national buildings in the republic) fill the gap.

Or take education. We have already mentioned above how, despite the merits of EMU, there is no substitute for enhancing integrated education. But we share the concern expressed earlier in this report about the lack of a requirement to learn history until the minimum school-leaving age and about the episodic engagement with the history of Northern Ireland that even then may apply. While there are risks in any policy that smacks of compulsion, it is surely evident in the context of the conflict that a good grasp of whence we all, diversely, have come is a prerequisite of any resolution. The overriding public interest in such minimum political awareness on the part of citizens is surely at least as pressing as the individual labour-market demands of literacy and numeracy skills rendering other subjects compulsory.

Within such a core subject, schoolchildren would be expected, by age 16, to demonstrate an understanding of all aspects of the identities, ideologies and events which have shaped Northern Ireland. A model might be the current 'A' level Irish history syllabus covering the period 1912-23. In the absence of sustained cross-community interchanges, proactive use of the curriculum may be the only mechanism to counteract, in a limited manner, the prejudices schoolchildren inherit from their peers.[26]

A third area for progress is the 'partnership' experience, preparing as it does on a micro-scale for the macro-challenges of 'dialogic democracy' in Northern Ireland. Most developed are the district partnerships established under the European Union 'peace package' - drawing together as they do representatives from the district council in the area, the community and voluntary sector, the private sector, trade unions and local statutory interests. Some of the key ingredients of partnerships have been identified as:

  • building trust, confidence and understanding between the different sectors
  • developing a shared vision, common objectives and agreed goals, promoting equality between the partners;
  • developing flexible structures to facilitate feedback and to foster the participation of the community;
  • cultivating effective leadership skills, especially in coalition-building, amongst project leaders
  • decentralising the decision-making of state agencies; and
  • developing effective links back to national policy-making.[27]

With a continuing absence of democratic regional government in Northern Ireland, the partnerships provide a model of how to involve different sectors in confidence-building, through exploring common socio-economic objectives. Partnerships also have the potential to introduce greater representation of the community, through the involvement of persons not motivated by the constitutional question alone.

Or, finally, take policing - one of the most fraught issues of all. Hamilton, Moore and Trimble advocate a number of reforms, including the principle - now accepted - of an entirely independent complaints procedure.[28] More contentious are their recommendations for a change in the name and removal of much of the existing symbolism of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, to make the force more acceptable to nationalists.[29]

Yet, with a mixture of ingenuity and much goodwill even such contentious challenges can be addressed. Mgr Denis Faul, for example, having made the effort to understand the sense of loss and betrayal of dead relatives, friends and colleagues which a dropping of the current name would entail - and as our Protestant focus groups bear out - has come to propose a compromise alternative: 'The RUC: Northern Ireland's Police Service'. While doubtless many would still find this difficult to swallow, it is from such micro - , even personal, efforts at mutual understanding, through dialogue, that pluralism and parity of esteem in Northern Ireland will slowly, and patiently, be built.


1Kevin Boyle and Tom Hadden, North ero Ireland: The Choice, Penguin, London, 1994
2A Pollak ed, A Citizens' Inquiry: The Opsahi Report on Northern Ireland, Lilliput, Dublin, 1993, p120; Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, Religions and Political Discrimination and Equality of Opportunity in Northern Ireland: Second Report, HMSO, London, 1990, p1l6
3Ernest Geliner, Encounters with Nationalism, I B Tauris, Oxford, 1994, 9t73
4Stephen Ryan, Ethnic Conflict and International Relations second edition), Dartmouth, Aldershot, 1995, p151
5ibid, p231
6ibid, p152
7SACHR, op cit, pll9
8R Osborne, A Gallagher, R Cormack and S Shortall, 'The implementation of the Policy Appraisal and Fair Treatment guidelines in Northern Ireland', in Eithne McLaughlin and Pádraic Quirk ed, Policy Aspects of Employment Equality in Northern Ireland, SACHR, Belfast, 1996, pp 127-52
9"Christopher McCrudden, Mainstreaming Fairness?: A Discussion Paper on 'Policy Appraisal and Fair Theatment', Committee on the Administration of Justice, Belfast, 1996, p9
10ibid, p1l
11"Nigel Hutson, Policy Appraisal and Fair Treatment in Northern Ireland: A Contribution to the Debate on Mainstreaming Equality, SACHR, Belfast, 1996
12Tom Hadden, 'Possible structures for the development and implementation of Policy Appraisal on Separation and Sharing (PASS)', unpublished paper, February 1997; see also Paul Gorecki, A comment on Mainstreaming Fairness?', unpublished paper, March 1997.
13V Borooah, P M McKee, N Heaton and G Collins, 'Catholic-Protestant income differences in Northern Ireland', Review of Income and Wealth, series 41, no 1, March 1995
14''Asbjørn Eide, A Review and Analysis of Constructive Approaches to Group Accommodation and Minority Protection in Divided or Multicultural Societies, Dublin, 1996
15Padráic Quirk and Eithne McLaughlin, Targeting Social Need', in Quirk and McLaughlin eds, op cit, pp 153-85; Paul Teague and Robin Wilson, 'Towards an inclusive society', in Social Exclusion, Social Inclusion, DD report 2, Belfast, 1995, pp 79-97
16P Shirlow, I Shuttleworth and M Evans FEC facts', Fortnight 361, May 1997, pp 21-3
17Independent Review of Parades and Marches, Stationery Office, Belfast, 1997
18Marjorie Mowlam, 'Towards genuine consent in Ulster', Independent, February 25th 1997
19 Independent Review ..., p5
20 ibid, p10
21ibid, pp 10-11
22 It is worth noting that these arguments about the bottom-line positions of the two sides were also clearly rehearsed by the Opsahl Commission, on the basis of the widespread evidence submitted to it; see Pollak ed, op cit, pp 24-5.
23Indeed, a very senior source in the former government claimed that the scope for north-south institutions had in fact diminished since 1979, since so many governmental functions in the north had been transformed through privatisation and agentisation, creating disjunctions with still relatively conventional public-service arrangements in the republic.
24Eamon Stack, 'Major questions facing the Orange Order', Irish Times, May 27th 1997
25Bryson and McCartney, op cit, pp 184-8
26It is interesting in this context that a further set of focus groups conducted by DD, this time solely among young people, manifested a surprising appetite for political education in school and via the youth service. See Politics: The Next Generation, DD report 6, Belfast, 1997
27Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action, Partners for Progress: The Voluntary and Community Sector's Contribution to Partnership-building, Belfast, 1995, p16
28A Hamilton, L Moore and T Trimble, Policing in a Divided Society, Centre for the Study of Conflict, Coleraine, 1995, pp 155-7
29ibid, pp 151-2

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