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Chapter 6 from 'A Worthwhile Venture?'
by Karin Eyben, Duncan Morrow and Derick Wilson

[Key_Events] [Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]
Text: Karin Eyben, Duncan Morrow and Derick Wilson ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna

The following chapter has been contributed by the authors with the permission of the publishers. The views expressed in this chapter do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.

This chapter is from the book:

A Worthwhile Venture?
Practically Investigating in Equity,
Diversity and Independence in Northern Ireland

by Karin Eyben, Duncan Morrow and Derick Wilson
Published by The Future Ways Programme,
School of Social and Community Sciences/School
of History, Philosophy and Politics,
University of Ulster, 1997.
ISBN 1 85923 082 2 PPR
£5.00 Paperback 261pp

Orders to:
The Future Ways Programme
School of Social and Community Sciences
Faculty of Social and Health Sciences and Education
University of Ulster

This material is copyright Karin Eyben, Duncan Morrow and Derick Wilson, 1997, and is included on the CAIN site by permission of the University of Ulster. You may not edit, adapt, or redistribute changed versions of this for other than your personal use without the express written permission of the publishers. Redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.


Practically Investing in Equity, Diversity, and Interdependence in Northern Ireland
by Karin Eyben, Duncan Morrow and Derick Wilson


Practically Investing in Equity, Diversity, and Interdependence in Northern Ireland
by Karin Eyben, Duncan Morrow and Derick Wilson

Your corn is ripe today; mine will be so tomorrow. 'Tis profitablefor us both, that I shou'd labour with you today, and that you shou'd aid me tomorrow. I have no kindness for you, and know you have as little for me. I will not, therefore, take any pains upon your account; and should I labour with you upon my account, in expectations of a return, I know I shou'd be disappointed, and that I shou'd in vain depend upon your gratitude. Here then I leave you to labour alone; You treat me in the same manner The seasons change; and both of us lose our harvests for want of mutual confidence and security.

[David Hume]


Future Ways
School of Social & Community Sciences/School of History, Philosophy and Politics
University of Ulster

ISBN 1 85923 082 2

Towards Equity, Diversity and Interdependence

Serious Community Relations in Northern Ireland is a search for practical ways for people of different identities, backgrounds and goals to live and work with one another with mutual respect. Coping with the real tensions around political divisions in Northern Ireland has always been difficult, and there is clearly no single blueprint of what this means in practice. Nevertheless, the real and expensive effects of the division and the tensions associated with it across many areas of life are undeniable. Better working relations therefore constitute one of the most important political and social tasks.

If Northern Ireland is to find a democratic future, then the basis of community relations must also accord with basic democratic values. In our study of community relations training, three particular themes became central to our thinking. Community relations came to be about the search for the appropriate balance between three key democratic goals viewed together: Equity, Diversity and Interdependence.

Previous research has indicated the need for a more sustained and strategic approach to community relations training for those whose work and lives brings them into immediate contact with community divisions. In the early years, community relations has involved youth workers, community workers, teachers and community relations officers in particular. Over the last ten years, there has been some evidence that other sectors, such as business management, law and order, health and social services, local action teams, and local policy makers have also begun to come into direct contact with the problems involved.

The growth of greater institutional interest in some of these themes has nevertheless highlighted the absence of any coherent strategy. Community Relations needs to become embedded in public and private institutions, encouraging and supporting change in organisational structure and practice. It is increasingly clear that the ad hoc approach of the early years is problematic in the institutional sphere where action needs to be taken on a number of different levels: policy, structure and procedures, and training, within the equity, diversity, and interdependence framework. Translating community relations into new structures and procedures is central to any possibility of meeting the core objectives of all attempts at policy-making and training: the development of diverse and equitable relationships in Northern Ireland and, ultimately, between Northern Ireland and its neighbours.

Given the greater interest in strategy, and the increasing number of people and sectors involved, it seemed an appropriate time to identify exactly how different groups and organisations were explicitly addressing equity, diversity and interdependence, both internally and in their relationships with the wider community This study is the result.

Karin Eyben
Duncan Morrow
Derick Wilson

University of Ulster, May 1997,


Equity, Diversity and Interdependence

Since the mid 1980s the British government has developed a five stranded approach to policy making in Northern Ireland: reduction of inequalities; promotion of greater cross-community contact; encouraging pluralism; search for political accommodation; dealing with violence.[1] The first three strands directly mirror the three themes of this report and are directed to producing important changes in the other two strands, and vice versa.

However, equity, diversity and interdependence have often been pursued separately rather than as part of a coherent strategy, resulting in different agencies, pieces of legislation, and funding bodies dealing with individual strands with no effective co-ordinating body. For example, jobskills training for the unemployed (equity) seldom acknowledges the central importance of developing relationships (interdependence) in the workplace with different identity groups (diversity). Cultural projects (diversity) might avoid looking at the conflictual nature of relationships (interdependence) which underpin various cultural traditions. Mutual Understanding training (interdependence) might not explore the institutional or structural nature of discrimination and exploitation in this society (equity).

No one group or organisation can deal with everything. However, equity in Northern Ireland cannot exist without accepting that there are different identity groups with different needs, and both cannot exist in a vacuum, away from the fact that people's lives are based on relationships: at work, in the family, with civil servants, with politicians, with paramilitaries, with the clergy, with the police, with their neighbours and so on. This reality demands a more co-ordinated approach at an institutional and organisational level to policy making, the development of new procedures and structures as well as the availability of appropriate training for support and development.


Equity, according to the Collins English Dictionary, is the quality of being impartial, or reasonable fairness. in law and jurisprudence, it is a branch founded on principles of natural justice and fair conduct. In liberal democracies, the commitment to equity is therefore a commitment to the impartial and fair allocation of resources and entitlements - including political power - according to expected notions of fairness and without discrimination on the basis of external factors. It encompasses the process of redressing any identified undesirable or inequitable balance.

Fairness and equality are not always the same, but the concept of impartiality ensures that equality of treatment is central to all notions of equity Equity is about recognizing partisan differentials that exist across the board and doing something about them. Equality of treatment alone is about ensuring that everyone is treated equally, but it does not necessarily address existing differentials.

It has been well documented that on many major social and economic indicators, Catholics are worse off than Protestants.[2] These include unemployment figures, families dependent on social security, school leaving qualifications, home ownership, levels of poverty, and ill health. Therefore any equity measures developed in Northern Ireland are likely to alter present relationships between the Protestant and Catholic communities.

The Government of Ireland Act 1920, which in practice only applied to Northern Ireland, addressed the issue of equity and discrimination in two sections. Section Five stated that the Northern Ireland Parliament could not legislate so as either directly or indirectly to establish or endow any religion or prohibit or restrict the free exercise thereof, or give a preference, privilege or advantage, or impose any disability or disadvantage on account of religious belief or religious or ecclesiastical status. In Section Eight (6), the Act forbade preferences and disabilities on account of religious belief when executive power was exercised. [3] In addition, the Parliament also had a forum where issues of discrimination could be addressed and a 'peace, order, and good government' grant which gave Parliament almost total authority in internal matters.

As Rose and Magill conclude, in their article on employment equality in Northern Ireland in the SACHR Review (1996), these initiatives were hardly ever put into practice. In part this was because the legislation did not recognize the close connection between religious identity and political identity. Therefore anything done on security grounds, to maintain the state of Northern Ireland, would almost automatically be discriminatory against a certain religious belief and therefore against the minority community[4].

It took thirty to forty years for civil rights movements to form and demand the removal of discrimination within Northern Ireland. In the 1970s, the British government removed power from the Northern Ireland Parliament and began to address existing inequities within and between the communities. The range of initiatives since then have included the Northern Ireland Constitution Act (1973) which contained two anti-discriminatory measures; the Van Straubenzee Report which led to the 1976 Fair Employment Act which recognized the link between religious and political identities; the Anglo-lrish Agreement which also identified social and economic discrimination., the 1989 Fair Employment Act; and more recently two policy initiatives: the Targeting Social Need (TSN), introduced in 1991 as the third Public Expenditure Priority, and the Policy Appraisal and Fair Treatment (PAFT) (1994).

Differentials in housing, educational provision and the fair operation of franchise were also all targeted by removing local democracy in 1972. It is not our intention to review these various initiatives as this as been extensively done elsewhere, including the 1996 SACHR Review of Employment Equality. It is sufficient to note that especially in the realm of employment, the equity legislation and initiatives have not managed to significantly reduce the socio/economic differentials between Catholics and Protestants[5]. However, as Vani Borooah argues, expectations of change may be unrealistic given the current orthodoxy of reducing state intervention in the private sector, and the public sector intent on becoming more efficient'.[6] Mainstreaming equity within the public sector and private sectors in this climate is always going to be difficult unless it can be shown that in the medium to long term the costs involved will be far outweighed by the benefits.

Furthermore, unless the size of the cake is increased, 'equity' will be perceived to be about the redistribution of resources from one community to the other, either justly or unjustly, depending on which side of the fence you sit. This fact not only influences central policy makers in their desire not to upset the apple cart but also has a detrimental impact on community relationships on the ground.

The history of equity in Northern Ireland is dominated by conflictual relationships between a majority and a minority community. It is therefore not a matter of simple causality in saying that once economic differentials are decreased, community relations will improve or, alternatively, that if communities understand one another better, or get on better, then jobs will somehow proliferate. Equity affects interdependence and raises issues of diversity This is not to say that they should all have equal priority in every context, but that if the priority is an economic development project, then the impact of such a project on communities relationships and diverse identity groups must also be taken into account.


Communities in Northern Ireland have to face the permanent necessity of having to deal with Another', whose existence is a threat to 'our side'. After years of fear and violence, the impact of this threat is seen through living in segregated areas, going to segregated schools, going to different churches and social clubs, and celebrating different traditions.[7] Interface areas are mainly centred around public places and the work place. Attempts to support a constructive sense of pluralism, encouraging the acknowledgement and development of interdependence between Catholics and Protestants using a variety of different mechanism has been called 'community relations' work.

At a literal level, the term 'community relations' entails a recognition that relationships between people of different groups in part depend on the relationships between the groups as a whole. Relationships across the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland clearly fall into this category. The term 'community relations' in the United Kingdom originated around the early 1960s in Britain as a response to the rise of immigration and subsequent changes in British society Initially, 'community relations' was more concerned with integrating the newcomers as fast as possible into British culture. Group differences were regarded as potential sources of racial conflicts. However, 'Community relations' later developed into promoting equality of treatment, human rights and in so doing highlighting the distinction between different cultural and national groups.[8] This shift reflects the delicate balance between the need for members of different identity groups to agree to the laws of their country of residence and be treated as equitably as any citizen of that nation, and yet at the same time be allowed the space and freedom to retain their different identities and have the right not be assimilated into the dominant culture. Experiences have shown that both the assimilative and pluralist policies need to be present m a society with a range of different identity groups; this is especially true in a chronically divided society such as Northern Ireland.

Government policy in Northern Ireland has followed both these strategies, though one tends to be more of a priority than the other at any given time. The central issue is whether the different identity groups can live and work together in a just relationship whilst being allowed to maintain their own distinctiveness as long as they wish it. There is certainly a fear from many Protestants that community relations work is an exercise in assimilating them into a United Ireland; whilst on the other hand, community relations work can be seen by Catholics as a means of strengthening the Union between Northern Ireland and Britain. Because community relations in Northern Ireland has focused on inter-personal and inter-group encounters, the Protestant community has tended to feel it is confronted with its 'enemy'. Only when such encounters involve meetings between the Catholic community and the state, such as police officers, do Catholics feel threatened and angry in the same way. As a result, there is currently more overt resistance and fear to Community Relations from the Protestant community

In 1971, a Ministry of Community Relations and a Community Relations Commission was established. The Ministry was responsible for:

  • advocating policies which would improve community relations;
  • administering the Social Needs Fund by directing resources to those areas of social and economic deprivation;
  • financing the Commission.

The Commission, broadly modelled on the British Race Relations Board, was tasked with:

  • supporting community relations focused projects;
  • encouraging educational programmes;
  • undertaking a number of research programmes.[9]

It has been well documented that the central focus of the Commission was in initiating a community development strategy within communities in order that they might eventually gain the confidence to 'reach out' to the 'others'. This strategy was set out in the Commission's First Annual Report.

    Our initial consideration of the problem led us to the conclusion that division in the community could not be considered in isolation from other social problems such as relative deprivation and breakdown of community structures. It seems too that the problems arising from division might more profitably tackled obliquely in grappling with some of the underlying social problems. We therefore agreed at an early stage to make our approach through community development.[10]

The major problem with this approach was, and still is, that government bodies and institutions were not part of this process: the focus of community development is with the community 'out there' and not us 'in here' within the major institutional structures. When community relations is tied to community development then it can lead to a large number of people in other, more powerful sectors ignoring the fact that they too are part of a deeply contested society. Because street trouble happened between communities, the solution was handed to those communities. The way in which 'communities' interacted with the structure of the entire political, social and economic framework went unquestioned and therefore no change was required of their internal practices. This has internal policy, training and structural implications. Institutions and those at levels of public responsibility are not 'above all that' and the fault lines do not stop at the reception desk.

Two related problems emerged from defining community development / community relations within the community and voluntary sectors. The first one was that those who made policies and held the purse strings never became aware of the changes they themselves needed to make.

    The Community Relations Commission was established by government to encourage the growth of understanding and tolerance at grass roots level, whilst the government itself displayed ignorance and bigotry.[11]

The second problem was the growing fear from politicians, from all camps, that the Commission's strategy was empowering community groups to by-pass their elected representatives. The politicians and their related institutions were not part of the process - although, how that would have been possible is another debate; therefore they began to see the community sector and therefore the Commission as a potential rival intent on undermining their power base. The result was that on 3 April 1974, the Community Relations Commission was disbanded." The official reason was that since there was now a new Power Sharing Executive, the problem had been solved. Unofficially, the demise of the Commission was due to a complicated power struggle both within the Executive and between politicians and community representatives.

The mid 1970s to late 1980s was characterized by the parcelling out of community relations responsibilities between the Department of Education (DENI), local government, and community and voluntary organisations. Community groups were the most active in community relations work with methods ranging from focused community relations work to more contextual work where community relations issues are integrated into other activities. Mari Fitzduff, in her typology of community relations work, identifies a number of subject areas such as mutual understanding, anti-sectarian, cultural traditions within the more focused approach. She argues that some bridge must also be built to make community relations accessible to those whose priorities are not primarily community relations.[13] One of the main themes of this report is the vital need to look at the relevance of various community relations approaches, mainly developed in the community and voluntary sectors, to groups and organisations whose prime focus is not community relations but who live and operate in Northern Ireland.

Following a number of years of unstructured thinking on its Community Relations strategy, the late 1980s saw a return of community relations to the governments agenda. Two bodies were established: the Central Community Relations Unit (CCRU) in 1987 and the Community Relations Council (CRC) in 1990. CCRU forms part of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and was established to advise the Secretary of State on all aspects of relations between the two main traditions in Northern Ireland. The intention was to ensure that community relations would not be compartmentalized into a box but be considered as an integral part of the decision making process within government. According to CCRU, this is achieved through challenging and reviewing government policy and developing and supporting new ideas at grass roots level through grant aid.

However, the creation of CRC led to CCRU handing over most of its grant aiding role to that body. it is now primarily concerned with formulating policy guidelines and monitoring policy performance.[14] The two most important policy guidelines have been Targeting Social Need (TSN) and Policy Appraisal and Fair Treatment (PAFT). Both PAFT and TSN are understood as 'equity' measures, distinct from 'community relations'. This tends to reinforce the implicit assumption that equity is applicable to government structures but that community relations is only applicable to community groups. Once CCRU handed over its grand aiding role to CRC, it therefore divested itself of its strategic community relations responsibilities within government.

It might be argued that equity and community relations are essentially the same thing, only clothed in terms which are digestible by a particular sector. However, it is our contention that although narrowing socio/economic differentials cannot be separated from the state of relationships between the two major communities, they remain two distinct concepts. The export of primary responsibility for community relations to vulnerable community groups can be seen as government abrogating on its own responsibilities both as a major employer and as a major deliverer of public services.

The other main area of activity in the late 1980s by government was the implementation of educational reforms. The government thus began 100% financial supporting of Catholic schools, supporting the emergence of an integrated school sector; aiding Irish language schools. introduction of a compulsory core curriculum obliging all schools to teach a range of subjects which were seen as improving the chances of school leavers (especially Catholic) to obtain a job. Also included within the core curriculum were two cross-curricular community relations programmes.. Education for Mutual Understanding (EMU) and Cultural Heritage.[15] A number of indicators have shown that EMU was imposed on overworked teachers with little training and preparation and the programme itself is conceptually unclear, with little difference between EMU and Cultural Heritage." Another initiative for schools and the youth sector, developed at around the same time, was the Cross Community Contact Scheme (CCCS) in which participation was purely on a voluntary basis. Schools are encouraged to come together for various activities as a practical way of developing EMU. However recent research has shown that although a 45% of all schools are involved in CCCS (1994-5) less than 20% of primary and less than 10% of secondary pupils were involved in CCCS during 1994-5.[16]

For community relations to be effective, or for the different identity groups to begin depending on each other socially, economically and politically on a long term basis, requires overcoming generations of individual and institutional mistrust, fear and discrimination. It requires a complete change within organizations and groups that have structurally adapted to living separately not interdependently. However, interdependence does not mean assimilation.


Equity and interdependence in Northern Ireland and some of the efforts which have gone into developing just and fair relationships has been briefly touched above. The third dimension is diversity. Every society consists of a range of different identity groups based on gender, religion, ethnic or racial background, class, sexual orientation, education, with various degrees of permanency The challenge for liberal democracies, founded on equal representation for all, is how to recognize these different identity groups. Is a democracy failing its citizens if major institutions do not take into account different identities? On the other hand, can public institutions take into account different identity groups whilst at the same time ensuring everyone receives equal levels of such 'primary goods' as health care, education, religious freedom, right to vote, employment opportunities. [17]

This is of course an old debate. Should all individuals be recognized equally as members of the human race, or should they be recognized differently in term of their membership to different identity groups? A third dimension is whether people residing within a nation state be recognized in terms of belonging to one identity group only. Charles Taylor in the Politics of Recognition gives examples of the USA, Canada and France for each of the three cases.

Case 1
In the United States which is a state of nationalities, no identity group is officially privileged or differentiated from any others and, ideally, all receive equal treatment and have equal rights.

Case 2
In Canada the historic survival of French speaking Quebec and the aboriginal people meant that their distinctive cultures are privileged above all others within their geographical areas. Yet Canada's constitution is based on a set of individual rights guaranteeing equal treatment of citizens in a number of respects.[18] The political demands of a collective group such as Quebec puts in danger these two central aspects of Canada's Charter. For example Quebec's language laws might be an infringement on the individual rights of non francophone Canadians within Quebec. Secondly the promotion of a particular identity group within Quebec could be discriminatory against other identity groups such as immigrants and anglophone Canadians.[19]

Case 3
The third case would be reflected in such nation states as Norway and France, who act to produce men and women of a certain type.[20] These states are committed to ensuring that a certain language, culture, tradition, history takes precedence over others. At the same time they do not completely deny the rights of other identity groups to express their own culture. There are obviously times of tension between the dominant and minority cultures.

The crucial question in all three cases, is to what extent should different identity groups be publicly recognized. Charles Taylor argues that there is a growing connection between public recognition and identity In other words, an individual belonging to a particular identity group needs to be publicly recognized in order to justify who they are as a human being. if they do not receive that public recognition, then there is the possibility of real harm being done to that individual's self worth.

    Within this perspective, misrecognition shows not.just a lack of due respect. It can inflict a grievous wound, saddling its victims with a crippling self hatred. Due recognition is not just a courtesy we owe people. It is a vital human need.[21]

Davin Bremner argues that the poverty of identity (forced migration, lack of cultural expression) is on the same level as poverties of subsistence (insufficient income, housing), of protection (health, violence), of affection (authoritarianism, oppression, exploitative relations with the environment), of participation (marginalisation and social exclusion).[22] Perhaps more importantly, where there is a history of hostility between groups, the forced exclusion of one group or the other is likely to generate enormous political resentment.

This is particularly problematic when different groups have to live together equitably This means that different identity groups can only demand public recognition within certain reasonable boundaries prescribed ultimately by the maintenance of just relationships between individuals and groups. Until now, the boundaries of what was acceptable may have been established by a balance of threat. The unstable nature of such balances was illustrated in Northern Ireland in the 1960s and thereafter. The search in Northern Ireland is therefore for the agreed boundaries which might be separated from the balance of threat. In the absence of any general agreement, each currently negotiates identity at each different level.

For example, in a predominantly Protestant factory, Protestant workers might argue that they are suffering from the 'poverty of identity' both in the workplace and within Northern Ireland, in the light of their perceptions about the Anglo-lrish Agreement. They might insist their Protestant identity be acknowledged by flying the Union Flag. However, this would have a detrimental impact on working relationships between Catholics and Protestants on the shop floor. A different experience is that of a youth club which allows its members to wear Celtic and Rangers tops, arguing that the relationships between Catholic and Protestant youth have become confident enough to allow this expression of group identities.[23] Relationships at the factory are not at that stage. Nor are people very certain regarding the playing of both national anthems, or receiving heads of state from the Republic of Ireland or the United Kingdom.

The legitimacy of recognizing identity groups within many different organizations and groups therefore depends on the levels of trust and confidence between the groups.

Another problem arises in an organisation or group which is founded on promoting a particular cultural identity. Can a Catholic complain about the Union Flag flying outside an Orange Hall where they help out in the Mothers and Toddlers group? Can a Protestant security guard complain about a statue of the Virgin Mary in a Catholic school?[24]

Northern Ireland clearly splits into two competing identity groups whose very existence has posed a threat to each other's survival. At the macro level there has been some public recognition of both groups by the British and Irish governments. Any constitutional settlement will conceivably recognize these two identity groups in some power sharing agreement with links to Britain and the Irish Republic. Among the crucial questions is whether the 'new state' will be based on a democratic liberalism which remains neutral on the 'specific ends of life' and is not publicly committed to the survival of the two identity groups., or whether it will be organized around the dominance of a single identity, whether in a United Ireland or a United Kingdom. A third option, as suggested by Charles Taylor, is a state which distinguishes between certain fundamental rights which equally apply to all citizens and those rights which ensure equal cultural survival of Catholics and Protestants identities. In this potential agreement, the 'good life', for the main traditions, is the securing of the two major identity groups with the possible problem of other identity groups not having the same privilege - e.g. the Chinese, Indian communities. However, with such nation states as Norway and France, these minority/ethnic groups will have the right to express their own cultures in civil life and in the family.

At the personal or micro level, many individuals and small groups, over the years, have effectively developed just relationships based on reciprocal recognition of each other's identities. They have developed a form of interdependence which has survived the many political upheavals in the province through community development, religion, economic development, sports, and cultural activities.

The big gap lies at the middle or meso level of Northern Irish society The main decision makers, across all sectors, have not really begun grappling with the implications of operating in a divided society How should institutions reflect this reality in terms of their policies, structures and training and the delivery of services? Should they be 'partial' in the argument that Northern Ireland is a Protestant state for the majority Protestant people? Should they be 'neutral', although this state of 'neutrality' will often take direction from whoever is in charge? Should they be 'diverse' in valuing the fact that the central faultline in this society is reflected in their own organisation?

Debates around 'diversity' and 'multiculturalism' tend to originate in the US, where there are increasing demands from the vast range of different identity groups to be publicly recognized. The debates are however not only taking place within academic, community and political levels but also among many day to day decision makers. In an article on 'A New Paradigm for Managing Diversity', David Thomas and Robin Ely argue that there are three ways in which an organisation can manage diversity.

Discrimination - and - Fairness
The first is keeping to the legal requirements imposed by the state. What Thomas and Ely term the 'Discrimination-and -Fairness Paradigm'. Decision makers who approach 'diversity' in this manner usually focus on equal opportunity and harassment policies, recruitment practice, fair treatment, compliance with any relevant pieces of legislation.

    Prejudice has kept members of certain demographic groups out of organizations such as ours. As a matter of fairness and to comply with federal mandates, we need to work toward restructuring the makeup of our organization to let it more closely reflect that of society. We need managerial processes that ensure that all our members are treated equally and with respect and that some are not given unfair advantage over others.[25]

The effectiveness of such an approach is measured by numbers - both in recruitment and retention rates. If there is a disparity in the numbers, then action is taken to correct the situation. However, as Thomas and Ely conclude, the numbers might be diversified but the organisation still works on the basis that 'we are all the same, even if we are really all different'. According to Thomas and Ely, this philosophy is so deeply ingrained that an employee who believes that, for example, the company's marketing strategy is not appropriate for all 'ethnic segments in the marketplace', might be unwilling to point this out as they might feel that they will be contravening the culture of assimilation within that organisation. if in addition this employee cites their own personal experiences to back up their argument, s/he might be in even greater derogation of the organisation's code of blindness to cultural differences.[26] Transpose this approach to Northern Ireland, and there would be many organisations where citing personal experiences of the Catholic or Protestant traditions for professional reasons would be frowned upon. Thomas and Ely argue that this paradigm impairs the organisation's capacity to learn about and improve its internal processes and overall effectiveness.

They cite another example of a US international consulting firm who implemented an Equal Opportunities process to ensure that the numbers of women and people of colour would reflect national statistics. It took twenty years to complete the process and at the end the numbers looked good. However, it was about that time, that the first serious problems emerged. This was met with complete shock by the management team: after having finally reached diversity, they were now having racial discrimination problems? An extensive analysis of the problems was undertaken and it became clear that the issue was not about discrimination although management had understood them as such. The tensions were actually around different approaches to working practice.

    Surveys and interviews indicated that white project leaders welcomed demographic diversity as a general sign of progress but that they also thought the new employees were somehow changing the company, pulling it away from its original culture and its mission.[27]

Criticisms included the complaint that African American and Hispanic staff made problems too complex by linking issues the organization had traditionally regarded as unrelated,[28] and that they were introducing projects that were too 'culturally sensitive.' Women and people of colour were also seen as subverting the company's proud reputation for hard-core quantitative analysis; they were actually suggesting consulting with groups in the community![29] For their part, women and people of colour were complaining generally about not being taken seriously The interesting conclusion was that because management had understood the problems through the traditional 'discrimination-fairness' paradigm, they were looking for cases of racial or gender discrimination, which in fact were few and far between. The real crux of the matter was that there was a serious clash of working practices which directly impacted on the core values and motivation of the organisation itself. It is relatively easy to address numbers and to discipline incidents of discrimination. What is much harder is to address the organizational changes needed to incorporate and value different identities as a positive contribution to corporate effectiveness. Many organisations in Northern Ireland understand sectarianism as acts of discrimination rather than the more subtle and more revolutionary aspect of how organisations value different approaches to work and life. Responding to discriminatory acts is relatively simple; changing organisational values and culture requires whole sale change.

Access - and - Legitimacy
The second approach came later, during the 1980s and early 1990s. It signified a move away from assimilating differences into a dominant culture to 'celebrating differences'. Thomas and Ely call this approach the 'Access-and-Legitimacy Paradigm' and define it as follows:

    We are living in an increasingly multicultural country and new ethnic groups are quickly gaining consumer power Our company needs a demographically more diverse workforce to help us gain access to these differentiated segments. We need employees with multilingual skills in order to understand and serve our customers better and to gain legitirnacy with them. Diversity isn'tjust fair; it makes business sense.[30]

It makes business sense to ensure that staff within an organisation reflects different identity groups within the wider community as a guarantee that all 'niche markets' are covered using 'specialist knowledge. 'This approach acknowledges the worth which different identity groups can bring to an organisation in terms of 'specialist knowledge and experience'. However, it still marginalizes these different identity groups into pigeon holes, without allowing them to contribute to the working practices of the organisation as a whole. A firm hires a black person to access the untapped markets in the townships, but that is the extent of their responsibilities. Thomas & Ely illustrate this second paradigm with the experiences of a US investment bank in the early 1980s which decided to expand into Europe. At the start, it recruited American personnel to staff the European offices. However, this proved to be disastrous as these people did not have local contacts, were ignorant of local nonns and were generally unaware of the local market situation. The firm therefore decided to hire Europeans who had attended US business schools to staff their European offices. This proved to be a great success and the company was flying. However, after some years, there was a sense of growing disquiet by some managers in the US. What would happen if the Spanish team all suddenly resigned? Would there be anyone in US headquarters who could take over? Thomas & Ely quote one of these managers:

    We've never attempted to learn what these differences and cultural competencies really are, and how they change the process of doing business. What is the German team actually doing? We don't know. We know they're good, but we don't know the subtleties qf how they do what they do. We assumed - and I think correctly - that culture makes a difference, but that's about as far as we went....... Our company's biggest failing is that the department heads in London and the directors ef the various country teams have never talked about these cultural identity issues openly. We knew enough to use people's strengths, as it were, but we never seemed to learn from them. (Authors' emphasis)[31]

The organization reacted to a problem and successfully solved it in the short term. However, from the company's perspective, this approach was leaving it very vulnerable in that its whole European market was dependent on skills and knowledge which headquarters had no access to. From the European staffs point of view, it could lead to feelings of marginalization and insecurity in that in times of downsizing it is the 'specialist' departments which go first - those on the sidelines.

Learning - Effectiveness

The final paradigm is obviously the one Thomas & Ely promote - 'The Learning - Effectiveness Paradigm'- which is about 'connecting diversity to work perspectives' and which also returns to our theme in the Introduction to this report, of 'relinking life and work'. According to these two authors, introducing diversity is only beneficial to an organisation if it acknowledges the benefits different identity groups can bring to organisational practice as a whole. This in turn requires a fundamental shift in the attitudes and behaviour of the organisation's leadership. The third approach affirms equality of opportunity for all. celebrates diversity., but it also learns and grows from these differences. An interesting case study is that of a Chinese woman working as a chemist in a food company. A problem arose regarding the manufacturing of a new soup flavour. Various scientific initiatives were undertaken to resolve the problem. Finally, as the chemist is quoted by Thomas & Ely, [I set] aside my chemistry and [drew] on my understanding of Chinese Cooking.[32] However, she did not explain to her white male colleagues from where she derived her inspiration. Not only would she have had to cross the 'cultural blind' tradition within the organisation, but also the gender barrier. Too many barriers for her career prospects. Arguably, the organisation would have gained a lot from creating an internal culture of beaming where identity groups would feel comfortable using all their expertise, from whichever sources. it had in fact spent a lot of money training all its staff on valuing each other's contributions etc., however, the culture of avoidance regarding difference was too strong.

We have spent some time on Thomas & Ely's diversity framework, because it is very relevant for many organisations and groups in Northern Ireland who are themselves struggling with the various stages of diversity - some of whom are detailed in Chapters 4 and 5. Many large organisations have had to grapple with Fair Employment legislation and pressures from the Fair Employment Commission. They have had to implement equal opportunities policies and procedures and develop positive action strategies aiming towards fair participation between Protestants and Catholics in the workforce. In some cases, those coming in have had to assimilate themselves into the dominant culture of the organisation. In other situations, those coming in have been welcomed as a means of opening up markets, obtaining funding, gaining national and international approval. There are very few organisations or groups that have reached Thomas & Ely's 'learning and effectiveness paradigm'. On the other hand, there is a quiet questioning beginning about 'where do we go from here' from organisations and groups that have implemented effective equal opportunities structures and whose goals of fair participation are being met. What is the next stage? What new initiatives could be developed? These questions have to be based firstly on the goals and the underlying values of the organisation, and secondly, on the state of internal relationships between members and between the organisation and the wider community.

For example, a community group might wish to remove the ragged Tricolour from the lamp post outside its centre. The groups underlying values are about encouraging cross-community relationships and its goals are about increasing the use of its services. The group has very clear equal opportunity guidelines, and recruitment and selection procedures for both volunteers and staff. Relationships within the group are good but polite. relationships between the group and the wider community are good but careful. The goals, the underlying values the policies and procedures all point towards something being done about the Tricolour. However, for a number of reasons, the various relationships are not ready for such an action. it would probably make the group more 'effective' if the Tricolour were removed in that it might encourage more Protestants to use a service not provided elsewhere. However, the group is not prepared to do this because of the costs involved resulting directly from the state of existing relationships.[33]

This is something which is missing from Thomas & Ely's framework in that they do not talk about timing and how this is so dependent on the levels of existing trust between the stakeholders involved. They do not talk about when it is best not to move to the third paradigm. It is obviously a 'chicken and egg' situation in that trust will only develop once different identity groups feel acknowledged and valued; however, for that process to begin, a certain amount of trust needs to have been built up. It is the time old challenge for leaders.. to move from within the group, rather than from the outside. However, the crucial aspect of timing does not detract from the value of an organisation/group investing in the real benefits of diversity rather than assimilating or sidelining difference. In Northern Ireland this means organisations working towards explicitly acknowledging that they operating in a 'special-zone', a 'borderland region' where diversity is inextricably linked to the political future of Northern Ireland.

Final Remarks

Political and social division dominates the public landscape in Northern Ireland. In the absence of any broadly acceptable answer, this division acts as a potential exploding bomb underneath Northern Irish social structure. The search for unifiers or 'transcenders' therefore assumes an importance in all social policy. Having rejected one-community solutions in 1969, 1972, 1974 and 1975, the British government has been committed to seeking some form of inter-community compromise.

In order for 'community relations' to have any substantive meaning, it must be constructively linked with policies for equity and diversity Likewise if equity and diversity are to contribute to stability rather than heightened competition, they need to be brought together with an acknowledgement of interdependence between groups in Northern Ireland. The practical task is to translate these broad principles into workable policies, structures and procedures with due regard for the many different contexts and learning cultures. It is certainly no longer possible to limit community relations to the informal and community groups without reference to the broader structure of public and private management.


[1] Minority Rights Group International, (1995), Northern Ireland: Managing Differences, p. 16
[2] NI Department of Economic Development, (1992), internal memo, as quoted by Quirk, P and McLaughlin, E. in Employment Equality in Northern Ireland , Vol II, (1996), SACHR, p.156
[3] Rose, S., Magill, D., (1996) Fair Employment law in Northern Ireland: Debates and issues, Vol. I, Employment Equality in Northern Ireland Series, Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, Dublin, Colour Books Ltd., p.2
[4] Ibid
[5] Gillespie, N., (1996), pp. 1-27
[6] Borooah, V.K, "Overview and Conclusions" , Policy Aspects of Employment Equality in Northern Ireland, Employment Equality in Northern Ireland Series, Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, Dublin, Colour Books Ltd.,(1996) p.182
[7] Farren, S., Finn, P., Kirk, T., Hughes, J., (1992), Darby, J., (1995); Facets of the Conflict in Northern Ireland, (1995); Dunn, S., Hennessey, T.W, (1996); Robinson, G., (1992); Smith D.J., Chambers, G., (1987); SACHR; Boal, F.W., Douglas, J.N.H. (1982); Employment Equality in Northern Ireland, Vols I, II, III, SACHR Review (1996); Irish Inter-Church Meeting, (1993); hAdhmaill, F.O., (1990); Cultural Traditions Group, (1994); Community Relations Council Annual Reports 1990-1996.
[8] Fitzduff & Frazer, Improving Community Relations, pp.17-18
[9] Fitzduff, M., (1989) pp. 8-9
[10] Community Relations Commission, (1970), First Annual Report
[11] Deane, E. Community Work in the 70s, as quoted in Lovett, Gillespie and Gunn, Community Development, Education and Community Relations, (1995), P. 18
[12] Griffiths, H., Community Development in Northern Ireland - A Case Study in Agency Conflict, Coleraine, University of Ulster. (1974)
[13] Fitzduff, M., (1989)
[14] Morison, J. & Livingstone, S., Reshaping Public Power: Northern Ireland and the British Constitutional Crisis, (1995), pp, 156-7
[15] Smith, A., Dunn, S., (1990)
[16] Smith, A. Robinson, A., (1996), Education for Mutual Understanding - the initial statutory years, Centre for the Study of Conflict, Coleraine, pp.41-51.
[17] Gutmann, A., Multiculturalism and "The Politics of Recognition", pp.4-5
[18] Taylor, C., Multiculturalism and "The Politics of Recognition", (1992), pp.53-4
[19] Taylor, C. op.cit., pp.55-6
[20] Walzer, M., Multiculturalism and "The Politics of Recognition", P. 101
[21] Taylor, C. op.cit., p.26 22
[22] Bremner, D., (1992)
[23] Examples from our empirical findings.
[24] ibid.,
[25] Thomas, D.A and Ely, R.J. in "Making Differences Matter: A New Paradigm for Managing Diversity", Business Harvard Review, (Sept-Oct 1996), p.81
[26] op.cit., p.81
[27] op.cit., p.82
[28] Ibid.,
[29] Ibid.,
[30] op.cit., p.83
[31] op.cit., p.84
[32] op.cit., P.89
[33] From empirical findings.


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