The time is ripe for the Northern Ireland Executive to implement a comprehensive strategic plan to tackle inter-communal division and the legacy of the conflict, according to new research published by INCORE, the International Institute for Conflict Research, at the Magee campus of the University of Ulster.
It says the Executive should, with urgency, implement a detailed action plan to address the challenge of building good relations and reconciliation in a society which, despite political progress and reduction in violence, remains deeply divided.
The recommendation is one of a series of proposals in the study which, while recognising that reconciliation is a long and challenging process, seeks to identify key priority areas that require immediate and targeted attention.
The qualitative research, conducted by GrÃ¡inne Kelly, INCORE’s Policy Coordinator, explored the views of a range of political, community and business leaders about recent successes in building good relations as well as the outstanding challenges that remain in moving towards a ‘shared and better future’.
The study comes at a key juncture in the ongoing process of peacebuilding, with new policy priorities being developed by the Northern Ireland Executive and reviews being undertaken by some of the key internal and external funders of peace and reconciliation work.
Ms Kelly said: “At political level, the establishment of a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly has marked a sea-change in the relationships between political leaders and has been lauded as a model of conflict resolution internationally. This process of coming to a formal political agreement has brought increased stability to the region and demonstrates a practical commitment to a shared political future.
“However, despite the considerable successes associated with the peace process, the development of a ‘shared future’ remains incomplete and long-term intervention is still required to support communities, organisations and institutions through the transition.”
Ms Kelly noted: “The in-depth nature of the research interviews undertaken revealed a number of areas of strategic importance in the coming years. These include the commitment of the Northern Ireland Assembly to a new cross-departmental framework for action on good relations with ambitious priorities, targets and dedicated resources; a review of approaches taken to good relations work in order to identify, support and disseminate good practice; and a consolidation of the role of local government in delivering on good relations objectives.
“Furthermore, the next five years requires us to actively deal with the legacy of the past on our society. For too long ‘dealing with the past’ issues have been treated as separate, often mechanistic processes, disengaged from the wider good relations objectives.
“Effectively addressing the past should require us to consider the impact of the past on the whole society and to understand how the past affects the present and the ongoing relationships between, and within, communities. This is hard but necessary work to heal the wounds of the past and to build more cohesive and integrated communities.”
A dominant finding of the research was the need for a strategic and coordinated response to work with children and young people, both within and outside of the formal education sector.
Ms Kelly notes: “An analysis of the research responses provided indicate that the vast majority of those interviewed feel that insufficient attention, resources and political priority has been given to working with young people to address the myriad impacts within both the formal and informal education and development sectors.”
“With a new generation of young people coming through, we have a real opportunity to demonstrate the effectiveness of collaborative cross-departmental working practices to ensure complementarity of approach as well as efficient and effective use of public resources.”
INCORE Director, Professor Brandon Hamber said: “This important research underlines the real appetite that exists to consolidating learning; creating meaningful structures that support policymaking and practice; and for placing the issues of inter-communal division and good relations at the heart of every government department, agency and public body.”
Ms Kelly adds: “It is worth noting that all who participated in the research indicated that the society as a whole is open to new ideas and approaches to create opportunities for sharing, further integrate communities and to consider the role that they can play in contributing to a new future for Northern Ireland”.
The findings from this research will be highlighted at a seminar on Tuesday 13 March.
Notes to Editor:
The report entitled ‘Good Relations and Reconciliation in Post-Agreement Northern Ireland is available in hard copy from INCORE and is downloadable at:
INCORE (International Conflict Research Institute) is based at the University of Ulster and is an associate site of the United Nations University. It aims to address the causes and consequences of conflict in Northern Ireland and internationally while also promoting conflict resolution management and peace-building strategies.
31 qualitative, in-depth interviews were undertaken during the course of this research project.
This research was supported by the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister’s Equality Research Unit.
A seminar will be held on Tuesday 13 March at NICVA, Duncairn Gardens, Belfast at 12 noon. The event is free and open to the public, but attendees are asked to confirm their attendance by phone at 028 7167 5500 or firstname.lastname@example.org