Northern Ireland Peace Process: Discussion
Thursday, 13 October 2011 Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement Debate ..Dail Eireann. Comhchoiste um Fhorfheidhmiu Aoine an Cheasta...Chairman/Cathaoirleach Dominic Hannigan,TD/FD
Professor Wesley Hutchinson: I thank members of the committee for inviting us. I feel like an interloper because the others present are directly involved with these issues on the ground. I hope I will be able to contribute something more concrete as the discussions develop.
Listening to what was being said, what struck me was the emphasis being placed on young people and the increasing distance of the peace process from young people. That is most worrying. On the other hand, many of those in this room were considered as being beyond the pale 20 or 30 years ago and are now very much on board. No one has used the word “dissident” in the discussion, but I am wondering if the pressure that will be exerted on commemoration by people who might be on the edges of the various groups is not something we will have to deal with directly. Channels were developed during the peace process and these channels have become increasingly strong. We have heard how strong they are in terms of loyalist parades being chaperoned by Sinn Féin in the North. That is concrete proof of how things can change. I wonder what channels we can open up towards the edges, towards the people who are today beyond the pale and whose radical reading of history could cause a lot of trouble.
The loyalist and broader Unionist communities will have a particular responsibility in the next few years, simply due to chronology, as 1912 fell before 1916. Therefore, there has to be a real effort made among the loyalist community and the broader Unionist community. I sincerely hope the Nationalist community and its republican element will help them in furthering that debate.
Chairman: Thank you, Professor. I suggest we take four questioners together because many members are offering. I will call Deputy Ó Ríordáin, Conor Murphy MP, Deputy Feighan and Deputy Smith in that order.
Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: I extend a welcome to our guests. It is great that they are here because I think this is the first time we have heard things from a Unionist perspective. We have been having meetings since the general election in February and there was a committee in the last Dáil, yet we never obtained such a perspective. Therefore, this is a very important day for us.
I will provide a Dublin perspective. My mother comes from the Border and my father from Dublin. He had absolutely no interest in anything to do with Northern Ireland. Whenever issues related to Northern Ireland were dealt with on television during the 1980s, it was turned off. There are many in the South who would not admit to this or think that is the reality and as such, we have to work on it.
I understand social exclusion, as I worked in Sheriff Street in Dublin’s north inner city for 11 years. I said at the previous meeting that much of the interface violence we saw on our television screens in places such as Portadown during the summer was something I recognised from where I worked. What we have are young people - generally young men - who are disengaged and disenchanted, who are looking for empowerment and something to get excited about. Where I work it is the drugs trade, anti-social behaviour, joyriding and so on that excites them. There is a level of convenience in the flag of sectarianism to which a young man could easily attach himself when he feels so disempowered because of his alienation from society. We were in the interface areas last week and it was interesting to see the two communities in the Tiger’s Bay area because there was so much that united them. They both have issues with housing, unemployment and anti-social behaviour, yet in one area it is green, white and orange on the kerb and red, white and blue in the other area. When we come to deal with commemorative issues, we should think about the social reality of what actually happened.
I had a grand-uncle who fought in the 1916 Rising. On one level, he is a family hero, but when we pick through his history, we find that he married a Northern Protestant and had to get married at 7 a.m. because effectively he lived in a sectarian 26 county state. There were no celebrations. He had two children, both of whom emigrated to England because there was no work to be found in this country. Whatever he had fought for in 1916 he felt was completely worthless at the end of his life. He believed all the pomp and ceremony associated with the rising amounted to a betrayal. Giving people a flag is not enough. They must have the dignity that comes with having a job, a home they can call their own, a family to love and area of which they can be proud. Flags and emblems, therefore, can be very dangerous.
I am coming back to the issue of sectarianism because in ten years we will still have the underlying problems. We have a problem at the moment in the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland with religious influence in schools - the religious ethos and the fact that enrolment policies are Catholic-first. We had a meeting yesterday with some schools in Lucan, and it seems it is effectively the case, by design or otherwise, that one school has one racial identity while another school has a different racial identity. There is an African community whose children are graduating from one type of school and a white community whose children are graduating from another. What is the balance of rights? When does the right of a school to have a religious ethos supersede the right of a community to integrate properly? I have just come from a presentation given by the Integration Centre at which it was stated that school admission policies are a fundamental issue in our society. When Peter Robinson recently made a comment about admission policies in Catholic-ethos schools, which I fundamentally agree with, he was criticised by both Nationalist parties.
On the issue of social integration, there are some young men who apparently feel as though they missed out on the Troubles, looking at it as some kind of glorious past in which they wish they had been involved. This is an issue of disempowerment. With regard to the school system, I appreciate the comments of Mr. McDonald, who said he is not sure how he feels about integrated schooling. Could other people expand on the discussion on schooling and ethos and how this does not lend itself to a more integrated society?
It is fantastic that visitors are here, and they are very welcome.