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
Deputy Regina Doherty: I thank all the witnesses. It has been a real pleasure to hear the comments. I have been peripherally involved and have a keen interest in Northern Ireland, given the positive outcomes. One does not get to feel, sense and touch the emotion and sincerity the witnesses described when one watches the news on television or reads the newspapers. Real lives are affected by the changes and progress that have taken place over recent years. There are difficulties that need to be addressed.
Mr. Newell spoke very candidly about the difficulties he experienced in terms of people putting labels on him. It is not something I would have considered. Who was responsible for the labels Was it people in the South, the North, his community or his adversaries? I do not mean to be disingenuous. The only label that those who have achieved peace over the past 20 years and more should be wearing is that of hero because we would not be in our current position otherwise. I understand there are still considerable difficulties to overcome but we would not be in our current position without all the people who have collectively come together to get us here. Each and every person on both sides of the divide are heroes to have brought us to our current position.
I share the same concerns as my colleague. If nine and ten year olds feel the way the witnesses think they do and make similar statements, they do not it pick up off the ground. Parents such as me inform the decisions and views of our children when they are at home with them. What is causing the problem? Parents of my age have children aged ten years and younger. Why are people so disillusioned that they feed such views to their children?
When the Good Friday Agreement was reached and enacted, the generation that made those decisions was not lost to the improvements made in Northern Ireland because of the agreement, but the next generation was going to see the benefits. If the next generation is still partitioned because of its educational choices, what else, if anything, is feeding into that? There may not be other choices, something on which the Minister for Education and Skills has to focus.
Deputy Joanna Tuffy: I thank the witnesses for coming. When we were in Alexandra Park last week there was a very moving picture of two young girls meeting and shaking hands. Children are not naturally sectarian. Our experience here with new communities coming from Africa and so on is that children are accidentally at the coalface of integration in our primary schools. They influence their parents.
Professor Hutchinson referred to Catholic schools. In the Republic the Catholic Church bought into multidenominational education. It became involved in community schools and, later on, in community colleges. The Church of Ireland has also been involved in them. The institutional church has a responsibility in terms of leadership.
On commemorations and history, Mr. Murray referred to people bringing their republican or Unionist history or their involvement in the British Army to the table. It is complicated because many of us have a background in different communities. My grandfather and great-grandfather served in the British army. Our history is complex and has to be part of commemorations. The divide between North and South is also complex. Growing up, I reacted against the promotion of the Irish language and felt alienated from it. We never heard Irish spoken in a Dublin accent and other dialects were taught which were alien to people in school in Dublin. A lot of work needs to be done on our identity to introduce complexity to celebrations. It is important we know and take on board all of our history.
We were shown the groundwork project. A lot of money seems to have been spent on the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. There was an initial presentation by the secretariat. Witnesses referred to money not being spent locally. Is the money being spent properly or is there a need for change?
Deputy Seán Crowe: I welcome the witnesses. One of the things that is coming through is the lack of hope. Some communities in the South have similar problems. There was a debate in the Dáil yesterday on the community and voluntary sector and many groups referred to the lack of hope and change and the frustration and anger in some communities in terms of housing, a lack of jobs and so on. It is not something that can be transformed overnight.
It is helpful if someone listens. When no one is listening, especially those in power, frustration and anger develops. We have heard the phrase, “It passed off peacefully”, many times on television and radio, but it does not reflect the work done behind the scenes. It also does not mean that the inherent conflict is resolved. That is where the real work needs to take place. We talk about the conflict being endless but peace is still being built.
People feel let down. When there has been no investment and promises have not been delivered on, it is no wonder people feel angry, frustrated and let down. Is that where the seeds of future conflict lie, if people are not listening and there is no dialogue? If anything has come out of this meeting it is the fact that people at the coalface are talking. That is the important thing. Those with power and influence need to listen and respond to what is happening in the witnesses’ areas.