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 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.
Deputy Robert Dowds: Cuirim fíor-fháilte roimh ár n-aíonna. I strongly welcome our guests. The work they are doing in bridging the boundaries between the two communities in Northern Ireland is very important. We should do everything we can to be supportive in that regard.
With regard to the commemorations that will take place on both sides of the Border in the next few years, whether we commemorate the events 1916 or 1912 or the start of the First World War, it is important we acknowledge each event with respect. As a Labour Party Deputy, I regard myself as a republican. I happen to be a southern Protestant and my family background is strongly Unionist. Two of my great-uncles, from Richhill in County Armagh, were killed in the Battle of the Somme. My great-aunt, who was my godmother, signed the Solemn League and Covenant as a very young woman. I do not agree with what she did but I respect the fact that she was doing what she thought was right. That is the sort of attitude that needs to inform all of us as we come to celebrate these events.
When I was a child in the Sunday school which was attached to our church, the teacher happened to be a Belfast Protestant. He was quite old when he was teaching me and was a veteran of the 1916 Rising. As a Northern Protestant he had fought in the GPO. I had great respect for him.
The respect issue is the really important one. Tá fíor-fháilte roimh ár n-aíonna anseo. Is breá liom a bheith ag caint Gaeilge, but I am very happy speaking English too. That is the sort of attitude that needs to inform all of us, from North and South.
Mr. George Newell: Our social ailments are no different from those of any working class area across the breadth of Ireland. The problem with our social ailments is that if we fall out with our neighbours in the next-door community, it could lead to guns and bombs coming out and people losing their lives. That is the major problem we have.
Enough credit has not been given to loyalist paramilitaries. They have been tagged with all sorts of names and labels, yet the level of social crime in our communities is nothing compared with that in other communities. It is very low. The PSNI, when dealing with loyalist paramilitaries, does not want to disclose that. It is a definite no-no. What we read in the Sunday tabloids about the names and things that have been attached to loyalist paramilitaries is all bad. There are bad apples in there. Like every community and organisation, there are bad applies. The greater majority want to achieve peace and to live in social happiness with their next-door neighbours.
One of the problems within Protestantism is the diversity that exists there. The Protestant, Unionist and loyalist community is so divided it is unbelievable. Everyone is wearing a hat. If you are a Protestant within the Protestant churches, you are divided by religion. There are a hundred different churches throughout Belfast. One of the latest churches to open in the Newtownards Road-Albertbridge Road area is the Upper Room Church. It got its name because it took over an old terraced house and because the ground floor could not be used, the church uses the upper floor. That is the problem we have within our churches. Within Unionism in general we take our political thoughts from the different political parties. Within loyalism there is the paramilitary angle.
The Shankill Road, where I come from, has a multitude of problems. There is not one Protestant high school in west Belfast. The closest is in the former Boys’ and Girls’ Model Schools in north Belfast. Thirty or 40 years ago, that was the closest thing to a grammar school. Now, because it is over-subscribed, academic achievement is almost nil. In east Belfast, Orangefield High School used to be one of best secondary schools in Belfast. It is less than 30 yards from a grammar school. Orangefield High School has been designated a special needs school because more than 50% of the young people attending the school are categorised as special needs. We have 16 to 18 year olds leaving school who can barely write their names. We also have men and women of 40, 50 and 60 who can barely write their names.
This problem is not exclusive to the Protestant community. I daresay it is across the community but it is a problem we suffer from. The existence of this problem and the fact that job opportunities are no longer being created in, for example, the shipyards, Mackies or Shorts means we have to deal with high levels of unemployment. That leads to forms of escapism. The only escape is to use alcohol or drugs or join paramilitaries. That is a major problem we suffer from. That is the level of life within our communities.
We hope that some form of education and job opportunities will be created, not only for the 30 and 40 year olds but also for the 14, 15 and 16 year olds who are leaving school. We need to give them hope, aspirations and job security. If they want to start a family, there must be opportunities to make a life for themselves and their children. I daresay this problem exists across the divide in republican or Nationalist west Belfast, across Belfast and across Ireland in general. We are fearful that when our community falls out, it does so with a bomb and a gun in the hand. We want to take that fear out of community politics. Otherwise, community situations can get out of hand.
To be continued