Measuring post-conflict societal divisions: The third Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report

Measuring post-conflict societal divisions: The third Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report
by Nicolamaria COPPOLA for Shared Future News
8 April 2014

For the third year in a row, the “Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report” was presented to the public, to illustrate the extent of population trends and the dynamics within its society. The launch seminar took place on Tuesday, 8th April, at Malone House, Belfast.

The “Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report” is an annual x-ray on the peace process in Northern Ireland, and it not only tracks political violence since the paramilitary ceasefires 20 years ago, but also social cohesion, equality and political progress in the region.

The project is an initiative of the Community Relations Council (an independent body that promotes a peaceful and fair society based on reconciliation and mutual trust) and supported and sponsored by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (an English charity with a strong tradition in social research) and its sister organisation, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (which has invested heavily in peacebuilding in Northern Ireland).

Professor Paul Nolan, the report’s author, took part in the seminar launch illustrating the data of the research.

First, he clarified that the 2014 Peace Monitoring Report focuses on four comprehensive dimensions, indicators that have determined the level of peace in Northern Ireland: the sense of safety; equality; cohesion and sharing; and political progress.

The Peace Report is a unique example of measuring peace-study in post-conflict societies, and according to Dr Corinna Hauswedell, Director of Conflict Analysis and Dialogue (CoAD) based in Bonn, it should become a peace monitoring reference model to be applied in other post-conflict societies such as Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Mali and Sudan.

Dr Hauswedell was chosen to express an opinion from an international perspective, and she pointed out the importance of the Peace Report as a means to pay attention to the peace process in Northern Ireland. She said that until a couple of years ago Northern Ireland was no longer news in Europe, because people thought the problems here had already been solved. Since the launch of the first Peace Report in 2012, the European media have resumed its interest, in order to have more information about the peace process and its societal divisions in this part of the United Kingdom.

The Peace Report is a good balance between problems (with their reasons and causes) and experiences such as social cohesion, equality and political progress, added Dr Hauswedell. She also claimed that the Peace Report has an early-warning capacity, preventing eventual and hypothetical troubles due to the changing trends of the population.

Paul Nolan stated that the difference between the number of Catholics and Protestants is not as wide as it used to be. According to the 2011 Census, Protestants are now 48% of the population while Catholics are 45%. Prof. Nolan pointed out that we can see a small growth of Catholics in 2011 (from 131,000 in 2001 to 136,000 in 2011), but a significant decrease of Protestants (from 135,000 to 119,000 over the same period). In 2001, 69 areas in Northern Ireland used to have 90% or more Protestants; in 2011, this applies to just two areas.

Neither Prof. Nolan nor any of the other speakers explained the reasons behind Northern Ireland’s changing demographics.

Fifteen years on from the Good Friday Agreement, the Northern Ireland schools system is still characterised by division. Catholics schools dominate the list of both top selective and non-selective schools, while some groups of Protestant boys perform worst. Professor Tony Gallagher, who took part in the discussion as responder, added that Catholic students may be obtaining better educational outcomes due to greater funding for Catholic schools.

Paddy Hillyard, Emeritus Professor at Queen’s University Belfast, exposed the lack of research on the problem of housing in the Peace Report. He claimed that housing is a bigger driver of inequality, and it should have been investigated more, so as to have a better idea of civil society in post-conflict Northern Ireland.

Although the moral basis of 1998 peace accord is seen to have been evaporated, all the speakers agreed in saying that nowadays Northern Ireland is a quite safe place, in which the levels of violence are at their lowest for 40 years.

Northern Ireland is still a very deeply divided society, but the reconciliation impulse remains strong, Paul Nolan argued at the end of the panel discussion. He said that positive changes have happened and are still happening, but that the road towards peace is still long. Much has still to be done.

Yet there are also good reasons to believe that Northern Ireland is building at last a positive international image: the World Police and Fire Games as well as Derry-Londonderry being Capital of Culture in 2013 are just two examples of the will to change.

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