Community Relations

Oral Answers to Questions — Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 13th May 2002.

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Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP 2:45 pm, 13th May 2002

6. asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister how it appraises the benefits of money allocated to community relations.

(AQO 1309/01)

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Leader of the Social Democratic & Labour Party, Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland

The benefits of money allocated to community relations are appraised in three main ways: by attitudinal surveys; by research projects; and by independent evaluations of funded groups. The bulk of community relations funding goes to the Community Relations Council and to support district council community relations programmes. That funding amounts to some £4·5 million of the total allocation of just over £5 million. Both the Community Relations Council and the district council community relations programmes have been subject to independent evaluation in the past 18 months. In both cases, positive conclusions were reached with regard to the impact of their activities and their value for money.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Over the past 10 years, Departments have spent well over £100 million on community relations. All the evidence on the streets shows that community relations are worse. Will the Deputy First Minister confirm that the OFMDFM-commissioned report by Dr Peter Shirlow also expressed that view? Is that why the report has not seen the light of day?

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Leader of the Social Democratic & Labour Party, Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland

In answer to previous questions, I had to correct Members because of their confusion over two different reports. Dr Shirlow carried out work commissioned by the Belfast European Partnership Board. However, a separate piece of work, relating to other areas and times, was commissioned by OFMDFM. I caution the Member not to confuse the two.

A significant amount of money has been spent on community relations, and a significant amount of work remains to be done. It is a huge problem, and nobody is pretending that all the problems are behind us. We must be cautious about making sweeping judgements that community relations are worse, based on anecdotal evidence, on impressions from particular areas or on studies specific to those areas.

Photo of Jim Wilson Jim Wilson UUP

Does the Deputy First Minister agree that there could not be a more graphic demonstration of community relations problems than the recent disorder in north Belfast? Is that not precisely the kind of issue that the Administration’s community relations policy should be tackling?

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Leader of the Social Democratic & Labour Party, Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland

The situation in north Belfast clearly reveals problems in community relations. However, there are also other problems. That is why the initiative that has been undertaken on behalf of the Executive is looking at various issues. The programmes of several Departments are relevant to the work that is being undertaken in north Belfast. We will continue to work to get on top of the problems in that area. We are reviewing our wider community relations policies to ensure that we are alert to all the problems and that we have responsive policy systems and support mechanisms, particularly in areas where problems are manifested.

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

Does the Minister concur that the aim of community relations policies in the North is to light candles rather than curse the darkness, and that that approach is required? Will he comment on the events in east Belfast last weekend? As the Deputy First Minister has travelled many roads over the years, will he concur that our society is now more tolerant?

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Leader of the Social Democratic & Labour Party, Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland

I hope that everyone in the House will join me in expressing concern at the events in east Belfast. We do not want violence in any form, in any location, from any quarter, against any target, be that in north Belfast, east Belfast, east Derry, or anywhere else. We have seen violence in different forms, and I have consistently condemned it all. I hope that everyone in the House will continue to do so.

Although we repudiate and condemn such violence, we should take heart from the fact that new relationships are being built and are growing in this society, and new attitudes are being expressed. People can relate to one another politically, and they can relate to, and with, the shared Administration, albeit at times they may be critical of delivery and the pace of activity. We now have shared political space, and we must find ways to share the streets also.