Peace fund chief warns of growing alienation and further violence after Brexit
The head of a large peace fund has warned of growing alienation after the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit.
The president of the International Fund for Ireland (IFI), Paddy Harte, said it was impossible to rule out future unrest such as scenes at the Lanark Way peace line in west Belfast in April.
Mr. Harte also warned that paramilitary groups on both sides of the divide are gaining support from vulnerable communities who feel abandoned by the peace process.
He said the recent recruitment of dissident Republicans was “alarming”, as well as loyalists capitalizing on anger at the Northern Ireland Protocol, which that community sees as a border in the Irish Sea.
He said a huge amount of work was done behind the scenes earlier this year to quell the serious mess that erupted at a Peace Wall gate between Falls Road and Shankill Road.
The violence stopped after several consecutive nights of violence.
“We were able to respond quickly enough to allow our community workers to work together to ensure that there were young people with referrals to persuade as many that they could not get involved,” said M Harte to the PA News Agency.
“It was night and day work… if it weren’t for the presence of our groups and others, it could have gotten out of hand, there could have been deaths – it is not magic that things are did not do it again, because people stayed in addition. “
The efforts included groups of young people from all walks of life who witnessed the UEFA Super Cup clash between Chelsea and Villareal in July at Windsor Park as part of new relationships being built.
Significant work also took place behind the scenes at the North Queen Street / Duncairn interface in north Belfast following rising tensions over the location of a Loyalist bonfire on July 11.
However, Mr. Harte warned, “Society cannot expect volunteers and community workers to continue doing this.
“People continue to work, and it’s a pretty tough environment for community workers, but with the support of ourselves and others, I think we’ll get there, as long as that support stays.
“It’s very, very possible (violence could erupt again) but the connections we have within the communities and the networks we have mean that we could respond again, but it would be very naive for anyone to think that Lanark Way would not be happening again.
“We are dealing mainly with generations of quite appalling conflicts.
“Brexit raised questions of culture and identity, and raised old plagues that had taken a back seat. The protocol alluded to this threat to the union and the opportunity for a united Ireland – that kind of binary stance is something that we and others have been working on for years to try and show that there are things much more important to deal with.
“When we posed Covid on that, it restricted, if not stopped, the opportunities for speech around these things that helped us in our difficult conversations to resolve people’s concerns.
“Covid also brought into play the nationalism of Covid, for lack of a better word, that people started to compare what was happening in Ireland with what was happening in Britain, and on one side of the border. and the rest of them started labeling people again in a way that had faded into the background.
Highlighting the marking of a number of centennial dates, Mr Harte said that there are “a lot of things coming together that make our work quite difficult and the consequences of all of these things are that people have returned to traditional positions “.
“The golden mean is smaller now than it has been for the past 15 years,” he added, referring to a recent survey which revealed growing alienation in society.
The fund is also supporting work around the Peace Walls, with recent progress around the Bishop Street barriers in Londonderry and the Flax Street gates in north Belfast.
Harte was speaking as the fund launches its new four-year strategy, according to which renewed efforts to build cross-border relationships are “critical to achieving long-term lasting peace.”
Connecting Communities includes four programs aimed at empowering marginalized communities.
The strategy was welcomed by Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney.
Mr Lewis said the fund had done “an unprecedented job of building and maintaining peace by promoting and facilitating reconciliation and addressing the underlying causes of violence and bigotry,” adding that it “continues to have a vital role to play”.
Mr Coveney added: ‘As the world recovers from the social and economic effects of the Covid pandemic, and Northern Ireland and border counties continue to grapple with the legacy of the past and the impact of Brexit, the work of the fund, through its engagement with young people and the most marginalized, is essential in the coming period.
The IFI was established by the UK and Irish governments as an independent organization in 1986.
It offers a range of peace and reconciliation initiatives across Northern Ireland and the southern border counties.