Community Relations Week aims to challenge sectarianism and racism in Northern Ireland (Belfast Telegraph)

Community Relations Week aims to challenge sectarianism and racism in Northern Ireland…
Anne Madden (Belfast Telegraph)
23 May 2011


Revealed: how many of us still haven’t left the Troubles behind

Despite historic acts of healing between Ireland’s two main traditions, there remains “a big gulf” in Northern Ireland between areas stuck in a sectarian timewarp and those that have left the Troubles behind, according to the head of the Community Relations Council.

Chief executive Duncan Morrow is now calling for politicians to “seize the moment and use this opportunity” to help make peace a reality in the community.

Thousands of people are taking part in around 150 events to mark Community Relations Week (May 23-28), showing a strong determination exists to challenge sectarianism and racism across Northern Ireland.

In 2007, accountants Deloitte estimated that sectarianism and community divisions in Northern Ireland cost the economy around £1.5bn each year.

But recent weeks have seen a number of unprecedented acts on a grand scale that suggest divisions are healing.

The Queen made her first state visit to the Irish Republic last week — the first British monarch in a century to make the trip.

And last month DUP First Minister Peter Robinson attended a Catholic Mass for the first time following the murder of police constable, Ronan Kerr.

“The symbols we have seen need to translate on the ground,” Mr Morrow said.

“The Northern Ireland Executive needs to take this new world and make it a practical reality for people – that means people need to feel safe where they live and not rely on a 70-foot wall, or fear being put out of their homes because they are Polish or Catholic.”

Many symbols of conflict remain. For example, there are still 88 peace walls in Belfast alone.

“We have made progress,” Mr Morrow said. “People are talking across interfaces but we haven’t yet managed to convince people that it is safe to take them [peace walls] down.”

In response to the recent Shared Future consultation document, the Community Relations Council argued for the Executive to make a ‘plan for peace’ and include it in its government priorities.

The flagship event of Community Relations Week is a policy conference dealing with the economic benefits of peace, which takes place at the Stormont hotel in Belfast this Thursday.

“Good community relations make a big difference to our economy,” Mr Morrow said.

“The areas with the worst visible sectarianism are the very areas which are poorest, with the highest unemployment. I think there is a big gulf in experiences in Northern Ireland.

“There are those parts which are still in the world of sectarianism and other parts that regard all of that in the past. We need to engage people across the whole of society to change those areas stuck in the past.”

After an extended secondment — of nine years no less — Mr Morrow is overseeing his last Community Relations Week as he returns to his post as a politics lecturer at the University of Ulster next year.

The week showcases the vast range of activities, from sport to the arts, that community groups and charities use to engage people and bridge divides.

Sport can be very divisive as different activities are associated with different religions. However, the Peace Players, a charity set up to improve relations between young people across the divide using the politically neutral sport of basketball, is launching a new initiative this week to involve kids in rugby, soccer and gaelic games.

The week’s events even cross the border into Donegal which is holding a prayer and reconciliation event.

For more information visit the Community Relations Council website on

Stimulating, challenging… the pick of the events during Community Relations Week

International Cities Conference

The Guildhall, Londonderry, Mon 23-Thurs May 26, 9am-5pm.

Representatives from 12 international cities, which are dealing with, or are emerging from, conflict are meeting at this conference to discuss best practice in relation to community relations, policing and regeneration among other issues.

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