Approaches to Community Relations Work by Mari Fitzduff
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The following pamphlet has been contributed by the author Mari Fitzduff with the permission of the publishers, Community Relations Council. The views expressed in this chapter do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.
Approaches to Community Relations Work
CRC Pamphlet No. 1
Community Relations Work
This typology of community relations work is an attempt to classify the different kinds of work which might validly be called community relations work i.e. work designed specifically to assist the development of understanding, respect and communication between our communities.
The typology offers a brief analysis of the rationale underlying the different kinds of work that are happening, gives examples of programmes and practices pertinent to the particular work, as well as some thoughts about its possible further development.
It is hoped that such a classification can help groups to recognise that there are a variety of approaches to community relations work, all of them useful to the overall objectives of the work, but differing in their focus. It is also hoped that clarifying such a spectrum of approaches can enable groups and organisations to involve themselves in the work at the level required by their own particular concems and ethos, using the skills available to them, and perhaps moving from one kind of focus to another as their concerns, skills and capacity develop.
The classifications are not intended to be definitive, or limited, but only suggestive, in recognition that we are all of us still defining the boundaries of the work, and continuing to work at new possibilities for its effectiveness, and better methods to evaluate it. Nor does the typology presume to prioritise the differing kinds of work i.e. indicate that one kind will be more effective than another in achieving the desired goals of community relations work, as our knowledge about the validity of such prioritising is as yet too limited to make such a prioritisation with any certainty.
The typology also includes a brief assessment of the kind of work that needs to happen in parallel to focused community relations work, in order to make it successful. This work is called Contextual Work, and it was included in recognition that, by itself, and without progress in these parallel areas, the effect of community relations work will be severely limited. It is believed that the endorsement of such work by agencies involved in community relations can also be useful for the overall progress of such work.
The typology was first outlined in 1989. In this, the third edition,
the typology has been amended to take account of some of the new
approaches and organisations which have sprung up to develop the
work over the past few years. The Community Relations Council,
set up with the assistance of the Government in 1990, is one such
organisation. Its task is to assist in the development of community
relations work at whatever level is possible throughout Northern
Ireland. The Council have reprinted this typology in the hope
that it may assist such development, and be of use to the increasing
number of groups who are seeking to involve themselves in community
relations work in the belief that, without such work, solutions
to our many differences will be much longer in the coming, and
much less sustainable.
Rationale and development
To be effective, such contact should be as qualitative as possible e.g. work which involves relatively long-term contact, and involving co-operation on tasks and issues of collective enjoyment or concern. Such sustained work is more likely to facilitate the development of more informed and more trusting relationships than work involving only short-term contact.
Collective issues work
Through such work, common concerns can be articulated, and common values about social change and development can be facilitated. While discussions on issues of political and cultural difference are often avoided within such groups, with careful facilitation such groups can, where relevant, eventually extend their briefs to include work which focuses on the differences between their varied communities, sharing information about such differences and the problems arising from them.
Focused group work is probably best done where some initial contact work has lead to an increased willingness to tackle consciously, in a structured way, areas of differences and collective concern. Such work can often be added as a useful additional area for consideration by many community groups, and within many ongoing training courses e.g. social work, law, youth and community work training, probation, all A.C.E. and YT.P. training and staff development courses for community and voluntary agencies active in the community.
Single identity work
Neutral Venues work
Rationale and development
Anti-sectarian work is designed to address the problem of the occurrence of such exclusion, discrimination and sectarianism at either an individual or structural level. It will usually concentrate in the first place on identifying and analysing the existence of such exclusion and discrimination, investigating the causes for its occurrence and taking steps to redress it insofar as it is possible and desirable.
It judges the success of its work not by changes in attitudes, though these will often be addressed as part of the process, but by tangible behavioural changes and measurable indices.
Addressing such issues will frequently lead to agencies analysing and addressing the spread of their customers, reshaping their management committees so as to ensure an adequate cross community composition, and ensuring that their premises are seen to be accessible to all communities. Ensuring such accessibility may mean reviewing patrons of an organisation, symbols used, public holiday allocation, etc.
In addition, it may mean addressing inequalities within an agency
or institution, reassessing work practices which inhibit equal
opportunities, and developing measures designed to redress sectarian
imbalances. Where carrying out such work may raise tensions, suitable
opportunities will need to be provided to deal with such concerns
i.e. through the use of trained shop stewards, or other designated
persons within an agency.
Rationale and development
At a more explicit level of intimidation is the pressure to pay 'protection' money or to surrender one's house or car for use by paramilitaries, and the increasing practice of punishment meted out by paramilitaries within both communities against young people, mostly males, accused of anti-social behaviour. The use of kneecapping, spine shooting, and murder are now used in an attempt to keep law and order, particularly in communities where the police are perceived as not acceptable as enforcers of such order.
Random sectarian attacks have also made many areas unsafe, and general threats by paramilitaries to almost every sector in both communities have increased feelings of vulnerability and fear. Apparently random bombing by paramilitaries of installations and whole towns has also contributed to a general feeling of helplessness against those who choose to use intimidation to secure a particular political option, or to enforce their power within a particular community, rather than rely on persuasion and democratic debate to secure their aims.
Security force harassment
There are various levels at which anti-intimidation work needs to occur to be effective. The work, by its nature, is often very difficult to deal with, and will usually need concerted action to be safely carried out.
Within community intimidation can be addressed by reconciliation and other groups using community surveys to identify what is not acceptable at community level and thus sending clear messages to the paramilitaries and others involved in intimidation. The use of significant figures within the community - such as ministers and priests - to challenge unacceptable practices can be helpful, as can the use of external bodies such as Amnesty International, and Helsinki Watch.
Mediation, carried out by facilitating groups and individuals between threatened persons and paramilitaries, can also help, although the danger of colluding with the paramilitaries in their desire to expel anti-social young people from the community can be problematic. Discussions involving community and statutory agencies to address criminal and anti-social behaviour within communities, other than through the use of violence are also necessary.
Existing community groups e.g. tenants associations, women's groups, church groups can also be helpful by assisting community discussion about practices such as kerbstone and wall paintings, collections etc. so as to ensure that they are agreed, rather than imposed by a few within the community.
Inter - community intimidation can sometimes be dealt with through the use of intermediary groups, or individuals, particularly those who come from the same community as the intimidators. It can also be facilitated by inter community groups who can agree to try and alert each other to tension and possibilities of sectarian intimidation, and agree upon possibilities to protect minorities living within their communities. Advice bodies can also help by giving advice to the victims of intimidation, thus not only providing a necessary service, but also openly indicating to the public that the issue is present in our society and needs to be addressed.
Groups can also openly question the validity of their being any 'legitimate targets' for murder, and unite across all community divides to condemn such murders.
In order to address concerns about intimidation by the security
forces, groups can use their own community groups or spokespersons
to convey such concern to the police, if they feel in need of
such support. Or they can avail of the services of such organisations
as the C.A.J. In addition they can use informal liaison groups
existing in some communities to address such complaints, or they
can set up such community liaison groups, to ensure that such
complaints are speedily heard and unacceptable patterns of behaviour
are identified, and prevented.
The use of significant individuals within a community can also
be helpful, and in particular the work of community workers, ministers
Rationale and development
It believes that denying a community a distinctive cultural development can contribute to feelings of alienation on the part of many members of that group. It also suggests that the development of cultural confidence work can contribute to the capacity of a community to enter into negotiations with other communities without the excessive defensiveness which can result from insecurity about identify and hence it believes that such work can usefully precede e.g. political options work.
It may be useful to think of cultural traditions work happening through a variety of processes, and in groups of differing composition and pace.
While much of the above work has been happening over the last few years in Northern Ireland, possibilities for its further development would seem to abound. Much of such work can happen through local historical societies. The Federation of Ulster Local Studies has been encouraging the development of networks for furthering contact between groups from different communities through shared meetings, presentations across the divide of research that is informative of differing cultures, and even provocative of reflection upon accepted historical simplicities, and the use of 'dual perspective' presentations on historical events which are seen very differently from each side of the divide.
Community Arts i.e. work which happens through the energies and commitment of local people offers many possibilities for encouraging discussion of an affirming, reflective and challenging nature between communities. Local community projects in particular provide possibilities for communities and individuals to reflect upon their present and past preoccupations and relationships, particularly if allied with parallel discussions upon the dramatic themes.
The development of musical programmes and projects which respect the validity of differing musical traditions has also been significant, as has the promotion of such work through local festivals, and as part of community relations activities.
Many cultural celebrations, particularly at local level now often include marching and other bands from both traditions, and such inclusion can offer a public validation of pluralism in action.
Rationale and development
The Development of Bills of Rights/Charters of Rights is often seen as a useful way for nations, communities and groups to clarify the bases upon which they wish to protect individual and collective rights and design their legislation. It is believed such charters provide a useful yardstick towards which a society can aspire to move in its structural and legislative development.
There has been a considerable amount of work done on the promotion of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland with various organisations and politicians and a general consensus appears to be that such would be useful, although the particulars of such a Bill have still to be agreed.
It would seem useful therefore to encourage the development of such work at a collective community level as well in order to facilitate the wide ranging discussion which such a delineation of the particulars of such a Bill would entail.
The work involved in the development of such a Bill, particularly if done collectively between groups, can provide a useful basis for future political progress and through its development people and groups can tease out and define interests, take account of group fears, and provide for the particular protection of community and individual rights in a society aspiring to be pluralist.
Civil Liberties Education work is also an area through which issues of a contentious nature can be discussed between communities, providing a focus for groups to assess the reality of a communities law and order and security needs and their possible management within a democracy. In particular, discussions about existing extraordinary legislation, such as the EPA and the PTA, can provide some useful grist for discussions about the appropriate and inappropriate use of legislation to address security needs.
An extension of Civil Liberties work e.g. through Adult Education and Community bodies and Advice and Law centres would also seem to provide a useful focus for cross community discussion on the necessary and possible balances between security and liberty in Northern Ireland and what is both right and effective.
Addressing the significant abuses of human rights by paramilitaries is best done by communities addressing such rights in a principled way i.e. one which is equally concerned by such abuses in either community, and where possible cooperating between communities on best ways forward to address such abuses.
Rationale and development
Those who develop and promote political options work believe that the eventual development of satisfactory political options by the major political parties will be inhibited unless discussion about such options can take place at a more local level. Such local discussion can help to delineate the complexities of any proposed solutions, and encourage the development of collective social interests upon which such negotiations can take place.
Such discussion of interest and possibilities can and should occur at a much wider and more varied level throughout the communities than at present. The response e.g. to the New Ireland Group political seminars, and those of Corrymeela, and the interest in the Initiative '92 process testifies both to such possibilities and to the interest they generate.
It might be useful therefore for e.g. political parties themselves to encourage much more open consideration of their policies than those that occur at party conferences, possibly through discussion evenings open to both communities. If such discussions could be widened to include speakers from a variety of political opinions, the opportunities for profitable debate, if handled carefully can prove extremely productive.
Discussions which also encourage political parties to collectively address social issues which transcend their immediate political concerns can also prove useful in facilitating effective inter-community political dialogue. Such work can be usefully be developed in conjunction with some of the many reconciliation, community, youth and professional organisations who wish to support the development of such work. Schools can also extend invitations to local councillors and other politicians to enter into debate with them, and all broadcasting stations, including those which are more local, can encourage wide participation and debate and political preferences and options. Often such stations are willing to take on board suggestions from individuals and communities about such how such debate can be facilitated.
The more ghettoised a community, a group or a political party is, for reasons of history, segregated territory, or deliberate exclusion, the harder it can be for it to enter into productive political debate with other communities. Community groups in particular, because of the informal nature of much of their work can help alleviate the exclusion of such groups or individuals from the challenge of political debate by arranging informal opportunities for cross community contact between such groups, and facilitating listening between them. In this way, stereotypes can be challenged by such contact, and political perspectives, often simplified at a distance, can be teased out in greater complexity.
Rationale and development
Inter church work can be designed in such a way as to lead to more open interpretations of previously held theological convictions which may have assisted in the development of defensive or discriminatory behaviour. It can challenge us to re-address our beliefs in the context of a pluralist society and the need to take account of differing belief perspectives by e.g. reassessing possibilities for equal expressions of religious loyalties in national legislation or in mixed marriage. Opportunities for Inter-Church work can usefully be developed by all churches.
Such work is sometimes more successful if it is done, at least in the first instance, within particular churches or groups, where threat is very low and questioning can be safely done with a minimum of defensiveness. Local discussion groups which have thus gained some confidence can gradually begin to involve themselves in cross-community sharing.
Inter church work can also ensure that, where possible, people from different churches can cooperate together on social and cultural issues, and in addressing issues of sectarianism together. The work can ensure that where attacks or murders occur, the churches are united in condemning such actions, and joint attendances at wakes and funerals resulting from such actions can limit community tension accruing from them.
cross-community church groups can also prove extremely useful in helping communities to deal with the aftermath of sectarian attacks and the prevention of intimidation at both individual and community level. The development of such work can be assisted by clear policy statements condemning such actions by all of the major churches. The responsibility of communities to protect minorities living within their neighbourhoods community can also be usefully fostered by the churches.
Rationale and development
Work has already started in Northern Ireland in promoting alternative models of conflict resolution in a variety of areas, particularly within schools, and such work can be usefully encouraged to develop. The development of local mediation and conflict management services has also been developing, either through the informal availability of skilled individuals, or through structured services such as a neighbourhood dispute resolution centre, which can be used as an alternative to the sometimes inappropriate use of e.g. the Housing Executive, the R.U.C., or the paramilitaries to solve disputes. The hope is that such skills can empower people to deal with conflict in a manner that is less aggressive and more widely useful.
Through developing alternative models of conflict, and increasing the skills of people to deal with conflict in their particular communities e.g. in schools, neighbourhoods and work places, it is hoped that this can contribute to their capacity to deal more constructively with conflict at an inter-community or political level.
Those who are developing skills training in conflict resolution at a political level will focus on increasing people's capacities to handle contentious discussions constructively. Such work will include dealing with prejudice and bigotry, the hurts of history and present day injustices. It will encourage adequate ventilation of fears between groups, empathetic listening between conflicting groups, and the development of scenarios for mutual gain solutions to the political conflict.
The encouragement and training of people to facilitate such work can be developed through some of the many institutions who already provide training e.g. youth, and adult and community education sectors, local community development groups, women's and trade union groups and university training courses.
By Contextual Community Relations Work is meant that work which, while not usually seen as the direct responsibility of bodies whose prime focus is Community Relations, nevertheless would appear to be necessary or useful to its effective development. Such work can be undertaken by the Government directly, by various statutory and semi-statutory bodies and by other institutions, particularly those involved in education and training.
Where there has been a history of effective community development work at a local level in Northern Ireland, the effectiveness of community relations work has been greatly enhanced. Such work can happen more easily and more effectively when there are already structures and networks in place through which contacts can be facilitated and the lack of such networks on either side of the sectarian divide, and available groups and community leaders with which to work, seriously hinders the initiation of work designed specifically to address cross-community division.
Community development work, as well as providing networks and structures that are fruitful for the development of initial contact work, can also contribute in other ways. It can provide opportunities for issue based work to be developed at a co-operative level and on an on-going basis between communities, which can in turn increase the possibility of people obtaining accurate information about each other and the gradual development of respect between them. It can provide mechanisms for developing confidence in people and communities to engage in the wider political process. It can also help to encourage the emergence of community leaders who are capable of moving beyond the simple cliches of much of our existing politics and of engaging with the actual complexities of developing a pluralist society.
For community development work to effectively assist in addressing the above community relations needs, community development groups need to recognise the extra work that is involved in addressing such needs, and ensuring that such issues are added to existing agendas. This can be done by involving themselves in qualitative cross-community work, as well anti-sectarian work, neutral venues work, and anti-intimidation work where necessary.
The clear impartiality of all government agencies and employees can contribute to the general belief of people in a system of government which is just and accountable. However, it is the obviously impartial behaviour of all security forces that may prove to be one of the most important factors in increasing possibilities for effective community relations work. Any evidence of a lack of such impartiality can make the development of community relations work in an area much more difficult. While many measures have been taken to ensure such neutrality and accountability, understanding of the necessity for a very positive interface, even in difficult areas, is sometimes too limited, and continued training and development work to achieve a neutral and positive interface, where such interface is necessary, is vital. The development of informal community liaison groups can often by useful in ensuring feedback about problematic interface issues, and in ensuring that such are addressed.
In addition, the development of transparent and accessible complaints processes and procedures are extremely important in developing trust in the process of law and order, and a programme to ensure greater clarity among communities about the particular responsibilities of the main bodies concerned with security i.e. the R.U.C., the Army (including the Royal Irish Regiment), the Police Authority for Northern Ireland, the Independent Commission for Police Complaints, and the Independent Commissioner for Army Complaints Procedures.
Because of historical circumstances, the capacity of people from differing communities to work, play, live and learn together has been effectively limited. For some people in some communities, it is still possible to reach late teens without having had any qualitative contact with people who come from a traditional community which is different to their own. Within such segregated environments, fears, prejudice and communal myths flourish and fester without opportunity for discussion or rebuttal. While recent attempts at Integrated Education are a welcome move in alleviating such segregation, they represent only a minor response to a major problem.
The development of more mixed housing estates, mixed leisure centres, youth clubs, etc. would seem to be worthy of substantial consideration. Such development, to be successful and resistant to intimidation, would need to happen in conjunction with residents' and tenants' associations committed to the retention of such pluralism, and District Councils committed to their development. Similarly, the further development of Trade Union work aimed at creating environmental pluralism within the work place could, if undertaken with greater vigour and through wider support and education, help work communities to examine their perceptions and practices and contribute substantially to the development of more pluralist workplaces.
It is now recognised by Government that the existing structural imbalances in wealth and employment need to be seriously addressed and resourced. Such imbalances, unless alleviated, will continue to fuel justifications for resentment and violence. If such inequality remains extensive, it will seriously undermine community relations work.
Similarly, if redressing imbalances at the macro level are seen to undermine existing employment tenures, or ignore differentials existing within communities on both sides, such redress work will inevitably be met with resistance on the part of those who feel such efforts threaten them, and make them less inclined to be responsive to work designed to increase understanding between the two communities.
In order to address existing deficits of wealth and employment, widespread economic development is vital. Such economic development and employment creation should take into account where possible the necessity to lay pluralist foundations to any future employee constituency and work practice, and consciously avoid developing employment opportunities which could perpetuate existing segregation. Work-creation agencies should also consider specifically encouraging enterprises which cross-cut the sectarian divide, assisting if necessary with practical advice about how to increase and implement such possibilities.
The development of flexible and non-defensive thinking, the capacity to cope with complex political and social issues and to refuse to indulge in simplistic scapegoating can be cultivated through many different institutions and not merely those which are focused upon community relations work. Although research has shown that institutions in Northern Ireland have not been known for their capacity to encourage such complex and flexible thinking, there is some evidence that these skills, once acquired, are transferable and can be subsequently used to enable people to reflect upon issues which are pertinent to the sectarian divisions of Northern Ireland. Hence if the importance of such training and development through reflective and critical education were more widely understood, accepted and supported, it could be seen that there are very few institutions of an educational, social or theological nature that would not have at least some capacity, if they so desired, to contribute to the progressive development of such skills. Through such a development they could thus assist in the creation of a more tolerant and pluralist society in Northern Ireland, which would have consequent benefits for sustainable constitutional politics.
Overall aim of community relations work:
To increase understanding, respect and cooperation between communities in Northern Ireland, in the belief that such development can assist communities in working together to develop a solution to the Northern Ireland conflict that is both just and sustainable.
Focused community relations work
1) Mutual understanding work
1) Community development
CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.
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