Policy vacuum endangering Northern peace process – report
Absence of strategy on flags, parades and dealing with past highlighted in peace monitor report
Loyalist protestors carrying Union flags clash with police outside the City Hall in Belfast last December. The absence of a strategy for flags, parades or dealing with the past has left the political establishment vulnerable to the shocks delivered by incidents and events such as the flags dispute, said Dr Paul Nolan, author of the second Northern Ireland peace monitoring report. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA
The fragility of the Northern Ireland peace process has increased because of the absence of a policy to tackle sectarianism and segregation, according to an official report published today.
The continuing absence of any agreed strategy for flags, parades or dealing with the past left the political establishment vulnerable to the shocks delivered by incidents and events such as the flags dispute, said Dr Paul Nolan, author of the second Northern Ireland peace monitoring report.
“In addition public order and the rule of law was undermined by the lack of shared commitment to existing institutions like the Parades Commission and by the absence of clear agreed understandings on the legislation governing public protest,” he wrote in the 180-page document from the North’s Community Relations Council.
Dr Nolan also gives up to date figures confirming how Northern Ireland is dependent on the British exchequer for almost half of its expenditure.
It requires a British subvention of £10.5 billion (€12.4 billion) to meet annual estimated public expenditure of £23.2 billion. The fiscal deficit per head was estimated at £5,850 compared to a per head figure of £2,454 in the UK as a whole, he said.
His report, however, contradicts some political claims that loyalist areas suffer most deprivation. “Sixteen of the top 20 most disadvantaged wards have a majority Catholic population, while only six have a majority Catholic population. The deprivation indices show that 22 per cent of Catholics live in households experiencing poverty compared to 17 per cent of Protestants,” he said.
Dr Nolan’s report compiles data on elements of life in Northern Ireland such as politics, the economy, crime, policing and arts, sport and culture.
‘Society of minorities’
Referring to census figures published in December, Dr Nolan portrays Northern Ireland as “a society made up of minorities” where 48 per cent of the population is from a Protestant background and 45 per cent from a Catholic background.
“The evidence from opinion polls shows the percentage favouring a united Ireland to be consistently under 20 per cent,” he said. There was now an “important new category” comprising 21 per cent of the population which considered itself exclusively Northern Irish, he added.
Dr Nolan said the underlying momentum of the peace process was strong last year – 2012 was one of the most peaceful for 40 years. But that was upset by the Belfast City Council decision to limit the number of days the union flag should fly over City Hall to 15-18 days each year.
“The disturbances . . . revealed that a section of loyalism still sees itself in fundamental opposition to the peace process,” he wrote.