Project aims to steer disaffected youth away from paramilitaries
International Fund for Ireland launches 3-year reconciliation strategy in North
The IFI plans include beginning to gradually dismantling the North’s peace walls. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times
Young disaffected people vulnerable to the influence of dissident republican and loyalist paramilitary groups are being targeted by the International Fund for Ireland (IFI) as part of a three-year strategy to promote reconciliation in Northern Ireland.
The IFI today launched its “community transformation” project in west Belfast. It incorporates plans to begin gradually dismantling the North’s peace walls, assisting areas suffering from economic and social deprivation, and completing existing projects aimed at tackling division.
“The community transformation strategy recognises the new reality on the ground and looks to support communities that are still affected by the threat of violence,” said the IFI chairman Dr Adrian Johnston.
“It is particularly focused on addressing the root causes of sectarianism and, in some cases, is making the first effort to tackle very difficult and sensitive issues,” he added.
Dr Johnston said the IFI was trying to help young alienated people susceptible to the lure of republican and loyalist paramilitary groupings. The IFI was anxious to assist people “that are out of the reach of government, that are not engaging with the statutory authorities”.
“Young people who are not in employment are being attracted to paramilitary activity,” said Dr Johnston. “They are being engaged by paramilitaries. There have been significant numbers in loyalist and republican communities where the young people have embarked on the road of paramilitary activity.”
While First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in their recently announced new shared future strategy envisage an end to the North’s scores of peace walls by 2023, Dr Johnston made clear that the IFI’s peace walls three-year programme was not so initially ambitious.
“The overall objective of our peace walls programme was not to actually remove the walls themselves in the interface areas,” he said. “One thing that we do agree with OFMDFM (Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister) on is the fact that the interface walls can only be removed when the timing is right, and that timing will be determined by the community themselves that we support.”
He said the indications the IFI was receiving was that the loyalist and republican communities living on both sides of these structures were prepared to engage to make progress on bringing down the walls.
Dr Johnston spoke of how the IFI favoured a gradualist approach. “Change has to be managed very sensitively…it can be removing grills from walls, it can be opening gates for a specific period of time - that is the sort of progression we are achieving today.”
The International Fund for Ireland is an independent, international organisation established by the Irish and British governments in 1986 with support from the US, the European Union, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It has committed more than £707 million (€ 890 million) to hundreds of reconciliation projects over that period.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said today that the latest IFI reconciliation strategy provided further opportunity to “embed” peace in Ireland. “While much progress has been made in securing peace, the scars left by decades of violence and alienation heal slowly, and there is still much to be done in those communities that have not previously, or only partially, engaged in peace building and reconciliation activities,” he said.
Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers said greater focus on community transformation was now required to address some of the most significant remaining challenges in Northern Ireland.