Sir, - Paul Brown's article in your edition of January 4th should serve as a salutary reminder that there is an urgent need for the political peace process in Northern Ireland to be backed up by cross-community and cross-border action on the ground.

The findings of Dr Shirlow show that, despite the peace process, there is increasing segregation in the community and the workplace in Northern Ireland. An earlier survey by Co-Operation Ireland showed a lack of cultural awareness among people in both communities in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland.

Dr Shirlow suggests an "experience commission" where members of each community would relate their experiences of violence and bloodshed of the previous 30 years.

Clearly, he hopes this would counteract the tendency of each community to see itself as the victim and the other community as the victimless, sole perpetrator of violence and intimidation.

The idea has merit, but it would deal only with the (albeit important) issue of "victimhood". While encouraging understanding and some reconciliation (desirable and worthy goals in themselves), it would not encourage integration or the building or rebuilding of relationships.

For a stable society to be created, more encouragement of practical co-operation is needed. We have to develop greater contact and understanding, bringing mutual gains for both communities.

Dr Shirlow is right about the need to address urgently at a political level the need for cross-community and cross-border work. Politicians of all parties and both Governments have been understandably transfixed with establishing the political institutions of the Belfast Agreement on a firm footing. Now the Assembly and Executive appear more secure, and that decommissioning has at least started they must direct their attention to securing the peace on the ground.

What is required is a clear policy context for community peace-building backed by a series of strategies involving Government departments, other public bodies and a properly resourced community and voluntary sector. -


Yours, etc.,

Chief Executive,

Co-operation Ireland,

Dublin 2.