Irish Times
1 Mar 2012

NORTHERN IRELAND’S political institutions are secure, but the North remains a divided society, dissident paramilitarism is “certain to continue” and the policing deal must not be taken for granted, an independent study has found.

The first Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring report, published yesterday, warns that, while violence has declined, it “most certainly has not gone away” and that, while there is increased co-operation at political level, there is also an increase in the number of so-called peace walls.

“We have seen interesting experiments in shared housing and shared education, but 92.5 per cent of enrolments are still in schools that are perceived to be for one community only, and 90 per cent of social housing is for single identity communities,” said the report’s author Dr Paul Nolan.

“At times Northern Ireland seems to be moving forward; at other times it seems in danger of lurching back into the past,” added Dr Nolan, who has a background in community education.

The monitoring report is to be published annually to provide an assessment of the state of the peace process. The Joseph Rowntree charitable organisation supports the research, which is conducted on an independent basis. It is published by the North’s Community Relations Council.

The reports will take stock of the level of political violence, of social inequalities, political events and cohesion in society as a whole.

By analysing data, the report will help determine whether the North is “heading towards a shared future or, as it is sometimes put, a shared out future”.

While dissident violence was “certain to continue”, Dr Nolan wrote, it was proving counterproductive for paramilitary groups.

“The operational capacity of dissident republicans is lower than that of the Provisional IRA at any stage of its campaign, but they have not allowed themselves any possibility of a political exit.

“Their efforts as ‘spoilers’ have to date resulted in an outcome opposite to that intended: instead of disrupting the political accord, the violence has served to consolidate the existing consensus.”

But Dr Nolan found that dissidents were making “it harder for PSNI officers resident in Catholic areas to join or remain within the force”. He reported that the “main focus for dissident violence for the future is likely to remain on Catholic members of the PSNI”.

Stating that the “policing deal is not secure”, he warned: “The first independent study of Catholics in the PSNI shows them not to be representative of the nationalist population as a whole, and the figures for dropout show more Catholics than Protestants are leaving. Any further erosion will put in doubt the representative nature of the police force – an essential pillar of the peace settlement.”

Dr Nolan said that, 13 years after the Belfast Agreement, there was no proper strategy for reconciliation and some divisions were increasing. “Most obviously, the number of interface walls has increased from 22 at the time the agreement was signed to 48 today, if one uses the definition used by the Department of Justice.”

However, Dr Nolan reported that a confident, neutral urban culture had emerged: one “of the unpredicted features of the peace process has been the emergence of Belfast and Derry-Londonderry as centres of urban sophistication”.