August 16 09
Making Peace Work
One day during a particularly difficult phase of the peace process I was walking with Father Alex Reid through a west Belfast housing estate. We were having a ‘secure’ discussion about the issues involved.
‘When?’ he asked ‘will we know the peace process is working?’
‘When the people here have the prosperity they deserve’ I replied.
That was before I became a blog. But it is as true now as it was then in those more troubled times. Take west Belfast for example.
Areas like this have suffered grievously from years of institutional, social and political discrimination and disadvantage. Despite progress in the equality agenda there is still resistance to the delivery of citizens rights, particularly social and economic rights.
The West Belfast and Greater Shankill Task Force reports were published in February 2002.
Since then some progress has been made on a number of these projects like Conway Mill, the Colin Gateway Initiative, and the Shankill Peacewall Art Project. But getting agreement on these has been a huge job of work.
There have been at least three concerted efforts in the last 2 years to collapse the Task Force. There are still officials in different government departments working against investment and economic development in west Belfast.
For some time now a group of us have been exploring with others how we can proactively construct an accelerated regeneration programme within this part of Belfast.
A programme which delivers real outcomes.
We have been discussing and examining what kind of overarching local structure needs to be put in place to ensure maximum investment and development, and maximum benefits for the community.
Our focus has been on creating an asset-backed local delivery vehicle for west Belfast and the Shankill. We are exploring innovative solutions to the use of the public sector asset base. The case for a special area-based strategy, within which we have agreed priorities, their sequence, and an investment strategy remains inescapable.
It is also important that space is created for local business and other private sector investors to play their part too. West Belfast has a very committed cadre of local business which have a real commitment to progressive social values.
The Enterprise Council in particular has been enormously supportive of local business and has done much good work.
There is also a clear momentum emerging from within An Cheathru Ghaeltachta. Colaiste Feirste is close to putting in place a new project with enormous potential. The Ulster Council of the Cumann Luthchleas Gael has made Casement Park its preferred location for a new provincial stadium.
The proposal for multi-million pound infrastructural investment by the Minister for Regional Development in the rapid transit system also has the potential to have a catalytic effect on regeneration of west Belfast.
After the summer, it is planned to widen the engagement about all this emerging initiative.
This is about building schools, stadiums and new transport systems. But it is also about building communities. Physical regeneration is a stepping stone to economic development and social inclusion.
An asset backed local delivery mechanism with a special area backed strategy is the way forward to regeneration.
That way peace will mean prosperity. For everyone. Including, the disadvantaged.