Sunday, August 16, 2009

Making Peace Work

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.


nikki g said...

having spent last weekend visiting for féilé,huge change is indeed seen and felt,however i wish that the community spirit there was alive and as strong in the 26 counties. In my home county louth huge inequalities,social and economic,exist...indeed working class people are falling deeper into poverty and despair every day.Let s not forget that huge changes must be made all over our island to achieve our goals...attending galbally today gave us hope and reminded us that no goals or demands are unattainable when we come together..enjoyed your address!slán

Timothy Dougherty said...

thanks Gerry ,
Belfast should be a leader in this Real Business,government should concentrate on the long-run structural policy changes to the small business.Belfast needs employment, consumption, and investment to ensure delivery of citizens rights, particularly social and economic rights.Maybe small loans and small business to create a Macro-Society by Creating Institutions that work.

Paul Doran said...


It is a failed state. The British have no interest in helping the people of West Belfast, no more than the Dublin Government have in helping the people of North Clondalkin..All these decisions are made by well heeled government officials. they live in a differnet world to us, That is why people must become politically active, no matter how small that activity is, it counts.In Clondlakin less that half the people vote, the Politicians know this, that is why they don't deliver.

Anonymous said...

Was at the féile and when looking for accomadation in the culturlann foud out that there was none available in that whole area maybe a youth hostel in this area would be ideal as alot of tourists etc visit the falls sinnféin mural and attend comemorations there.

Mick Hall said...


Your ambitions for West Belfast are great and badly needed, but I would ask you to pause for a moment and re-read what you have blogged and ask yourself who you are aiming your blog at? Governments department, NGO, politicians on the make, private business who have learnt New Labour speak as it ensures them a government cheque.

Hopefully you are not aiming at any of these groups, but the working class people of West Belfast, whether nationalist or loyalist. Cut the crap and use language working class people use in our daily lives. In my experience when powerful forces use language like,

"It is planned to widen the engagement about all this emerging initiative." It is to narrow the democratic envelope not widen it and I do not believe that is your intention here.

Your job is to speak to those you represent and the bureaucrats in the language of your constituents, not this exclusive gobbledegook. Plain speaking served you well in some of the most traumatic times your community has passed through, why start using language 'few understand,' beyond that is the power elites who are in the main responsible for the gross inequality that blights West Belfast.

Gerry bin the new labour speak, plain Irish or English will do.

Mick Hall

Micheal said...

Yes there are some good ideas there in terms of dealing with the real politik of the current situation, Gerry, but ultimately we need to be looking at a complete conversion of energy supply to renewable sources.

We simply cannot continue to purchase oil on the international markets and try to achieve prosperity against that background.

Our premise has to be, If we don't produce it we don't use it. We can live within our means and be prosperous.

Sinn Fein, in my opinion, has got to put a strategy of resource nationalisation on the table for all to see, and lead with a commitment to a full-scale transforation to renewable energy sources within a ten year time frame.

When energy is free, that's when Ireland will be sovereign. I think it will also be possible to capture the imagination of the more creative element's within unionism for big, progressive projects.

Anonymous said...

posted by Kathleen Collins

You have stated in your blog----

"When?’ he asked ‘will we know the peace process is working?’

‘When the people here have the prosperity they deserve’ I replied." you judge the success or failure on economic conditions rather than the political aspect and concept of FREEDOM.

With your logic...the croppies can be kept down as long as they have gather a piece of the economic prosperity you feel they deserve. When the Celtic tiger was roaring down in the Republic...highlighting economic berated the econmic success of the Republic.

It is my understanding that the hunger strikers died for Freedom and Equalitiy for their people...the Irish, and Catholic and all people of the north. You obviously feel they died and the strugle was for an economic cause.

If that is the case...the queens gov't can keep the croppies lying down as long as they give them some economic a level YOU determine?

I want to see the north FREE from british intimidation...FREE from intimidating orange order and loyal parades marching in their neighborhoods and I want to see the union jack shed the cross of St. Patrick which claims the republic of Ireland. And I want to see all the people of the north of Ireland as equal human beings and that can only be accomplished when the law is repealed that makes Catholics lesser in rights and when the law allows a Catholic to sit on the throne. That is what true freedom is. The ability to stand up to the monarch and the british and say...I am equal and now I've seen to it that your laws treat me as an equal. You sadly just accomodate the inequality and lack of true freedom and call it the peace process.

Walter Ellis said...

I'm glad to see you've caught yourself on, Gerry. For a while there you were in danger of being seen as a joke. Now what you have to address is the continuing irrelevance of Sinn Fein in what you like to call the "southern jurisdiction". A mere change of tone, from faux-folksy to seriously serious, will not suffice. the problem is that your party has to grow up and expand its appeal. The present-day appeal of Irish unity is like the appeal of those gas burners in Dublin 4 that look like real turf-fires. We warm ourselves in front of its cosy glow, knowing that it's only for show and can be turned off with the flick of a switch. Only hard-core Shinners – and demented Irish Americans – give any serious or sustained thought to unity these days. What the party has to do, if it wishes to add to the existing triumverate of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour in the Republic is convince voters that you are fair-minded liberal-democrats, not blood-stained diehards-turned clueless do-gooders. But this is where it gets hard. If you were Taoiseach of a united Ireland, you wouldn't know what the Hell to do to put the economy right and you'd be voted out at the earliest opportunity. And if I should ever turn out to be wrong on that, it will only be because the party has essentially morphed into Fianna Fail II, with all that implies. Not a gratifying prospect? Well, Gerry, you could always retire. That would be one way out. You could then go on the Mandela trail full-time. Sadly, you've said no to that. You are determined to prove that in Republican lives there can be a second act. Well, good luck with that. I don't envy you your dilemma. But at least you've had the sense to give up talking gibberish. It didn't suit you.

Linda Coleman said...

I'm headed out to another health care town hall right now, and stopped by to draw some inspiration from Gerry's blog posts, which didn't disappoint. I was pleased to see the link to your blog, too, Mick--good blog post on health care. Now that we're close to getting somewhere, we're being inundated with lies from right wingers, perpetuated, of course, by the big corporations. We health care reform advocates sure do appreciate all the support we've been getting from England, defending the NHS in our media.

Gerard, west Belfast said...


Your post on economic development in west Belfast is a good piece.

I appreciate the requirement for all the things you wrote about but the one thing you omitted was entrepreneurship.

Young republicans need to begin a process of mindset change. When you were walking through Turf Lodge with Fr Reid that day, it was fine to talk about the concept of prosperity, it is however a totally different thing to realise it and work out how to achieve it.

This is one of the areas were SF are having difficulties, particularly in the 26 counties.

A lot of SF speak is about ideas, nation building, building communities etc but sometimes it lacks substance, almost like a pinpoint on a map but no real vehicle to get to the destination.

Very rarely does SF literature, particularly election literature quote numbers/figures/prices, quantifiable things. More often than not SF talk about the requirement to do X or why we must achieve Y but never really telling us how we do these things, who funds them etc.

I would be absolutely delighted if SF were elected as the biggest party in the next assembly election and got first pick at the ministerial portfolios because I have no doubt you would pick finance and it would be great learning ground for SF to hone and practice government methodology. (Let's hope you have the sense to pick DCAL if you get the chance aswell)

Unionist areas are filled with thriving businesses and nationalist areas generally speaking are not, in fact the latest PWC report on business ownership in the north showed 82% of business owners/directors were protestants. That's a startling figure.

So, I understand the large almost macro concepts you write about but I honestly think republicans need to become much more business-conscious.

We also need to prepare our areas for investment and look at what we can do to enhance the image or at least perceived image of west Belfast. At the moment, west Belfast is aesthetically the least appealing part of the city.

The litter problem, grafitti and general appearance of large parts of the area are unacceptable.

I understand there are legacy issues and you wrote about the denial of social and economic rights but much of the dirty appearance of this part of the city could be dealt with in a very short space of time if the relevant agencies were leaned on just a tad.

The DRD and city council are in some part failing in their responsibilities to the citizens of west belfast (and in some respects the citizens are failing themselves by dropping litter etc in the first instance).

Much of our part of Belfast needs to be cleaned and maintained just in the same way other parts of Belfast are and I'm not necessarily talking about the Malone Road, I'm talking about Belvoir, the Braniel, Taughmonagh, Rathcoole and many others with similar socio-economic indicators to west Belfast.

The council and DRD need to be taken to task as a matter of urgency on all of these 'hotspots' in west Belfast (I'll not list them, there are too many).

There appears to me, a sense that west Belfast is still down the list of priorities when repairs are required, grass needs cut, streets need cleaned etc and in this age, that is just unacceptable.

If we are to truly develop west Belfast as an economic mecca, then let's get the small things sorted first - let's get the place tidied up and maintained and let's instill a sense of entrepreneurship in our young people.

Maire said...

Speaking from only the perspective of one who does not live in West Belfast, but has very close family there, I have visited for extended periods of time since I was a child.
Having said that, over the years I have seen a great deal of change. When I was younger, the stories shared were one's of tragedy, constant anxiety, and fear, as well as frustration and anger. Now, I hear voices of hope and gratitude that the quality of life has improved immensely.
I am by no means glossing over the continued economic and other struggles that continue.
I am not hearing about family members being tragically murdered, or burned out of their homes, or wrongly imprisoned.
The ultimate goal of course, is freedom from British rule, however the current realities while still trying to achieve that, have to be considered and realized.