Letter: Northern Ireland: the solution may lie in vibrant politics with a small 'p'

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Sir: As a member of the Opsahl Commission, cited in your leading article on Northern Ireland ('Big ideas, little hope for Northern Ireland', 10 July), I welcome your recognition that 'a modest beginning would be to focus attention on equalising a society still riven with unfairness'.

You rightly point to the continued disadvantage of the Catholic community on every economic indicator, and this must be addressed. However, it was clear from the evidence presented to the commission that the inequalities permeating Northern Ireland are not just based on religion. Class and gender inequalities must also be tackled. Many witnesses to the commission emphasised the importance of combating poverty and deprivation in both Catholic and Protestant working class communities. It is these communities that bear the toll of most of the violence.

While it was not suggested that deprivation caused the violence, many did see a clear relationship between the two. Tackling poverty and empowering those living in poor communities would, it was argued, contribute to the confidence-building process, seen by many as essential to making people more open to political and constitutional change. A focus on concerns that potentially unite the two communities would help to build trust and a sense of greater security.

Inspiring work, much of it spearheaded by women, is already being carried out from within workingclass communities themselves. Much is being achieved in the areas of education and training, job creation, support for young people, and cultural and environmental activities. This work needs to be given due recognition and support.

The revival of domestic politics in Northern Ireland, for which you call, needs to tap into the vibrant politics with a small 'p', which the commission witnessed in workingclass communities. It also needs to bring back into the public sphere the middle classes. Time and again the commission was told how, cocooned from Northern Ireland's problems, the middle classes have by and large abdicated responsibility for trying to find solutions.

At present, it is those living in the deprived communities of Northern Ireland - Protestant as well as Catholic - who pay the price for the politicians' failure to break the constitutional deadlock. Yet, the resilience of spirit and creativity shown by many of them is truly remarkable. The Opsahl Commission was able to give a voice to some members of these communities. It is crucial that government and politicians now listen to what they are saying.

Yours sincerely,


Professor of Applied

Social Studies

University of Bradford


11 July