The last 10 years have seen a concerted effort on the part of policy makers in Northern Ireland to address the community relations problem. Ostensibly, there have been significant achievements with a community relations infrastructure now well established and augmented by relevant policy and legislation. Despite this, a consequence of contentious Orange Order parades during the last three summers has been an upsurge in sectarianism and intimidation reminiscent of the worst periods in the troubled history of Northern Ireland. Community relations practitioners and professions have been the target for much criticism, directed mainly at the effectiveness of the cross-community initiatives which they have supported. This article examines approaches to community relations in Northern Ireland in the light of these criticisms. On the basis of social psychology and theories of intergroup behaviour, it argues that most interventions currently supported do make some contribution towards improving relations between Protestants and Catholics. The evidence presented suggests that the degree of success may be determined by the ability of the facilitator to devise programmes which reflect the potential of the participants to engage in productive intergroup activity. The conclusion argues that the criticisms which followed Drumcree and the Orange parades may relate less to the nature of current provision than to the profile of individuals excluded from community relations activity. Against this background, a case is made for intragroup projects as a first step in engaging those who, because of deep-seated prejudice and political/religious extremism, are unlikely to benefit from community relations projects which tend to have an intergroup focus.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)