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Civil Society: Going where governments can’t go . Lisa McElherron, Policy Development Manager NICVA. Northern Ireland Conflict. Over 300 years old Ireland divided into Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in 1921 Most recent conflict began in 1970s – late 1990s

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Northern Ireland Conflict


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    1. Civil Society: Going where governments can’t go.Lisa McElherron, Policy Development ManagerNICVA

    2. Northern Ireland Conflict • Over 300 years old • Ireland divided into Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in 1921 • Most recent conflict began in 1970s – late 1990s • Good Friday Agreement in 1998 established a devolved NI Assembly. • Was disbanded in 2004 but re-established in May 2007

    3. Society in Northern Ireland Dealing with the legacy of the conflict • 3,500 dead, hundreds thousands injured. • Chronic under investment in infrastructure and the economy • Culture of sectarianism, mistrust and division • Trauma, mental and physical ill health • Separate communities: education, housing, culture and leisure

    4. Society in Northern Ireland: stable government?

    5. Society in Northern Ireland: physical renewal

    6. Society in Northern Ireland: economic growth

    7. Society in Northern Ireland: beating England!

    8. Society in Northern Ireland: Deeply divided

    9. Society in Northern Ireland: Inequalities in income

    10. Society in Northern Ireland: inequalities in health

    11. Society in Northern Ireland: inequalities in housing

    12. Society in Northern Ireland: poverty • 56% of children live in poor households • Since 2000, more than 1,500 people over 65 have died in winter because they cant heat their homes

    13. Definition of civil society Everything outside government. Trade Unions Employers organisations Churches Voluntary and community organisations

    14. Special role of civil society Democracy • representative (NI, UK, EU political structures) • participatory (civil society) Likely to be tensions, especially in newer democracies; need to work through them, to be mature and to respect the different but complementary roles of both parties: • Government/parliament passes laws, allocates budgets, offers protection, guarantees rights etc • Civil society seeks to influence all of these; speaks on behalf of disadvantaged

    15. What can civil society do? Generally Big range of activities: self-help, services, campaigning, running centres and services Wide range of interests, child welfare, the environment, education and training, health, community arts, sport, older people, human rights, equality and many more

    16. Offer education and training (confidence, skills, focus on the learning poor) – local and informal Encourage community development Provide affordable housing (next slide) Healthy living Advice on financial matters such as debt Benefit take-up Promote volunteering eg VDA Run social enterprises (eg credit unions, housing associations) Provide networks eg women, older people, environment

    17. Civil Society : essential for building peace and reconciliation.

    18. How do we make it happen? • We approach it from different directions eg older people, children, fuel poverty, food poverty, education, health • We network; although there are a lot of NGOs (4,500) we co-ordinate quite well • We actively lobby government and public bodies • We know what we’re talking about eg advice agencies and welfare bodies deal with poverty and debt; community groups know the socially disadvantaged • We are active in solving problems (housing, credit) In short, expertise, experience, energy and enthusiasm

    19. Civil Society in action: Anti-poverty campaign

    20. Government policy had failed for 13 years • New policy offered nothing new • Sector got organised: • Said No to the consultation • Planned a way forward – worked together • Pooled our expertise and contacts • Used the media and press • Meet with politicans and key decisons

    21. Was it a success? • We persuaded government to issue good anti-poverty strategy • Tackling poverty and social exclusion was central to government • Special fund to tackle poverty among children and young people • Assembly unanimous on need to fight child and fuel poverty • Government takes us seriously (Ministers keen to meet)

    22. But… • Still no commitment from the Executive to the anti-poverty strategy, only words • No new policy initiatives or funding to make the strategy real • Still awaiting targets (with milestones) and deadlines • Many social problems continue such as low levels of literacy, community conflict and some more…

    23. Linking up with others Concordia: Voluntary and community, trade unions, employers, farmers – we try to work together. Useful – last year the head of the CBI devoted most of his speech to poverty. But it has limits eg minimum wage Counterparts in Britain and Ireland and globally (CIVICUS) European links, Europe direct and Missing Link Joint Forum with government and Ministerial Forum on Poverty

    24. Civil Society can’t do it alone • Ministers and other politicians must recognise that civil society is a resource for good, not a threat • They must accept that people on the ground want action fast and always want more than government can deliver • Governments and parliaments must develop machinery to hear the views of civil society through meetings, joint forums, evidence to committees and so on • Government needs to support community development and promote volunteering; the job needs money, support, training and empowerment.

    25. “Never doubt that collective action can change the world. In fact it is the only thing that ever has” Margaret Mead

    26. For more information: • www.nicva.org • www.communityni.org