Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Charting the slow decline of the devolution experiment

Dr Paul Nolan
Dr Paul Nolan

FOR the past three years the Community Relations Council has held up the mirror to our society in a closely-researched Peace Monitoring Report.

Each year the image it shows us is a little darker and more disturbing.

It is usually published in February or March and surveys the past 12 months. In 2012 it warned that there was no strategy for reconciliation but concluded that the political institutions were secure. Last year it found that things had started well but nose- dived when the flags dispute spiralled out of control in a "year of two halves".

This year, it warns the devolution settlement itself is in danger. Author Dr Paul Nolan worries that the political process is unable to dissipate the tension of a summer marching season and disputes over flags.

In many ways the report confirms what we knew already. The Catholic section of the population is on average more committed to education than their Protestant counterparts and this shows in improved school results. There is an even stronger correlation between economic well-being and educational achievement and this leaves Protestant working class boys as something close to a disadvantaged underclass – akin to Irish Travellers or Roma children.

This puts a question mark over how we organise our society. The GCSE results and the university entry statistics show that for large sections of the community there is little or no prospect of social mobility. This is not just wrong, it also provides a breeding ground for crime and extreme political movements.

Our politicians need to wake up to this fact and work together on solutions that fit our changing society. It is easy to appeal to fear and prejudices at election times. They should try instead to give Mr Nolan something more positive to report next year.

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