Good Relations Week

Last week was Good Relations Week, the annual Community Relations Council event that aims to build relationships between people of different backgrounds in Northern Ireland, including across the traditional Catholic and Protestant divisions and also people of differing ethnicities.

You might say this remains work in progress, which is not the fault of the CRC. Northern Ireland remains a toxically divided society – exemplified, and arguably amplified, by the inability of the two largest parties of the two largest communities to govern together.

Northern Ireland’s first Good Relations Week was in 1990 – some 33 years ago. The Troubles were still going strong – 81 people died that year, with more civilians killed than either paramilitaries or members of the RUC and army. It wasn’t the worst year in the Troubles, but nor was it the best. It was just yet another year that showed that some people here found it impossible to live with others. People died together, instead of living together.

1990 was not just the first year of Good Relations Week, it was also when the Community Relations Council was itself established – the parent of Good Relations Week. CRC’s role is to lead and support change towards reconciliation, tolerance and mutual trust. On behalf of The Executive Office, the CRC assists in implementing the Good Relations Strategy, which is called Together: Building a United Community, or T:BUC.

The latest Holywell Trust Conversations podcast discusses the annual Good Relations Week and considers its value. Michael McGlade from the Community Relations Council for Northern Ireland – which funds the podcast and, indeed, this blog – points out that NI has “changed dramatically” since the advent of the CRC and Good Relations Week, not least with the Good Friday Agreement being signed 25 years ago.

“There’s been a wholesale change in society since then,” says Michael. He sees Good Relations Week as an opportunity to tell people what is being done on a continuing basis to bring people together – and to give credit to organisations and programmes that are engaged in community reconciliation. “It says, here’s things that are going on.”

The Holywell Trust’s partner agency, funded by the CRC, is peacebuilding charity The Junction, led by Ruth Gonzavlez-Moore. Community education is at the heart of The Junction’s work, including through challenging power imbalances, patriarchy and imperialism, while considering the impact of the history of violence on how society and politics function today.

“The Junction has also delivered and developed healing projects,” says Ruth, “hearing people’s stories around lived experience in the conflict.” The Junction seeks to influence how peacebuilding is undertaken.

Fiona Corvan, senior programmer for the Holywell Trust, says that some of its events for Good Relations Week tackled very difficult themes, especially around the legacy of the Troubles. “We are conscious that we need to reflect difficult conversations in our work,” she says.

The audience of one production felt challenged by its consideration of events in The Troubles, while admitting they find it difficult to take into account the perspectives of others. Fiona adds that the passing of the Legacy Act made the performance especially poignant, with the play asking “is there a timeline to victimhood?”

Fiona questions the role of Good Relations Week for an organisation that focuses on good relations all year round. The ongoing work of Holywell involves hosting conversations between people of differing perspectives not only on the past, but also about the constitutional future. She personally believes that Good Relations Week needs to evolve so that it speaks to those people and communities that at present do not engage in projects such as these.

The discussion is available as a podcast at the Holywell Trust website, along with all previous podcasts in the series.

Disclaimer: This project has received support from the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council which aims to promote a pluralist society characterised by equity, respect for diversity, and recognition of interdependence. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Community Relations Council.

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