“Beyond Minorities – The Future of Diversity Policies”
Thank you Minister and thank you colleagues. I want to start by introducing myself, not as you see me in the catalogue in front of you. I am an ex-Catholic Irish woman, married to an ex-Protestant British man. Both our children and I now legally, since the Belfast Agreement, have two passports – British and Irish. I have two Jewish sister in laws who between them have produced three beautiful Jewish children. To our great delight, just this year, we were joined by an Iranian Muslim nephew in law. Even more so, thanks to the times we live in, one niece and one nephew in the last year have declared themselves gay. When last seen, my first son was dating a Catholic Latin American and my other son was dating an American Jew. So who knows? I could also end up having Jewish grandchildren.
Now, you tell me, am I a problem? Are they a problem? We, our family, are not a problem, we are the future. What's happening in the world is quite extraordinary: at one level people are seeking globalization and it’s happening, and at another level people are seeking their place: their people, diplomatic embassies, armies. The number of countries in the world has actually increased to almost 200. East Timor was the last, but it will not be the last in our future. There is an estimate we could have increased enormously within the next 50 years.
I'll give you an example: in Indonesia there are 26 places seeking their own place. But when they get there, there is a problem. I was in Tallinn over about 12 years ago, just as Estonia was declaring its freedom. It was a night to remember! We were told the tanks were coming from Moscow to prevent it and that was what on everybody's mind. What was on my mind was the faces of the Russians surrounding the square, looking at the celebrating Estonians wondering what was going to happen to them, a 40% minority within Estonia. Why have we not heard of conflict within the Baltic States, who have had between them 40 to 55% Russians? Because the conflict prevention program that I know of was undertaken by the OECD. But I mention it because every time you get there, to a place for your people you discover you have to share.
Another example: we knew the war was coming to an end, we were working with our paramilitaries, not an easy task, a task that turns the stomach at times knowing what these had done, to train them into politics. One particular loyalist group suddenly looked up from this bi-national war, for in their world there only were Catholics-Protestants; Nationalists-Unionists – and discovered, in order to get voted into the forum they have to gain the votes of the few thousand Chinese who had moved in unbeknown to them while the war was going on. We now in Northern Ireland have 50 ethnic groups.
So, it somewhat changes the way in which you think of our future. The difficulty is that most states that we know of are actually having problems in dealing with this. I've been told to cut my presentation very short by the Chairman so I am actually having to skip a lot of what I was going to say, but let me just go to this one and I'll show you. The difficulty is that most of the problems we have today are because states cannot manage their diversity, and it is a real problem.
Let me give you something that should startle you in terms of statistics. A minority below roughly 15 to 20% is not usually a problem; they are too small they don’t have the confidence. If we look at the statistics around the world it is usually when a minority reaches somewhere between 20 and 25% that it begins to get assertive about what is lacking in terms of its life within a particular place. Not only that, but there is a generation gap, and what happens is what is accepted by one particular group of minorities a generation later the younger people will not accept it. There is usually an 18-year gap between assertion for demand of equality and sometimes if they are not addressed issue of violence.
It is actually quite frightening, so, if you look at some of the statistics in terms of where most of the conflicts today start, it is because governments have not been able to manage their diverse populations. One of the dilemmas for them is what are the values we are looking at in terms of how we should see our society. We see France struggling with assimilation, I personally think there should always be a plus solution and not an either/or solution. Separatism, South Africa, the Aland Islands, by the way, is one where the Swedes have decided to favor a particular group, everybody wants to join them because knowing the Swedes they just give them so many opportunities everybody wants to be an Aland islander. Or pluralism, which of course is what's happening now within the United Kingdom, USA and Canada, which is really where you validate diversity rather than see it as a problem, which is where I want to go on to.
If you turn it around and see it as a positive thing that we have diversity, as an biologist would tell you is necessary, than in fact it changes the way in which you see your whole society and that is what co-existence tries to do, as where different groups are seen to contribute positively, so diversity as a national asset rather than as a problem, and all the policies that go to promote that.
But within this you need to balance three things: one is the whole question of equality. Frankly everything rests upon that, and we had huge problems in Northern Ireland because people kept feeling we just wanted to dress things up. We have to look at issues of equality so that Catholics who'd felt excluded, felt that they truly did belong. Diversity, validating diversity, but always remembering there has to be doors opened between the two. In our house when we talk about gender we talk about equal and different. I want to be a woman, I actually want the differences there are between the sexes, what fun would there be, those flirtations across the table, all of that – we don’t want to lose that.
Equal and different serves us well, but always keep the doors open in terms of interdependence. Internationally, and I've written books about this so you don’t really need me to go into detail, if you want to you can find out much of what I've written about it but these are areas people are looking at. How do you share power? The whole question of majority rule, remember in Northern Ireland was the problem, 30% Catholics when the state was set up, 70% Protestants. The figures now are 42%. The figures to come – who knows? 55% are children within the schools.
We too had what we called "our unholy breeding wars". This was there, the Catholics thought, contraception almost a political duties to produce as many children as possible were equally matched by the Evangelical Protestants who saw it as their duty to do the same. So there is a dilemma which has actually been eased considerably of course, as several people have said here, in terms of poverty, it goes down and actually so does the population and in fact the population is pretty well the same, the children who are being produced now are pretty well the same. But what do you do in terms of how you share your governance, and there are significant difficulties about this. I can refer you to the work of ideas in Sweden, anybody who is really interested in what the possibilities are; for instance Mauritius has a really interesting system that looks at special status for certain groups and others have taken par sharing etc.
Constitutions, one I know that is very much on your mind, I speak as someone who in 1921 we actually had to make a choice about the kind of state we wanted in Ireland. Remember we came from a situation where we had 800 years where to profess your faith was actually dangerous. We had come from a famine which in the 19th century had decreased our population by almost 4 million down by about 3 or 4 million, almost half the population, many of that of course was seen to be due to the roles the British played in Northern Ireland so you can imagine the bitterness of that. But it did mean that when we came to choose our place, we wanted our place for our people where we could be safe and we could profess our faith. So my empathy goes out to your need, despite the fact that I know yours was an infinitely more terrible and more focused extinction of your people than ours ever was. But within that you have to consider two things: if you are going to have an identity based state you must do it much better than we did. It has to be the best it can be in the world so that it could be a model for other elsewhere who also need it, and within that of course you have to think of what is the role of the others and how do they fit in.
There is often the fantasy that when they get there it can be "just us". As I said, everywhere around the world we see this is not so. The fantasy persists. The number of drunken nights in Northern Ireland, where I have heard Protestants say: "just send the Catholics back across the borders to the Republic of Ireland, that's their place, they can be Catholic there and leave us alone".
Similarly I've heard Catholics say: "should a Protestant", one of whom were my husband's forbearers, "can just go back to Scotland, they came from there 300 years ago, that's where they truly belong", those are fantasies that prevent us from moving on. Everywhere we go we will have to share, so being the best we can at sharing is something that I always say: make your challenge be the best you can and do the best you can in the world, for our sake and for your sake and for the world's sake. Or you can go the separation way that the USA went, there's a lot of stuff to be said on that, again, more than I have time to go into.
In terms of equality issues, the one thing I want to say on this, it can be very depressing hearing the statistics that I heard this morning in terms of equality. I want to say, within 20 years we have, by and large, addressed almost every issue of equality in Northern Ireland. There are only two issues left: one is long term unemployment and the other is higher management of civil service, but that latter would certainly be fixed within the next few years. Again I have written about this, there are no excuses, we could have done it better if we know what we know now, a whole variety of combination of programs actually brought the Catholics from second class citizens, right up to being equal with the Protestants.
OK, Law and order – I just want to say here, this is one of the most crucial issues that I know of, and I know the Abraham Fund has been working on this. I have been incredibly impressed to hear about the work that they've been doing, particularly in the northern territories where they have brought 3.5 thousand Arabs down to community policing. Just remember in policing, I have heard certainly some echoes that there may be some suspicion of Arabs within issues of security. Don't ever forget that they are also equally distrustful of you, and that may well be the reason why some of them will not come forth, as we know Catholics did not come forth into policing, and perhaps why they might not attend some conferences, they might not attend some report meetings etc. That suspicion is very mutual, and I think finding out the parameters, as we had to do, is extraordinarily useful for everyone.
Education, again, there are loads and loads of possibilities there, some of which have been mentioned by others. One of the things we did do was a joint curriculum now in all schools, so all our Protestants and Catholic children believe it or not, have the same history curriculum and they have the same faith curriculum, which is quite extraordinary. Where we disagree in the history books, by the way, we have the collective agreed version and then we have the Protestant version on one side and the Catholic version on the other, they can read both and then go on to what they agree on. It's very creative. The whole question then of housing, again, is one that you have to think very seriously about – is it segregated? Do you look at policies that actually ensure that people do have to mix? Malaysia leaves it to… forces, Singapore forces publicly people to share houses etc. If you have segregation you often do find a need for walls, because walls themselves, we've had to build 19 peace walls in Northern Ireland, so I know what I am talking about, but those walls have become a breeding ground for ghettoization and for stereotyping, I just want to warn you. In media and language – what language do people use? Is there a dominant one and then a minority one? Or are there shared ones? And again, different countries have different approaches.
Media – I am very interested if everybody listens to the same media, or by any chance is the Arab population listening to a different media? Are they listening to Arab radio? Arab television? If so then different attitudes are being formed. Is there a collective media here that can actually ensure collective attitudes? Now, I am conscience that I don’t have time to go through this but you can read, as well as me. These are the things you need to look at and these are the things that we ask governments to do when we ask them how they are dealing with their diversities: constitutions, legislations, systems of democracy, is there a government department, which the Abraham Fund have been saying for a long time and I absolutely agree, as one who set up one within Northern Ireland – you need a dedicated government department dealing with these issues. You also need political parties who endorse diversity, educational systems I've mentioned, policing, media, and all other organizations.
Loads of other countries have done that, have a look at the work that's being done in Australia particularly. I just want to finish on the assumptions: I have heard a lot about the costs of minorities and about minorities being a problem to be solved and competition between groups. Let me tell you what our future is going to be: it is unstoppable. My family actually is the future; it may well be your future. Within that religious states will be the norm and how they deal with each other will be the key linchpin of security and stability in the coming decade.
We are moving towards majority-minority to a much more positive approach, to pluralism, and I think personally that actually will be to all our good. How we do, how we deal with it? We are not totally sure. We do hope we can learn a lot from you as well. Just before I move into this final one is, this is quite important, identity arrangements, political identity arrangements need to be seen. People are not tidy, the Kurds do not live in one place, the Irish do not live in one place, perhaps the Palestinians do not live in one place, so some flexibility around identity and constitutional arrangements are going to be the coming thing. And the last thing I am going to say is I promise you, as someone who works in the United Nations and who has worked for a long time in Northern Ireland, you get to the stage, believe it or not, within the United Nations, where you look around the table and unless there are blacks and brown and all sorts of varied faces there, you feel a sense of loss.
Similarly in Northern Ireland, we now have got to the stage, many of us, and by the way, it's much more positive than the news papers would tell you, where when you look around the table and there is only you there you actually do being to realize that perhaps you, as a society, are missing out on the collective cohesive possibility that can be gained from diversity. I wish you well in your future, I hope the choices you make serve you well, and serve the world well. Thank you folks.