In an exclusive interview with the Northern Ireland Foundation, Professor Paul Nolan elaborated various aspects of the first edition of the Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report, which was funded by the Joseph Roundtree Charitable Trust and published by the Community Relations Council.
As Prof. Nolan described, the report seeks to monitor year on year what’s happening in terms of the Northern Ireland peace process, in sectors such as housing and education, to gauge whether society is progressing or regressing.
The report uses four indicators to monitor the peace: security, equality, political progress, and cohesion.
These were derived as a result of the research process, as Prof. Nolan explained:
“Equality is a key concept for republicans, and security is one for unionists. Generally, everybody wants political progress, but the Right tends to put an emphasis on order and security, and the Left on justice and equality, and Liberals everywhere put an emphasis on social cohesion and inclusion.
“We came up with references specific to Northern Ireland, but you can measure a peace process anywhere else using these four indicators.”
Prof. Nolan was surprised by the degree of social depravation and differential between Catholics and Protestants being more pronounced than anticipated, as well as this not being reflected more in the political discourse of Sinn Fein or the SDLP.
While a low rate of criminal activity is not a reliable indicator on its own of a peaceful society, Prof. Nolan is impressed by an improved sense of safety:
“I can cycle into the city centre without any fear.”
He even goes as far to say, “This is the most successful peace process in the world in the last 20 years.”
The old dichotomy between Protestants and Catholics is being changed by new urban identities popping up in Belfast, argues Prof. Nolan:
“The central issue is between two ethno-nationalist communities. We still need to use this dichotomy, for example, to see the impact of unemployment on Protestants and Catholics.
“However, we’re moving to a society of greater complexity: what I call a new confident, urban, neutral space. The Belfast I knew during the Troubles was a dark place. There’s a new, expanding ‘cappuccino culture’ among the middle class.
“And this expansion is taking place off the city centre, for instance in the new Titanic Quarter, on the shipyard where the Titanic was built — the bastion of Protestant privilege, a hostile environment for Catholics.
“Now you can walk around the Titanic Quarter on a Sunday and see Catholic families enjoying their time there.”
According to Prof. Nolan, a shift is taking place from “political identities to consumption identities”.