SDLP Youth Conference

Met Barbara Love, who works in communications for NILGA. She
referred me to Nora Winder (Director of Policy & Strategy) as well
as Andrea Reid (Policy Officer). Both can be contacted on
028-9024-9286. The idea is that NILGA will be a very useful contact in
regards to the reform of local government under RPA.

A member of SDLP youth, Alasdair O’Hara, approached me and advised
me of a forthcoming UUP-SDLP Youth conference to be held November 2008.
This joint session will debate and vote on four proposed motions. The
organisor of this event is Peter Armstrong. Alasdair’s email address
is: alasdair76@btinternet.com

Although the delegates from the associated European youth sister
parties failed to arrive, due to a missed flight connection, my planned
roundtable proceeded at the end of the afternoon, with representatives
from Young Fine Gael, Young Greens (NI), and Young Ulster Unionists.

After I gave a brief introduction of the Northern Ireland Foundation
and the purpose of this roundtable discussion, the first person to
speak was Steven Agnew (steven_aggie@hotmail.com), from Young Greens.
He said that members of the Green Party can hold a cultural identity of
unionism or nationalism, but still argue for higher issues (beyond
unionist-nationalist divisions). For him, culture was not to be done
away with, but matters of flags and emblems were matters of respect. A
member of the Young Ulster Unionists, Michael Shilliday
(michaelshilliday@hotmail.com), agreed with some of Steven’s positions
(about respect), but differed about how being a Unionist was any less
meritable than belonging to the Green Party.

I advanced the conversation by asking Young Fine Gael members about
Southern attitudes to the North. One said that the matter of asking
Southerners to pay for Northern road development was positive, but
tricky. Others examples were the transfer of Aer Lingus’ base from
Shannon to Belfast, and the North-South arrangement whereby foreign
companies in the Republic will be able to open offices in Northern
Ireland without losing any benefit of the lower corporate tax rate in
the South.

On the matter of new arrivals (migrants), there was a discussion on
what was meant by “integration” (versus “assimilation”). Having foreign
children attend the local schools not enough? Participation in local
youth clubs?

There was a consensus by the Young Fine Gael members that the
multiculturalism policy implemented by the British Government in the UK
was not the way to go; it is viewed as a failure. Instead, policies of
integration are favoured.

As part of the economic boom in the South, an estimate of the need
for 90,000 new arrivals was given, yet there has been no public
discussion about how this would affect views of Irish society. As it
happens, the recent economic downturn has removed pressure to have this
discussion. But the Young Fine Gael members argued that this discussion
is still necessary.

There was a curious distinction made between new arrival groups that
have made efforts to integrate versus those who haven’t. For example,
Poles and Brazilians generally speak English, attend Catholic Church,
and send their children to local sports clubs, e.g. the GAA. They are
also confident about their home culture, history and identity (and thus
public policies to promote this are seen by these communities as
unnecessary and potentially counter-productive).

On the other hand, those arriving from North Africa and Muslim areas
have not integrated so well. Their culture, history and identity is
more diffuse. Unlike the Polish community, where in one example up to
3,000 Poles live in one particular ward in North Dublin, those from
North Africa and Muslim areas live less in concentration.

I find this ironic, in that those living more within their own
ethnic communities are making greater progress towards integration,
than those who are more dispersed within the majority population.

The discussion with the delegates concluded with consent that the
Northern Ireland Foundation can follow up with them for future events
and activities.

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