When we were tasked with improving the lives of communities that continue to suffer from a legacy of political violence and criminality, we were honest from the outset about why previous strategies had failed to adequately address the problem.
Too often in the past we have been guilty of overestimating the power of government and law enforcement, while at the same time underestimating the role of civic society and culture in improving people’s lives.
The time is long past when paramilitary organisations should have left the stage, leaving communities to grow and prosper where they are not held to ransom by a small number of people who seek to line their own pockets at the expense of the very community they claim to protect.
To address these issues, a total of 40 actions have been identified within the Executive’s Action Plan on Tackling Paramilitary Activity, Criminality and Organised Crime. The Executive Office have asked us in Co-operation Ireland with our partners to support them in delivering one of these actions – providing programmes to transform communities and build their capacity so that they can move beyond the coercive control and malign influence of illegal organisations.
In recent months, representatives from my organisation Co-operation Ireland, have been speaking to the people of Brandywell and Creggan and asking: what sort of future do you want?
Too often strategies have been implemented from the top down, with communities feeling estranged from government-designed solutions to local problems.
To this end, we have sought to change this and the programmes we are developing will enable local people to shape delivery in this area.
We have listened when you have spoken about coercion through debt, drug addiction, poor mental health and the continued recruitment of young people to paramilitary groups, as well as positive ideas for change and personal transition.
We now have a good grasp of the challenge ahead and the change that needs to happen.
But we also want to make clear the listening process has not stopped. This is just the start of working together to deliver the sort of future you want for your community.
Already there are plans for engagement events in your area and I would ask that when you see the opportunity to get involved, come along and tell us what you want to see happen.
If you want to be kept up to date with what’s happening with the programme, please email: email@example.com.
To find out more about the wider Tackling Paramilitarism Programme log on to: www.northernireland.gov.uk/articles/executive-programme- tackling-paramilitary-activity- and-organised- crime-0
The Building Capacity in Communities in Transition is part of The Northern Ireland Executive’s action plan to tackle paramilitarism and organised crime being delivered by Co-operation Ireland in partnership with the Ulster University, Queen’s University and the Institute for Conflict Research.