Peter Sheridan: Disaffection down to disappointing peace dividend in poor areas of Derry and Belfast

Peter Sheridan believes communities in Derry and Belfast affected by some of the unrest around the Irish protocol did not enjoy the economic dividend promised at the time of the Good Friday Agreement.

Friday, 28th May 2021, 5:48 pm

Mr. Sheridan, who is C.E.O. of Co-operation Ireland, made the observation at a briefing of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee this week.

The former Derry policeman was asked whether enough was being done to engage with the disaffected teenagers involved in the recent riots in predominantly unionist areas.

He said improving the economic prospects of people living in both loyalist and republican areas must be a central objective.

Peter Sheridan, centre, with the late Martin McGuinness and senior loyalist Jackie McDonald, during a meeting in the Falls Road Library. Photo; Colm O’Reilly Pacemaker Press.

This was supposed to happen after 1998, he said, but whatever progress was made stalled as a result of the global economic crash of little over a decade ago.

“The best we can do for those areas are jobs and employment,” he remarked. “One of the downsides after the Good Friday Agreement was, when we needed about 6,000 jobs into north and west Belfast and into places like Derry, the economic collapse happened around the world and instead of young people getting those jobs and the peace dividend and opportunities, what happened is their mothers and fathers started to lose their jobs.

“They never got that bounce in those very challenged, difficult communities, so I think we can’t take our eye off that ball. We have to continue to work in those communities.”

Mr. Sheridan suggested adopting the modus operandi of the Patten police reforms which involved officials of the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland going out into communities and listening to concerns.

There has been widespread opposition to the Irish protocol within unionism.

“In policing, as part of the Patten report, one of the things they did well in Patten was what I call parish hall meetings, when they got down into those communities and listened to people vent about the difficulties around policing at that time. I think there is an opportunity to do that now with those communities that feel most acutely that they are not being listened to, whether that’s right or whether that’s a perception, nevertheless it’s what they are saying,” he said.

Mr. Sheridan said this approach would allow people to express concerns in a controlled and organised way rather than on the streets.

Labour MP for Durham Mary Kelly Foy said: “You hit the nail on the head when you look at all these concerns and the disengagement with young people and the fact they might turn to violence and are not happy with their lot. You hit the nail on the head when you said it is about decent jobs.”