The Atlantic Philanthropies in Northern Ireland

By | September 3, 2019


Narrator: Northern Ireland is a society that
has experienced violent conflict for more than 40 years. Recent estimates suggest that
half a million people in Northern Ireland (nearly a third of the population) have been
directly affected by loss of a loved one, physical injury or trauma during The Troubles. The Atlantic Philanthropies has
been grantmaking in Northern Ireland since 1991, and virtually all of its work here can
be traced back to Founding Chairman Chuck Feeney’s desire to help build a sustainable
peace and to reconcile deeply divided communities in his ancestral home. Chuck Feeney: Well I think the terminal event
was certainly the bombing in Enniskillen. It just seemed so gross and struck me that this
is not a good Irish thing, we’re not that kind of people. At that time I felt that the
business of bringing a solution to the problem was as good a business as you could get into. Narrator: In 1995 after most paramilitary
organisations had made initial ceasefire declarations, Atlantic opened an office in Belfast. Atlantic’s
first grants enabled local leaders to explore possibilities for reconciliation. Padraic Quirk: When you look at peace
processes across everywhere in the globe you really need to engage with communities and
individuals that have been part of it, have been part of the struggle, part of the conflict,
and it was engaging those people because we knew they wanted things to change. Narrator: With the signing of the historic
Good Friday Agreement on April 10th, 1998, it seemed that peace might really be possible
for Northern Ireland. However, it was also clear that the task of cementing this peace
would be staggering in scale and complexity. By the mid-1990s, the conflict had
claimed over 3,500 lives and communities remained deeply segregated in every aspect of daily
life. One early area that Atlantic focused on was supporting communities to bring a halt
to paramilitary punishment beatings and help advance nonviolent alternatives for anti-community behaviour. UTV News: It was shortly after 5 o’clock this
morning when a masked gang burst into the house They were armed with the gun and with a
baseball bat and shot the 15 year old boy in both legs. Narrator: Atlantic support enabled NI Alternatives
to develop their restorative justice model, the primary objective of which is to heal
the relationship between the offender, the victim and the wider community. Debbie Waters: In terms of the victim, which
I think is central to this, oftentimes we will involve young people in a mediation process,
a face-to-face discussion with their victim, where they’ll come up with a restorative
plan which will help them make things as right as possible with their victim. Narrator: One vital step towards proper funding
for NI Alternatives was their official Government accreditation, awarded at Stormont in 2007. Debbie Waters: We’re now in meetings with the Minister for Justice, we’re changing government policy and we’re used to consult on policy around young people and adults and restorative practices. Huge difference. Narrator: In addition to peacebuilding and
reconciliation, Atlantic focused its efforts on strengthening third level education, partnering
with the Northern Ireland government on the Support Programme for University Research,
known as SPUR. SPUR supported proposals that improved the competitiveness and capacity
for ground-breaking research at the Queen’s University of Belfast and the University of Ulster. But as Northern Ireland’s Universities were moving forward, secondary and primary level education remained deeply divided.
Typically, schools are almost entirely comprised of students, teachers and staff from one religious
background. Lauri McCusker: People generally operate in
parallel universes, you know, they go to different schools, they socialise in different places,
they go to different places of worship, and they’re paths that don’t generally meet, and if
they do meet they don’t know one another. Peter Robinson: The more we can bring young
people together the better – then I think they’ll understand that, “These guys aren’t
any different from ourselves!” And it’s only when we do get that interaction that we’re
going to get people stopping the thinking that, “They’re different, they live elsewhere,
and they are our enemies.” Narrator: Shared Education was an initiative
which involved schools from different religious communities sharing classes, facilities and
expertise. Atlantic worked closely with a number of organisations including the Fermanagh
Trust to provide grant aid to schools in their area. Lauri McCusker: What Shared Education has
done is its brought schools, school communities together, kids together, educators together,
principals together, and the governance of the schools together and relationships have
built, friendships are entered into, and so people get to know one another and start to
share things, not only during the school day but outside the school day. So it’s transformative. Martin McGuinness: Ultimately it’s good for
peace, it’s good for breaking down barriers it’s good for tackling … sectarianism,
racism and broadening people’s minds. Student: It’s been fun because it’s children
that you would never have met before and they’re from different religions and that so you have
to learn and gain respect for that. Narrator: Atlantic’s work cementing the
peace and breaking down barriers was not confined to schools but sought to engage with children
and their parents at the earliest opportunity. Research showed that young children in Northern
Ireland were developing negative and sectarian attitudes to others. In response, Atlantic
supported the Early Years initiative, “Respecting Differences.” Siobhan Fitzpatrick: We developed a set of
persona puppets representing different cultural traditions and experiences of children in
Northern Ireland. Animated characters: I’m Jim and Jenny is
my friend. I’m Kathleen, I’m a traveller. I’m Kim, the new girl in the street. All of
us are different, that’s what makes us you and me. Siobhan Fitzpatrick: Those personas are very
important for young children in terms of helping them understand their own culture and other
cultures. Animated characters: I think I’m going to
like it here. I’m not worried anymore. Martin O’Brien: It’s vitally important that
the hopes and aspirations and the mechanisms that were included in the peace agreement,
that those actually deliver for marginalised and disadvantaged communities who bore the
brunt of the conflict. Narrator: These marginalised communities were
the focus of The Participation and Practice of Rights Project which was set up by the
late Inez McCormack. It works with local communities developing their skills in tackling the issues
that are important to them. PPR supported campaigns on a wide range of issues in disadvantaged
communities such as the right to adequate housing, the right to work and lobbying to
change mental health services. Nicola Browne: Our methodology has been recognised
by the UN as best practise, so in eight short years Atlantic’s support has enabled us to go from
an idea, to a working reality that is starting to break new ground in terms of what human
rights are understood as, and what they’re understood as being for, which is about making
real change in peoples’ lives. Narrator: Further investments by Atlantic
supported the infrastructure needed to ensure that people in disadvantaged communities received
the opportunities and services required to live healthier and fuller lives. Some of the most effective work
that Atlantic has supported will be enshrined in policy through joint government agreements
on dementia care, one of the major challenges facing society. Brendan Murtagh: I think the interesting thing
about a lot of that early investment was that it was trying to move dementia away from,
“this is a time bomb, this is a problem, this is something really negative.” Of course
it’s challenging, but people with dementia have rights, they have entitlements, they’re
individuals, they’re not there to be patronised, you know, welfare-ised, looked after, and
I think shifting the discourse around some of those things was some of the early wins. Narrator: Atlantic supported the establishment
of Age Sector Platform to give older people a stronger voice on the issues that concern
them most. Eddie Lynch: What Atlantic’s money has enabled
to happen is to support older people to come together, to be better organised, to make
sure their voice is heard more clearly by the decision makers in government. Narrator: The success of earlier campaigns
led to the establishment of The Pensioner’s Parliament in 2011. The Parliament meets to
discuss health and social care issues, community safety, and age discrimination, and debates
policies with government and lawmakers to help define older people’s campaign issues
for the year ahead. Julie Brown: We see a room full of 230 older
people who have a voice, want their voice heard, and are not shy to let their voice
be heard. Narrator: As Atlantic neared the end of its
grantmaking programmes – the focus moved towards building a more lasting impact of
the work of its grantees. This was achieved through partnerships with Government. Peter Robinson: Atlantic Philanthropies have
always looked more at, “What are the outcomes?” And I think that helps focus Government as
well because you are looking at the long term benefits rather than something that is going
to be good just in the short term. Bernadette McAlliskey: Inequality, injustice
and inhumanity make us angry. Atlantic Philanthropies have allowed us to be constructively angry,
to find solutions, and to make sure that nobody has the excuse that they didn’t know it was
happening. Paul Murray: All the work that we do is done
through other organisations and if we have any skill or contribution it’s been around
trying to find those people. And here in Northern Ireland we did find them and we were able
to help them do some really good work here. Peter Robinson: I think Northern Ireland will
be forever grateful to Chuck and all of those on the team who have given us that help and particularly that help at the time when we needed it most.

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