Episode 17 - Conal McFeely

‘Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past! (But we are.)’ Northern Ireland is “a society that is still emerging from conflict”, warns Conal McFeely, chief executive of one of Northern Ireland’s largest and most successful not-for-profit businesses, the Rathmor Centre[i] in Derry. He was interviewed in the latest Forward Together podcast. “We must collectively not allow ourselves to make the same political mistakes - and the failure of governance - that we've done in the past,” Conal says, before adding “but sadly I believe that we are at the moment”.

‘Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past! (But we are.)’
 
Northern Ireland is “a society that is still emerging from conflict”, warns Conal McFeely, chief executive of one of Northern Ireland’s largest and most successful not-for-profit businesses, the Rathmor Centre[i] in Derry.  He was interviewed in the latest Forward Together podcast.  
 
“We must collectively not allow ourselves to make the same political mistakes - and the failure of governance - that we've done in the past,” Conal says, before adding “but sadly I believe that we are at the moment”.
 
Conal continues: “One has to look at the history that gave rise to the conflict here.  It was the impact of partition and the fact that we had a system of governance that clearly denied people equality of opportunity and that in itself gave birth to the civil rights movement.”  The priority remains, he argues, “creating an equal society”.  He goes on: “Clearly if that had been dealt with at the beginning we might not have had the conflict. I see that as a failure of governance.”
 
According to Conal, continuing weak governance is evidenced by the lack of focus on human rights.  He says: “I would argue that we do need a proper system of political governance. And I think that system of governance needs to be rooted within a human rights framework...  I think that all genuine democracies should be rooted within the human rights framework. And I think we need to construct that. To all intents and purposes that is contained within the Good Friday Agreement. I think that the infrastructure is there. The problem is it just hasn't been implemented and delivered.”
 
One of the rights being overlooked relates to economic and social wellbeing, Conal argues.  “We need to address the issues of inequality in terms of economic investment, targeting the most marginalized communities within our societies, working class communities, be they loyalist or republican, nationalist or unionist,” he says.
 
But, Conal adds, there must be a recognition that Northern Ireland is more than unionist and nationalist.  “We now live in a society which is much more diverse than that. I think we need to be in a society where everyone holds the respect of each other, irrespective of their political background, their sexual orientation, their ethnic background.  We now live in a multicultural society. And we need to reflect that in terms of a wider civic society. When people talk about civic society at the moment they tend to talk about nationalism and unionism.”
 
A broader objective needs to be “social transformation,” says Conal.  “I would view social transformation as something that needs to look at the economic, cultural, educational, environmental needs of society.  Those things are all part and parcel of social transformation.”
 
He adds: “If you look at the moment where people feel they've been left behind, it's in those communities that have suffered most as a result of the conflict. It tends to be in working class areas.... That's where the highest levels of poverty exist. That's where the highest levels of economic inactivity take place.... There is a sizeable section of our communities who feel left off the agenda.  [We need] effective dialogue initiatives, where we treat everybody with respect, without demonizing or marginalizing them, and engaging with them.... My view is that you need to have policies where you're creating locally based initiatives, social economy initiatives, co-operatives and so on, where people see they have a chance to be involved.”
 
Conal adds a warning that Brexit is a threat to the peace process.  “Clearly that process at the moment has been stalled because of Brexit. You know that it's not the fault of the people in Ireland. It's not the people in the Northern Ireland who are to blame for that. People have made a decision in Britain that they want to leave the European Union. That has serious consequences for our peace process.”
 
Holywell Trust receives support for the Forward Together Podcast through the Media Grant Scheme and Core Funding Programme of Community Relations Council and Good Relations Core Funding Programme of Derry City and Strabane District Council.
 

[i] The Rathmor Centre is a community business providing retail, office and commercial units, based in the Creggan area of Derry. About 300 people work in the complex.
This podcast is funded through the Community Relations Council for Northern Ireland's Media Award Fund and the Reconciliation Fund of the Department for Foreign Affairs. Holywell Trust receives core support from Community Relations Council for Northern Ireland. CRC Disclaimer - This project has received support from the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council which aims to promote a pluralist society characterised by equity, respect for diversity, and recognition of interdependence. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Community Relations Council. (c) Holywell Trust 2019