One of the things politicians often say to justify a position is that “the community wants [or does not want] it”. This is perhaps particularly so in Northern Ireland.
However, there is a problem with this. “The community” isn’t always right.
I could come up with no end of historical examples of where “communities” were wrong – often brutally and appallingly. However, let us just give three areas where “communities” are often fearful of change, even where that change is clearly for the long-term good, and are therefore “wrong”.
Firstly, in Health. Try to reform the system by re-allocating resources and facilities, and you will immediately find a “grass-roots” campaign backed by the “local community” to keep things as they are. It will be backed by politicians and presented as “saving” whatever the local resource or facility is. However, such campaigns are almost invariably flawed – causing vast amounts of money to be allocated to buildings which cannot possibly all host all the necessary health expertise. Rationalisation is necessary and wise – yet “the community” does not want to be necessary or wise… the community is wrong.
Second, in Education. Try introducing a new educational facility into an inner-city area, and you will find often find it rejected – even to the extent that children in existing facilities are taken out of their education to protest about a facility which would not be built anyway by the time they had left school. Again, this will be presented as “protecting” local schools – when in fact those schools suffer declining rolls, are increasingly dilapidated, and sometimes cannot even produce adequate numbers for sports lessons or such like. New, merged schools with the most up-to-date facilities (not least in IT) – particularly those which integrated people from different backgrounds to get them prepared in early life for the diverse society in which they will have to live – are hugely sensible. Even more than this, tackling educational underachievement through such facilities is vital to ending the intergenerational poverty trap – yet “the community” (backed by politicians who claim to care about it) apparently does not want to tackle the intergenerational poverty trap (far less prepared for the reality of a diverse society)… the community is wrong.
Thirdly, in Regeneration. Try introducing a new social development which brings people together, provides an economic hub, and promised to revitalise the local area by providing a place in which people would consider investing, and watch the sectarian fear take over. It is, after all, much easier for an inward-looking “community” to pretend that there is some bogey man out there trying to deprive it of opportunities, than to reform and regeneration into an outward-looking “community” in which opportunities would arise. The “community” thus looks inward and rejects progress, backed by local politicians – ensuring its own decline as the rest of the world moves on… the community is wrong.
For all the discussion about welfare and such like, this is the real reason the NI Assembly has been doomed to collapse from the outset. It is populated by politicians who believe only in protecting their (short-term) “community” interests, not by those who think and feel for society as a whole. That is what has to change.