The toll of austerity on the hardest hit Catholic and Protestant communities across Northern Ireland is destabilising the peace process, a coalition of civic society groups has claimed.
Patricia McKeown, Co-convenor of the Equality Coalition said: “The current political crisis does not need to happen.
“Many opportunities to improve the social, economic, political and cultural outlook for the people of Northern Ireland have been missed over the past years.
“As a consequence, the hardest hit Catholic and Protestant communities are experiencing deeper division instead of improvement to their daily lives and their children’s future.
“The additional burden of austerity is destabilising the Peace Process. It is not too late to change this.”
Ms McKeown was speaking during a conference in Belfast to discuss the likely impact of austerity policies.
It was also attended by Virgínia Brás Gomes, a member of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Adam Ostry, head of the OECD’s mission to Northern Ireland, and researchers Professor Christine Bell and Dr Robbie McVeigh.
Ms Keown said: “Participants in this conference are dedicated to finding solutions. What is missing is genuine co-operation between the political process and the People. Following this Conference we hope that the views expressed by people dedicated to peace, equality and human rights will find a proper place in the current talks process.”
The potential for economic deprivation to fuel violent paramilitarism has been flagged in the past.
According to emails published by Wikileaks, analysts at US intelligence firm Stratfor believed the economic downturn in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland could be used by the Real IRA and other dissident groups as a recruiting sergeant.
“Around 32 percent of the Northern Ireland workforce is employed in the public sector and depends on 16 billion pounds (25.6 billion dollars) worth of transfer payments from London each year.
“This dependency on London is the result, in part, of the United Kingdom’s attempt to pump enough cash into the province, and provide enough jobs, to mitigate sectarian tensions.
“These looming budget cuts could therefore have a direct impact on the Northern Ireland’s jobless rate, driving up discontent and anger towards London.
“Those kinds of sentiments are exactly what the RIRA can prey upon, might want to add ‘for recruitment purposes,’” one Stratfor observer explained.
Another put it more bluntly stating: “If you want to talk grievances here, you may want to bring up the fact that Ireland is absolutely F****D when it comes to econ [sic].