Albert Allen, Programmes Director for Tyrone – Derry and Donegal Action (TDDA) based in Raphoe, says the Fund support is helping to break decades of self-imposed silence and build an understanding of border Protestant experiences among the majority Catholic community.
“When we designed this programme we were conscious that there was a certain amount of ‘silent sectarianism’ in the county. Evidenced not by direct discrimination, but rather that the majority community can sometimes seem oblivious to the needs of the minority. This, together with pressures felt by Protestants in Donegal during upsurges of violence in the North has led to a certain amount of “keeping their heads down”.
“However Protestants in Donegal have in the main, good working relationships with their Catholic neighbours while just across the border in areas of Tyrone and Londonderry/Derry where community tensions during the Troubles were very high, there is still evident community polarisation.”
“Yet, perhaps because of this community polarisation and the awareness that there is still a major gap to bridge, there appears to be a greater willingness among Protestants in Northern Ireland to get involved in the Peace Process.”
Angela Graham of Drum Development Association agrees. “This is the first time we would have dealt with peace issues,” she says, “It is challenging working with Protestant groups because they are so diverse. It is difficult to reach consensus on issues.”
Her project in Drum village, Co Monaghan is reputed to be the only wholly Protestant village in the Republic. It used IFI support initially to promote activities and events. It provided equipment and some musical instruments for two local marching bands, Drum Accordion Band and Mullaghboy Accordion Band from neighbouring Co Cavan and to Drum Village Development Association.
She says, “Previously we had little opportunity to interact with the Catholic community. Not everyone wants to get involved even yet, but there have been successes such as a picnic run in the village which had 1,000-1,500 people, including IFI board members.”
The first event of the project, organised by Mullaghboy Accordion Band, was a well attended cross- community barbecue. This event took place in September 2014 and the special guest for the evening was the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys.
For Alan Madill, Deputy Master of Cullies 14C LOL, resistance to cross-community interactions can be traced to misunderstandings of the Orange movement and Protestant culture. Through the County Leitrim Orange Order Peace Impact Project, he has led a number of initiatives aimed at debunking the myths and identifying common ground.
He says: “The idea was sparked because we knew that many people had a poor impression of the Orange Order given the controversy that sometimes surrounds the organisation in places like Belfast. We all get tarred with the same brush.
“We wanted to make ourselves more widely known in the community. We are a minority within a minority, having only 30 Orangemen in the county and two Orange Halls.
“We also produced a leaflet outlining what the Orange Order stands for and held a number of events in our Orange Hall. We wanted to show people who would never have darkened our doors that there is nothing offensive in the hall.