Role: Policy Director
Company: Community Relations Council
What does your role involve?
I have been the Policy Director for the Community Relations Council (CRC) for over 10 years, ably assisted by team members Gemma, Bebhinn and Grace. During this time I have seen major changes in the nature of community relation work and the role of the CRC.
I believe that devolved Government is a major achievement in itself and within this context CRC’s Policy Programme advocates an Executive policy that is properly and robustly shaped with the necessary vision, energy, actions and resources to move us from a post settlement to post conflict society.
As policy director I work with the voluntary and community groups engaged in community relations work towards building a shared society. The work on the ground helps produce models of best local and international practice which can be replicated in other areas. This is already having a positive impact on policy areas such as shared housing, interfaces and intervention for children and young people.
This also requires having broad partnerships with other relevant sectors such as the trade union movement, churches, politicians, academia and the private sector to promote community relations practice and policy.
Central to my role is fostering debate about community relations and providing advice to key stakeholders. This includes organising public events, seminars and the annual policy conferences. The theme of this year’s Policy Conference is, No More Them & Us?: The Challenges and Opportunities for Creating a Shared Society.
Did you always want to work in this sector in some capacity?
I was steeped in community relations work from a very early age. My parents, Frank and Rebecca McGlade, were dedicated campaigners on issues of equality, human rights and social justice and two of the founder members of the Civil Right Association. They passed on their negotiating skills and understanding of the importance of anti sectarian practice which I find invaluable in this area of work.
I volunteered in the community for many years before going back to further education at the age of 24. My qualifications and voluntary experience helped me obtain full time paid employment in work that I love and for which I am extremely grateful.
I have worked in the field of community development/relations for over 28 years based in areas such as Divis, Ardoyne, Shankill, Bawnmore (Newtownabbey) and Rathenraw (Antrim), which have suffered dramatically from social exclusion and the conflict. Reconciliation, equality and human rights issues have been an integral part of my life and my work.
What training or previous experience do you have that has helped you in your current role?
My education and experience for my current role comes from a number of different places. Being brought up in the Bone area of north Belfast where I experienced conflict, discrimination and alienation first hand from a variety of different quarters was the best grounding for community relations work I could have had. Working on the ground in areas worst affected by conflict, poverty and inequality and the lessons learned from the inspirational communities that live there was my next best learning experience.
The lessons learned from a variety of people from different political, religious and cultural backgrounds during my working life including Gerry Downes, a working class man of the people inspired by the Persian philosopher Omar Khayyám and who I worked alongside in Divis flats community centre in the 1980’s.
Finally, my academic qualifications are in social work, youth and community work and public policy and administration.
What is your organisation’s role in the local community?
The Community Relations Council cannot deliver peace on its own, but works to support initiatives that create the conditions to rebuild fractured relationships on the ground and make a difference in relation to the peace process.
And how does your role fit in as part of this?
CRC is the regional body for community relations work with an obligation to challenge across the system to promote a shared and better society.
I have engaged with many projects and organisations that have been working on the ground throughout the worst days of the conflict and when community relations work was at its most dangerous.
I have worked with many groups who often had to work in complete secrecy for fear of becoming a victim. These are the unsung heroes that strived to keep relationships alive and community relations on the political agenda.
CRC works to ensure that this type of community action is part of a wider community relations agenda.
What are the biggest rewards of the job? And the biggest challenges?
CRC has kept community relations well and truly on the Executive’s agenda on key issues such as interfaces, shared housing, children and young people, shared education, victims and survivors, economic issues and much more.
As example of this achievement is the development and co-ordination of the Interface Working Group and Interface Community Partnership which is a statutory-voluntary process to tackle the most difficult residual issues in peace building. This includes the regeneration of interface areas and the transformation of interface barriers.
The biggest challenges faced within my role and by CRC include the creation of a sustainable policy for the long term future for community relations work; ensuring the process is open, and transparent and whetting the political appetite to acknowledge and deal with the past so that we can move beyond conflict management and military solutions into conflict transformation.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
‘Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values’ – Dalai Lama
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do the same job?
I think it is important to be proactive in influencing Government policy by identifying and understanding the issues to be addressed; developing solutions in partnership with a wide range of people and organisations with knowledge, influence and commitment to positive change and putting these into effect through actions that bring about changes to addressing the legacy of the past and building a shared and reconciled society.
What do you enjoy doing outside work?
Spending quality family time with my wonderful husband Trevor, my two beautiful daughters Ursula and Caoimhe and my granddaughter, amazing Grace.