Getting ready for the 2015 General Election

James Law

Professor James Law & Mr Tom King

James Law is Professor of Speech & Language Sciences, and Tom King is Statistician, both based in the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences. This blog article highlights how Save the Children commissioned James and Tom to do some analyses of the Millennium Cohort Study. The paper they produced now features extensively in a new report published earlier this month, entitled: Read On. Get On: How Reading Can Help Children Escape Poverty (PDF: 1.46MB), which has been extensively reported in UK media stories.

In the run up to the General Election lobby groups press hard to have their interests represented in the party manifestoes. With the 2015 General Election looming now is the time to line up the arguments and write the documents that will inform this process.

Save the Children, together with a number of different charities, are writing a document entitled “Reading for a Fairer Future: A National Mission to Ensure All Children are Reading Well by 11 by 2025: delivering the Read On. Get On. campaign”. This draws together data from a variety of sources to make the case that parties need to be focusing on the attainment (and specifically oral language and literacy) of very young children in the early years if they are to get a grip on key policy issues flagged up by the UK’s performance in the Programme for International Assessment (PISA) and other international league tables. Reading attainment amongst 10 year olds is more unequal in England than in all other countries in Europe, with the single exception of Romania. In part this an issue about the achievement of all children but Save the Children were particularly interested in the differences between children who are relatively socially advantaged and those that are not. As part of this process Save the Children commissioned Professor James Law together with SLS statistician Tom King to carry out some analyses of the UK’s Millennium Cohort Study of 18,000 children born in 2000 and assessed at regular intervals since then.

What happens beyond the school gates and in homes is critical.  Our work for this report shows that reading to and with children matters for both mothers and fathers, but the impact of father’s reading – particularly to children after they have started school – appears even greater.  Children whose fathers read with them less than once a week at the age of five had, by the time they were seven, a reading level half a year behind those who had been read to daily.

There is also a wide ‘book gap’ in England: almost a quarter of 11 year olds in the poorest families had fewer than 10 books in the home, which contrasts with under 4 per cent of those in the richest families. This is likely to reflect a wider attitude and approach to reading in the home: children in homes with more than 500 books are on average more than two years ahead of those growing up in households with fewer than ten books.

The ‘Read On. Get On’ report concludes “Achieving this goal would mean that every single child born this year would be able to read well by the time they finish primary school in 11 years’ time.  In order to ensure we are making progress, we are also setting two interim goals.  Because the early years of a child’s life are so critical and because early language development is the building block on which later reading develops, we are setting the 2020 goal of: all children achieving good early language development by the age of five by 2020.  And because we need to ensure that we are on track for achieving the ultimate 2025 goal, our second interim goal will be: to be at least halfway to achieving the 2025 goal for 11-year olds by 2020” (page vii). Ambitious goals indeed, but we will only know whether they have been met if we have access to good quality national data. The next step will be the manifestoes and the response from the different political parties.

Please note:
The paper based on Newcastle University’s research is cited on pages vii,6,33-35,40, 42-43 and the whole of Chapter 2 of the Read On. Get On. Report (PDF: 1.46MB). See also Newcastle University’s press release.

The Read On. Get On. report  and/or the Newcastle University research is referred to in media stories in: The Guardian, The Independent, The Telegraph, The Sun, The Times Online, ITV, to name just a few.

For more information about the Read On. Get On. campaign, see their website.

Pints, Pubs, Policing and Paedophilia: Reflections on a Good Night Out with the Skeptics

Elaine Campbell

Professor Elaine Campbell

Elaine Campbell is Professor of Criminology at Newcastle University in the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology. Elaine’s current theoretical interests centre on the post-political landscapes of plural policing. Plural policing denotes the mixed economy of contemporary policing, where responsibilities for crime control and the management of risk is dispersed across the private sector, the voluntary sector, the cybersecurity industries, and local communities. In this blog post, Elaine reflects on her night out with the Newcastle Skeptics in the Pub, over the course of which she explored alternative ways of policing paedophilia, and argued for an approach which she describes as `policing without boundaries’. 

Skeptics in the Pub1

Ever fancied disseminating your research over a pint? I did just this at The Bridge, Castle Square, Newcastle Upon Tyne, in August 2014. Invited by the Newcastle Skeptics in the Pub to give a talk on my current research, Policing Without Boundaries, I was delighted to accept, and have been well-rewarded by an invigorating evening with an engaged, critical and attentive audience of Skeptics eager to learn more about my work. To create some context for the research focus, I started out by giving an overview of the shadowy world of paedophilia, and unpacked the secular demonology which has grown around this particular form of criminality. I went on to present a range of empirical data to illustrate how far paedophilia remains largely impervious to contemporary policing approaches which seek to map, control, manage and reduce (if not eliminate) its risks.

1/4 inch graph paper by David Swart: licensed under CC BY 2.0

I used a sheet of A3 graph paper as a prop to think about our reliance on a policing approach which centres on the surveillance, detection and investigation of paedophilia through, for example, the use of sex offender registers, CRB checks, chat room infiltrations, CEOP intelligence reports, computer forensics, and transnational, multi-sectoral policing partnerships. For me, this is a rather superficial way of going about things, and is a little like policing the two-dimensional space of graph paper. Put another way, it’s a policing strategy which imagines its operational topography as a flat surface upon which the incidence of paedophilia can be plotted, its impact measured, and its precise locations identified. Furthermore, it uses these co-ordinates to predict the movement and distances between different `paedophiliac events’, and mark out the boundaries for its containment. It’s a strategy which supposes that, with sufficient resources, time and technological know-how, paedophilia can be known, mapped, monitored, controlled and (eventually) expelled from the family home, the care setting, the community, the computer hard-drive, the chat room, and the network. Policing within boundaries is fine as far as it goes, and it should not be dismissed as unimportant, but perhaps there are alternative, more effective and complementary ways of tackling the issue.

Crumpled paper by Sherrie Thai: licensed under CC BY 4.0

This was the point at which I scrunched the A3 paper into a crumpled ball, and invited the Skeptics to look again at the policing terrain. In place of the Euclidian geometry of the A3 graph paper (and the policing within boundaries that it represents), we were now looking at the multiple landscapes of paedophilia. There are no fixed points here, or intersecting lines; marks on a graph which were separated are now brought together in close proximity; not everything is visible in this irregular and undulating terrain; there is no inside or outside, centre or margin. In short, where there is no objective form, it is impossible to map and measure content.  This pretty much describes the clandestine world of paedophiliac offending. In common with human trafficking, drugs and arms smuggling, terrorism, and the illegal trades in human organs and endangered animals, paedophilia dissolves our sense of what is close by and what is far away. The crumpled paper demonstrates quite vividly that real-time encounters (in the home, in the youth club, at school) are co-extensive with distant connections (paedophiliac tourism, international paedophile rings, the circulation of child sexual abuse imagery, child sex trafficking). So, rather than rely on arrest data, online subscriptions, credit card usage, and sex offender registers, as indicators of the locations and extensive reach of paedophilia, our attention should turn to its emergence in and through intensive social relationships – entanglements and interactions which not only blur the distinction between here and there, but also collapse the imagined binaries of safety and danger, adult and child, the virtual and the real, the local and the global. I describe such an approach as policing without boundaries.

Rubber band ball 4
Rubber band ball  by Chris Young:  licensed under CC BY 2.0

It was then time for some tricks with rubber bands. I stretched two rubber bands as far as they would go, twisted them through each other, knotted them together, and then pulled them apart with a bit of a guitar twang. The key question here is not about the different shapes and patterns which these contortions produced, but how the elements (the hydrocarbons) of the rubber bands hold together when recombined in novel and inventive ways. A real-world example might help to make the point. The role-playing, online game, Second Life, hit the headlines when adult players were found to be engaging in simulated sex with child avatars. The elements of paedophiliac practice remain in place here – intentionality, soliciting, grooming, performed abuse, sexual gratification and exploitation – but have been virtually reassembled without any `real’ victims and `actual’ consequences. Like the rubber bands, there’s a durability about `the doing’ of paedophilia which is continually in the process of transformation and realignment – in this instance reinventing itself as a `victimless non-crime’.

But what does all this mean in terms of policing strategy? These are abstract ideas which need to be developed further before anything resembling a policy framework is on the cards. This is the challenge and the task for my research over the next year or so. A first step is to strengthen the theoretical credentials of policing without boundaries. The Skeptics certainly recognised in my talk, the familiar vocabulary and insights of assemblage, actor-network and topological theories. These frameworks enable us to focus on the intensive social and cultural entanglements of paedophilia `in the making’. How does the `doing’ of paedophilia bring spaces, bodies and things (such as homes, children, screens) together in ways which dissolve, shift, bypass and ultimately render irrelevant the boundaries within which policing currently tracks and apprehends offenders? Where should we be looking for paedophiliac offending, and what and who should we be looking at? This calls for an openness to the dynamics and contingencies of paedophiliac opportunities, a healthy skepticism of what we think we know about its whereabouts and prevalence, and an incredulity of pronouncements that paedophilia is being effectively managed and controlled. A good starting point is to acknowledge at outset that paedophilia creates the spaces of its own being. It draws its own maps.

I am extremely grateful to the Skeptics for affording me the time and space to work through and explore these issues in such a constructive and friendly environment. Their insightful contributions will certainly help me to refine my thinking, and take account of the different concerns which are threaded through contemporary anxieties about paedophiliac criminality. I have had very good feedback from the Skeptics, who commented that `the response has been overwhelmingly positive; I’m glad you enjoyed your time at the group too! One of the strongest areas is the Q+A/feedback section, so it’s great to hear how this will impact your research’. If you want to give your research a good airing, perhaps to test the water and see if your research ideas `have legs’; or perhaps to present work which is already well-established, then just get in touch with the Newcastle Skeptics in the Pub.  Please visit their site for contact information, and to see full details of their activities, venues and programmes.

The theoretical strands of the research are being presented to an interdisciplinary audience in a sub-plenary at the ESRC-funded, CRESC Annual Conference, Power, Culture and Social Framing, University of Manchester, 3-5 September 2014; and at the Decentring Security: Policing at Home and Abroad workshop, organised and hosted by the Center for British Studies at the University of California, Berkeley in December 2014.

Poverty Research and Social Policy Practice

JVW image

Professor John Veit-Wilson FAcSS

John Veit-Wilson is a guest member of staff in the School of Geography. Politics and Sociology. He has been affiliated to Newcastle University since 1992, where he has previously held positions as Principal Research Associate and Visiting Professor in the former Department of Social Policy. Since working on the first British national survey of poverty in 1964 his research focus has been on what poverty and income adequacy mean, how they can be measured, and what governments in the UK and elsewhere could do to combat poverty.

In this blog, John outlines how his research has informed policy and practice, culminating in his being awarded a Social Policy Association Special Recognition Award in July 2014. As well as helping to found the Child Poverty Action Group in 1965 to put poverty research into policy practice, finally retiring as a trustee and vice-chair only in December 2013, John has been an adviser on income adequacy issues to many organisations including the European Anti-Poverty Network and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF). He has also given both written and oral evidence to Parliamentary Select Committees and government consultations.

‘No one agrees on what poverty means’. That’s often said, but is it true? It’s been a government mantra for decades, and no UK government has ever implemented an adequate income level to meet population standards of minimum decency. The only official attempt to find out was suppressed and has never been repeated (see the chapter ‘The National Assistance Board and the ‘Rediscovery’ of Poverty’ for the story), probably because governments fear the political costs of using ordinary people’s standards of minimum decency for everyone.

Once you get behind the disagreements about what statistical measures to use, what relativity means, whether poverty is a personal or a structural fault, both quantitative and qualitative research shows that the UK population has long given clear answers about the minimum levels of living which everyone here ought to be able to afford from their disposable household incomes. That minimum decency level of living for social inclusion, often called ‘adequacy’, sets the baseline. Poverty means lacking the public and personal resources, chiefly cash, to get there. The chief focus of the research has long been to get the idea of ‘adequacy’ for minimum incomes accepted in place of the variety of artificial measures such as percentages of income inequalities or prescriptive budgets.

This isn’t just a matter of discovering the ‘contents of the shopping basket’ as it’s often misleadingly described, but of recognising whose minimum standards of decency, adequacy and inclusion are being used to judge it. Even the World Bank’s guide to poverty concepts and methods acknowledged that it was ‘the standards of society’ by which the minimum level of material well-being had to be judged (Ravallion 1992: 4). The pioneer of modern sociological poverty research, Peter Townsend (1993: 36), explained that relative deprivation was not being able to ‘follow the customary behaviour’ expected of members of society, and poverty was lacking or being denied resources to do so. But who judges what’s adequate for you and me, or what resources we need to get there? Only society can do that, so no wonder people are confused when politicians and media focus only on the personal characteristics of people in poverty (which are often shared right across society) rather than on the wider reasons why some people are deprived of adequate resources in our unequal society. The task of social policy research is to explore, analyse and explain these sociological and political issues (for more information, see the text of the ‘Poverty’ entry from the 2006 Routledge International Encyclopaedia of Social Policy).

The question of whose standards to use goes back more than a century. Nineteenth century investigators simply identified people in poverty by middle-class judgements of their appearance and lifestyles, as politicians still do, but that does not explain why they are poor. The chemist Seebohm Rowntree’s research in York instead used a basic nutritional standard for physical subsistence alone and showed that a third of people looking poor had incomes simply too low to exist on, chiefly because of low wages, unemployment, disability or old age (see the ‘Paradigms of Poverty’ article for more information). The basic causes of poverty have not substantially changed today.

In spite of government resistance, some politicians do care about the connections between ideas of poverty and how to count who suffers from it, and what the income maintenance system could do. In 1989 the House of Commons Social Services Select Committee invited me to give evidence (based on the article ‘Consensual Approaches to Poverty Lines and Social Security’), and in 1991 to advise on income adequacy in a joint meeting with the Social Security Advisory Committee. They wanted a UK feasibility study but as this was politically unacceptable JRF, the Nuffield Foundation and the British Council funded the study, Setting Adequacy Standards, of how governments around the world define their minimum incomes, 1992-94. At that time, ten governments based their minimum wages or other income maintenance provisions on their idea of a minimum acceptable level of living and the incomes needed to achieve it, and treated incomes below this level as forms of poverty. The findings may be dated but the theoretical foundations and discussion are still valid.

To describe these findings, the simple descriptive phrase ‘minimum income standard’ (MIS) was augmented with the prefix ‘governmental’ or with capitals to mean a third and politically-credible kind of measure (Veit-Wilson 1994) from those still conventionally used and much confused — the wide variety of arbitrary definitions and normative measures of poverty used in academia, some of which were called poverty lines, and the governmental use of statistical indicators of income distribution or of arbitrary social security benefit rates which aren’t based on any evidence of the resources people need to meet minimally adequate levels of living in the UK. The idea of MIS, whether or not with prefix or capitals, has become very widely used both in research (e.g. JRF’s largest ever funded research programme, the ongoing MIS project from 2006 which I advise) and in practical policy (e.g. as the basis of the Living Wage), not only in the UK but other countries (e.g. see the article on ‘Active Inclusion and Minimum Incomes’, and the response to the ‘European Minimum Income’s Network (EMIN) draft EU road map’).

Using a variety of research methods to find out what are the public’s minimum level of living standards and their costs does not, however, directly help a government to know at what levels to set the different parts of the income maintenance system, particularly if other kinds of evidence may also be relevant. If someone works a full week on the minimum wage shouldn’t that be adequate to keep a normal household out of poverty without supplementation? But if social security for unemployment is less than this for ‘incentive’ reasons, won’t it be inadequate for decency? What about the relationship with social security levels for long term conditions such as illness and disabilities, or old age? Questions like these demand considered judgement based on comparing evidence from research, not mere statistical formulas. When in 2000 the Social Security Select Committee reviewed the idea of integrated child benefit as a means of combating family poverty, it invited me to give written and oral evidence, and accepted that the government itself should fund such research and convene “an ongoing working party involving policy makers, academics and other interested parties to assist it to devise publicly acceptable measures of the levels of living needed to avoid poverty”. The Child Poverty Act 2010 provided for a Child Poverty Commission which might fill this role but has not yet done so.

The big question remains, does having enough money make a difference to reaching decency levels, or is poverty just down to personal characteristics? JRF is funding the Money Matters research programme I’d proposed and advise, and first reports show that having money is crucial for families and the pathways by which money influences health. The next stage of the research programme aims to focus on health inequalities to find out how much money makes the crucial difference.

Ravallion, R. (1992) Poverty comparison: A guide to concepts and methods, Washington, DC: The World Bank.
Townsend, P. (1993) The International Analysis of Poverty, London: Harvester Wheatsheaf.
Veit-Wilson, J. (1994) Dignity not Poverty. A Minimum Income Standard for the UK. IPPR for the Commission on Social Justice.

John’s publications mentioned above and other papers are available online.

Does the Cost of Elections Matter For Election Quality?

Alistair Clark

Dr Alistair Clark

Alistair Clark is Senior Lecturer in Politics in the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology. His research interests revolve around electoral integrity and administration, political parties and party organisation. His current research explores various aspects of electoral integrity and election costs. In this blog post, Alistair explores a key issue of interest to both policymakers and scholars of electoral integrity: whether or not higher spending on election administration actually improves the quality of elections. 

Running elections in advanced democracies is an expensive business. Yet, in many countries, the cost of politics is under pressure. This pressure extends to the ‘backroom’ costs of administering elections. To do so in a fair, equitable and transparent manner nevertheless necessitates a range of spending, without which the potential integrity of the electoral process is put at risk. Little however is known about the effects of such spending on election quality. My recently published chapter ‘Investing in Electoral Management’ (in P. Norris et al (eds.) 2014 Advancing Electoral Integrity, Oxford University Press) addresses this issue in an attempt not only to begin a debate around election costs, but to begin to provide evidence to policymakers about the effectiveness of spending on election administration.

Far from being a centralised process, running elections is hugely complex and something that must, by definition, happen close to the voter. Polling stations need to be identified and set up, poll workers employed and trained, and enough ballot papers printed. Votes then need to be kept secret and secure, counted, collated and the results published. However, electoral law is often fragmentary, with different laws made in different jurisdictions. Small problems can easily become larger ones; witness, for example, the election night queues in some English cities in the 2010 general election.

One explanation often given for difficulties in electoral administration is the lack of resources available to pay for a range of electoral facilities. These can range from the highly complex – electronic voting and counting machines for instance – to the seemingly more mundane – making sure enough part-time workers are recruited and trained to man the polls and count the votes. For example, although the Help America Vote Act 2002 mandated and provided funding to update US electoral administration in the aftermath of the Bush-Gore fiasco, it is commonly noted that the subsequent Election Assistance Commission it set up had difficulties in executing its functions because of a lack of finance. Similarly, in Britain, under-resourcing is often cited as a factor in explaining why difficulties occur.

The corollary of this argument is to suggest that if electoral administrators were better funded, there would be fewer problems and better run elections. This is an important argument, going to the heart of what must be the central aim of electoral administration: that everyone who is eligible can cast a vote, and that their vote will be counted in the same way as everyone else’s. The argument is that proper resourcing helps deliver this. Under-resourcing puts it at risk. Running elections is seldom the first priority for public administrations. With current austerity policies pressuring public service budgets, running elections is likely to assume an even lower level of priority.

What is the evidence that higher levels of spending delivers better quality elections? This has remained largely unexamined because consistent data on both the performance of electoral administration and on the funding of electoral services is extremely difficult to find. This is for a variety of reasons. Public bodies are seldom mandated to monitor performance in this field, even if outside election observers often do, while accounting consistently for spending on elections across a range of local public bodies which implement the elections is extremely difficult.

Fortunately, performance and spending data collected by the UK Electoral Commission provides some insight into whether spending on election services delivers better quality elections. In ‘Investing in Electoral Management’ an index of electoral integrity created from returning officers performance standards in the 2009 European elections in Britain was brought together with data on spending on both electoral registration and on the practical aspects of running elections in 2008-09, immediately prior to the European elections, from almost all returning officers across Britain. This allowed a number of ideas to be tested. These are that:

  1. Electoral management performance improves with more spending on electoral administration.
  2. Electoral management performance improves with more spending on electoral registration activities.
  3. Electoral management performance improves with more spending on the practical aspects of election administration.

Figure 1: Relationship between total EA spending and performance index

Figure 1: Relationship between total EA spending and performance index

The findings can be stated relatively simply. Correlating overall spending, spending on registration activities, and spending on election practicalities individually with the index of electoral integrity demonstrates that there is a positive relationship between each of these aspects of election spending and increased election quality. The effects are not especially strong, but they are all statistically significant. Figure 1 provides a graphical demonstration of this relationship, taking all aspects of electoral administrative spending together. In short, the more spent, the higher the local authority running the elections performed.

A more complex analysis which attempted to control for additional issues – the type of the council administration, the region the Returning Officer operated in, and some socio-economic and demographic factors – broadly confirmed these findings. Even taking these additional factors into account, greater levels of overall spending (registration and practicalities combined) led to a gradual increase in levels of electoral integrity. In other words, spending on elections did lead to positive, gradual increases in levels of electoral integrity. In two of the models tested, these relationships were statistically significant. Curiously, however, when both spending on the practical aspects of elections and also on registration activities were disaggregated, it is spending on registration activities that appeared to have more of an impact upon electoral integrity in 2009. This was statistically significant across all three models tested.

These are important, albeit tentative, findings. They are tentative because they need to be confirmed with additional data, and under different circumstances – a national general election for instance. They are nevertheless important as they begin to put some hard evidence behind often made assertions that more spending on election administration would improve election quality. While such improvements may only be incremental, as this research suggests, the simple message is that, even in an era of austerity, elections need to be properly funded to ensure that electors’ voices are heard through the ballot box.

The full reference to the research discussed in this blog post is:

Clark, A. (2014) ‘Investing in Electoral Management’ in P. Norris, R. Frank & F. Martinez I Coma (eds.) Advancing Electoral Integrity, New York: Oxford University Press, pp165-188.

Stories of Migration Old and New

Professor Karen Corrigan

Professor Karen Corrigan

Karen Corrigan is Professor of Linguistics & English Language in the School of English Literature, Language & Linguistics. She is currently engaged in an 18-month project, Múin Béarla do na Leanbháin” ‘Teach the Children English’: Migration as a Prism for Viewing Ethnolinguistic Vitality in Northern Ireland, looking at historical and contemporary migration to and from Northern Ireland within theConnected Communities theme led by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The project is a partnership between Newcastle University, The Mellon Centre for Migration Studies and Gael Linn.
This blog post focuses on a recent public lecture delivered as part of Community Relations Week in Omagh, Northern Ireland. The lecture was the first of many events where Karen will engage with community members, educational providers and students, the heritage sector and the general public, ensuring that her research will have an impact beyond academic life.

On 16 June 2014, Karen Corrigan and Dr Philip McDermott (University of Ulster) participated in Community Relations Week in Omagh, Northern Ireland, giving a public lecture entitled Stories of Migration Old and New: Linguistic Identities in Northern Ireland and Beyond.

The talk was very well received by an enthusiastic audience who took the opportunity of the Q&A, at the end of the lecture, to explore notions of identity and diversity with the speakers and chair, Dr Johanne Devlin-Trew (University of Ulster and the Mellon Centre for Migration Studies). Feedback on the event at Omagh Public Library was gathered by Deirdre Nugent (Heritage Services Manager at Libraries, NI) and included the comment from one attendee that the talk “made me think about language diversity in our own community more” which demonstrated that the lecture not only achieved its main goal, but made an important contribution to the theme for Community Relations Week which was Building A United Community, matching the declared government strategy for social cohesion.

(L-R) Johanne Devlin-Trew, Philip McDermott and Karen Corrigan

(L-R) Johanne Devlin-Trew, Philip McDermott and Karen Corrigan

One goal of their lecture was to discuss how migration has shaped the linguistic and cultural landscape of Northern Ireland, from Old Norse place names like Strangford to day-to-day vocabulary like scallion ‘spring onion’, which has Anglo-Norman roots, and words like geg ‘trick’, which is Scots. There are also many words that ultimately derive from the Celts who first settled the region in c.450BC, many of which are so established in Standard English that their roots as Irish Gaelic in origin is not widely known – like bog, galore, slogan and Tory. There are other words used in common parlance which, by contrast, remain stereotypically thought of as originating in Ireland such as brogue and craic. A second goal was to examine the cultural and linguistic contributions which migrants from Northern Ireland have made as a result of settling in large numbers abroad (particularly in the nineteenth century but even earlier too). Finally, the lecture explored the linguistic impact of contemporary migration to Northern Ireland as a result of the Peace Process of the 1990’s, examining materials from parents, children and educators collected during Philip’s doctoral dissertation and Karen’s new AHRC-funded project.

Karen opened the talk with an exchange between two characters in a new play called Quietly written by Owen McCafferty. The setting is a Belfast pub now owned by Robert, a Polish immigrant. The play focuses on truth and reconciliation between the two main characters – Ian (a Protestant) and Jimmy (a Roman Catholic) who is the son of a man who Ian blew up in Robert’s pub back in 1974. This was at a time when the only ethnic differences that mattered were between Protestants and Catholics. The play focuses on Jimmy’s coming to terms with the past so he can begin adjusting to the present in which new cultural, linguistic and ethnic differences – like those epitomised in Robert’s character – influence Northern Irish society.

Philip closed the talk with a famous quote from a 1998 book by Claire Kramsch entitled Language and Culture in which she argues that language has its own cultural value and that: “Speakers identify themselves and others through their use of language; they view their language as a symbol of social identity” (Kramsch, 1998: 3).

For more information, visit the “Múin Béarla do na Leanbháin” ‘Teach the Children English’ project website. Much of the previous linguistic research in Northern Ireland has looked at language within the context of the religious divide; this project turns to newer migrant populations who have come to the region in greater numbers than before in the wake of the 2004 expansion of the European Union.

The public lecture is an annual event organised by the Community Relations Council to celebrate the ethnic and cultural diversity of the region. In addition to the public lecture featured here, there were a wide variety of Community Relation Week events, including sports, exhibitions, musical and theatrical performances, workshops, and films. These events were hosted all across Northern Ireland, organised by volunteers, community groups, District Councils, libraries, and schools.