by Andy Pollak
Centre for Cross Border Studies, Armagh
Co-operation and exchanges across the Irish border between schools, teachers and youth groups have seen an extraordinary growth in the past decade. Nearly 20% of all schools on the island of Ireland were estimated to be involved in some kind of cross-border contact in 2000. Major programmes such as the European Studies Project, Dissolving Boundaries and Civic-Link have been sustained over periods ranging from 6-18 years with the participation of hundreds of schools and youth groups. By far the best-resourced and most successful is Wider Horizons, a programme involving work experience abroad for mixed groups of young people (Northern Protestant, Northern Catholic and Southern), which has received £67 million from the International Fund for Ireland since 1987 with a throughput of 14,000 young people. Evaluations have spoken highly of the learning, both pedagogical and in terms of greater mutual understanding, developed by a range of North/South programmes and projects.
However, medium-term sustainability is still a key issue, given most initiatives’ dependence on non-exchequer funding (over 85% of funding comes from non-British or Irish government sources). Evaluations of Wider Horizons and other successful programmes stress that these are long-term initiatives, requiring secure funding and great patience and effort, since they must contribute to the difficult double task of cross-community reconciliation in Northern Ireland and cross-border reconciliation in Ireland. Similar programmes to bring together young people in France and Germany after the Second World War took a generation to have any discernible impact.
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