A decade of organising with communities in three jurisdictions has honed PPR’s ability to cut through spin to what matters – what is of use to marginalised groups. We’ve learned that finding the truth is not necessarily difficult, but does require a bit of critical thinking, work and willingness to go where the evidence takes you.
Also helpful is an organisational culture which is not aiming to make friends in high places and doesn’t mind upsetting people with power who control funding. We are grateful to be among the NGOs privileged to have access to funding which is completely independent of government.
An unfortunate by-product of the peace process has been an erosion of independent community organising and a reliance, with some notable exceptions, upon state funds to do community social justice work. It’s not impossible to hold government accountable if you are funded by them – there are honourable groups who have demonstrated repeatedly that they are willing and able to take that risk – but it would be a rare community worker who said they didn’t have to think about the money before speaking out or taking action. This power imbalance fosters a culture of Omertá – everyone knows, but no one says.
This is not because MLAs aren’t sitting – it’s because both elected officials and civil servants have nourished a culture of secret deal making
We routinely make use of Tony Blair’s greatest regret – the Freedom of Information Act, not war crimes – to back up homeless families, refugees, mental health service users and a host of other marginalised communities. Information lurks in department records, buried in annual reports, amongst the black ink on redacted pages and in nearly deleted emails. A closer look under the bonnet at Stormont can show that, not only is the battery dead, but some parts are completely rusted. This is not because MLAs aren’t sitting – it’s because both elected officials and civil servants have nourished a culture of secret deal making which obscures the inner workings of government and obstructs the public from participating or holding anyone to account. RHI wasn’t an anomaly.
We’re looking into questions the official researchers don’t seem interested in – like how much profit are local hotel owners making from the refugee crisis? How much is being spent on anti-depressants and other drugs which are supposed to make people feel ‘better’, while government implements policies like welfare reform which make them feel worse? How much decision-making in our communities is done by elected councillors, and how much by unelected officials – for instance around land use and property, both of which have an impact on the housing crisis?
We’re doing this in order to inform the public, journalists, oversight agencies, elected representatives – and most importantly, to inform people whose rights are being denied, to help them develop effective organising strategies, find meaningful allies and isolate the opponents of human rights. To make change happen.