Inishowen Community Radio
by Jim Doherty
Inishowen Community Radio (ICR FM) is a not-for-profit community licensed radio station, operated, owned and controlled by the local community, broadcasting for just over 3 years now. It’s the most northerly community station in Ireland and its primary aims are to foster community identity; promote community development; tackle issues of social exclusion and marginalisation; and promote peace and reconciliation in the region.
The Inishowen peninsula is located in the geographical north of Ireland, bordered by the UK-controlled state of Northern Ireland, but is politically a part of the Republic of Ireland. The region is therefore peripheral to the rest of the Republic and has suffered greatly economically, socially and culturally from the war in Northern Ireland. The area is mainly rural with few large towns and most of the population living in isolated areas. The region has the highest unemployment rate in Ireland and a very poor communications infrastructure (poor roads, no railway, primitive public transport system and antiquated telecommunications system). There is a high rate of early school leavers with little or no qualifications and the demise of traditional industries (agriculture, fishing, textiles, etc) mean a lack of opportunities for many.
The population of 31,000 is majority Roman Catholic (90%) while the remaining 10% is predominantly Protestant. The war in Northern Ireland caused large numbers of people to flee the North and settle in the Republic, including Inishowen. Our proximity to the border inevitably meant that the consequences of the war would spill over to us. A recent survey carried out by ICR FM revealed that more than 1 in 10 (or 10% of the inhabitants of Inishowen) considered themselves to have been adversely affected by the war, whether as a victim of the violence, displaced, ex-prisoner, etc. This is a high percentage of people in what is a relatively small area.
ICR FM was established to provide the area with it’s own community radio service, supplying informative, educational and entertaining programmes for listeners, produced and presented by the community itself. Much like any community station really! But it was also established to tackle the problems outlined above through innovative and practical means.
Among the several projects the station has in operation is Speak for Yourself!, a Peace 11 funded initiative that involves providing media training to individuals and community groups from both sides of the border, managed by a Community Outreach/Training Co-odinator. This project has been running for about 18 months now. The station has state-of-the art studios and equipment and all courses include 20% of those identified by Peace 11 as victims of the war. Through this facilitated training, which includes elements of peace and reconciliation, delivered in a neutral, friendly atmosphere, the station helps break down barriers of mistrust and ignorance. In the pursuit of common goals (producing a documentary or feature items) the mixed groups learn to work together and acquire new skills.
To date, more than 300 people, most of whom had no prior media experience and many no educational qualifications whatsoever, have completed the course. Many have become active volunteers with the station, participating in various station committees and several have joined our Board of Management. Several have gained full or part-time employment as a result of the transferable skills acquired and a good percentage have returned to further education in order to gain qualifications for future employment.
The station itself has expanded on its success in the sphere of training and community development, producing programme series for Development Co-operation Ireland (Dept of Foreign Affairs), Know Racism (Dept of Justice, Equality & Law Reform) and the National Adult Literacy Authority (Dept of Education & Science). The station, while peripheral in Irish terms, actively pursues a global policy and outlook. The station is recognised for the valuable work that it does and currently provides internships for media students and community development workers from the US, UK and Europe. Indeed, this summer ICR will be hosting two interns from Ghana and Tanzania, who wish to learn about how community radio works as a tool for community development and identity. ICR will work closely with them on their return to their homelands in their efforts to establish their stations and hopes to acquire core funding for them from the Irish governments foreign aid programme.
Developments in new technology for transmitting and production will greatly assist the station in its own efforts locally but will also enable the station to play a greater role on the wider stage. By forging strong links and partnerships with community media organisations at home and throughout Europe, ICR is convinced that community media has an important role to play in the struggle for a peaceful, just and tolerant society.