MULVENNA SarahPatterns of conflict resolution: How to draw patterns from Northern Ireland (IBIS-Stratagem Conference)
by Sarah MULVENNA for Northern Ireland Foundation
16 February 2011

At the end of last year, Stratagem co-hosted an evening seminar with the Institute for British-Irish Studies (IBIS) (UCD), held at the Linen Hall Library discussing “Patterns of conflict resolution: How to draw lessons from Northern Ireland”. The audience enjoyed talks from Professor Jennifer Todd (UCD; Director, IBIS), Quintin Oliver (Director, Stratagem), Bronagh Hinds (DemocraShe) and Dawn Purvis MLA (Independent). Each gave their own insight into how the successes of Northern Ireland’s peace process could be translated to other countries in conflict.

Jennifer Todd began with an academic presentation on the elements of peace building that helped Northern Ireland achieve a “small miracle” in its resolution of violent conflict. Jennifer Todd focussed on the positives to be taken from Northern Ireland, of the realisation that “Yes we can” (and did) achieve power sharing and that this marvel can be transported across other nations such as Macedonia and Rwanda. Describing the consensus that was eventually achieved by the parties as “stencils on top of one another, holes in different directions and one small hole between all the different shapes the parties want” Jennifer stressed the need for participation and a desire from all parties as essential if any progress is to be made, and that it took twenty years with the shapes of these stencils changing all the time to finally reach agreement. Jennifer also focussed on the fact that it was not only necessary for all the political parties to reach agreement but also that the agreement has to be implementable. If there is no acceptance at the community level, integration and power sharing become impossible. The role of the state also had a huge part to play in the Northern Ireland peace process; Jennifer stressed this as unusual but an integral part of achieving harmony. Jennifer acknowledged that there is still work to be done in Northern Ireland to further deepen and secure peace.

Quintin Oliver followed Jenifer and gave a talk focusing on his personal experiences with Northern Ireland conflict and how that can relate to other nations. He spoke of how attitudes of regions in conflict are usually the same, that everyone feels their conflict is the most difficult, when in reality there are many similarities in their problems and there are valuable lessons to be learned from one another. Quintin stressed a simple but powerful idea as being the basis of work between countries trying to overcome conflict “People who have lived in and have worked on conflicts are better able to understand and share their experiences with others who are experiencing conflict”. He outlined his goal as trying to find ways to develop long standing networks of those who have experienced conflict in a way that will have practical outcomes. Quintin gave examples of police in Northern Ireland going out and working with police in Kosovo and learning a great deal from one another. Quintin, like Jennifer, stressed the need for agreements to be reached at community level, that political consensus is nothing without people coming together day-to-day. He also went on to discuss the sense of comfort that can be gained from nations in conflict speaking to one another and knowing that they are not alone in the problems they face.

Bronagh Hinds spoke on essential aspects like integrated living, integrated housing and community development, and how Northern Ireland still has a lot to learn on these issues. Bronagh discussed how she feels big power brokers continue to look after their own interests and that community issues become marginalised despite being essential in order to deepen the peace. Bronagh stressed that some communities haven’t benefitted as much from the peace process as they could have, and that with impending economic cuts Northern Ireland needs to make sure civil society doesn’t suffer. Bronagh also discussed the role of women and how important a part they played in bringing peace to Northern Ireland, how it is necessary now to give women political roles.

Finally, Dawn Purvis talked about how it was necessary that peace in Northern Ireland came about from within — this was also touched on by Jennifer, Quintin and Bronagh. There was no international intervention in bringing about peace to Northern Ireland and all four speakers stressed this as a crucial factor. Dawn discussed how necessary it was for change to happen with everything — politics, community, business, and most importantly — a change of mindset. Dawn reminded the audience that the majority of people, North and South voted for peace and this along with political reform was the core of the lesson to be taken from Northern Ireland. Dawn closed the seminar by saying that loyalism hasn’t gone away, that further work must be done in order to keep peace and harmony as well as supporting victims and survivors still struggling with the future.

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