Final TEDxStormont spot up for grabs – showdown to find one young speaker to take place at Stormont on 8 August

Eight young participants from the Urban Villages areas in Belfast and Derry/Londonderry will meet for a final head-to-head to decide who will win the coveted final spot in this year’s TEDxStormont line-up on 31 August at the Great Hall, Parliament Buildings, Stormont.

The ‘Talk like TED’ programme, which has been supported by The Executive Office Urban Villages Initiative along with global PR and content agency, Smarts, will see the finalists battle it out on 8 August at Stormont, delivering a range of talks on their unique and special experiences all centered around the TEDxStormont theme of ‘Imagine’.

The young storytellers will assemble in front of an esteemed panel of communications and good relations experts including:

• Pippa Arlow, Global Chief Executive of global PR and content agency, Smarts
• Mark Browne, Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Executive Office
• William Crawley, Broadcaster, Presenter and host of TEDxStormont 2019
• Eva Grosman, Curator of TEDxStormont

The winner will then take to the red dot on 31 August joining well-known faces such as internationally renowned contemporary artist, Colin Davison, entrepreneur Deepa Mann-Kler and owner of Boden Coffee Company, Orla McKeating for an inspirational day of ideas and stories from across a vast range of backgrounds and sectors.

The participants have taken part in the ‘Talk like TED’ programme over the last 5 weeks, led by broadcaster, Sarah Travers, learning how to be confident, connect with their audience, and highlighting what makes them and their story unique in order to prepare one of them to take to the stage in front of a live audience of 200 people and a huge audience online.

This programme has been supported by The Executive Office Urban Villages Initiative and global PR and content agency, Smarts, based in Belfast, who have also offered up a mentorship at the prestigious firm as part of the winning prize.

Mark Browne, Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Executive Office, with oversight of the Urban Villages Initiative, said:

“I am delighted that the Urban Villages Initiative was able to support the ‘Talk like TED’ programme and TEDxStormont. This has been an excellent opportunity for young participants from Urban Village areas to learn new skills and develop their ability to communicate more effectively.

“The aims of the Urban Villages Initiative include building community capacity and fostering positive community identities. This fantastic programme has allowed these young people to do just that, as they have worked closely with participants from different backgrounds and perspectives to share and develop their ideas.

“I congratulate these young people on their hard work – they have really come into their own. It is great to see that they have the confidence to tell their own personal story and to realise that they are unique and worth listening to. To be able to hear them express themselves on such a big platform as TEDx is really exciting and inspiring. What great ambassadors they are for their communities!”

Pippa Arlow, Global Chief Executive at Smarts, added:

“We are thrilled to be backing TEDxStormont and the ‘Talk like TED’ programme. Communication is such an important part of any organisation, and indeed a vital personal skill to have. This experience has challenged the finalists and tested their skills in speech making and how to communicate their story effectively. It is fantastic to be able to give the participants the opportunity to take to the TEDx stage, which only a select number of people have had.

“We are also excited to be able to give the chosen speaker the chance to join us at Smarts after TEDxStormont. As part of our mentorship programme, we want to be able to nurture this exceptional talent and hope to be able to build on what they have already learned during the sessions and want to further inspire and grow the winner into a fantastic communications professional.”

Eva Grosman, Curator of TEDxStormont commented:

“Over the past 5 weeks, we have had a fantastic time, engaging with the participants and their inspiring stories. The wealth of talent and openness shown by the participants has far exceed our imaginations and whoever wins the spot on the red dot will deliver a talk that will really resonate.

“It has been so interesting to listen to the participants views and to see what they imagine for Northern Ireland’s future, and the faith they have for a better and more hopeful time to come. This without doubt is going to be such a special part of TEDxStormont on 31 August.

“We would like to extend our thanks to the Executive Office Urban Villages Initiative and Smarts for being such fantastic partners, and helping to bring the participants together, along with the special guest appearances during the sessions. It has been an extraordinary programme.”

TEDxStormont set to return to Parliament Buildings

TEDxStormont is set to return to Parliament Buildings on 31st August with a stellar line up of 18 speakers from varied backgrounds such as journalism, music, business and the arts. The daylong event, compered by Presenter and Broadcaster William Crawley, is expected to see 200 guests fill the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings with a larger than ever online following.

In a fitting tribute to murdered journalist and former TEDxStormont 2017 speaker, Lyra McKee, her sister Nichola Corner and friend Stephen Lusty will take to the red spot.

Since its inception, the TEDxStormont series of talks have been viewed over 5 million times with Lyra McKee’s talk on religious and social intolerance viewed almost 150,000 times alone.

Started as a four-day conference in California in 1984, TED and the TEDx programme has grown to support world-changing ideas with multiple initiatives such as TEDxStormont which has now run eight live events in the series.

The overall theme of TEDxStormont 2019 is “Imagine” – with speakers looking forward and imagining the kind of future we could have together as a society, here in Northern Ireland and beyond.

TEDxStormont 2019 speakers being announced today include:

Session 1:
Laura Banks – Lawyer, Mum, Social Justice Advocate
Connor Kerr – Creative Activist and Campaigner. Co-Founder Another World Belfast.
Duncan Morrow – Academic and Community Activist
Orla McKeating – Entrepreneur, Podcaster, Collaborator
Amanda Campbell – VP, Founder and Strategist
Joe Nawaz – Thoughtful, reckless, contradictory

Session 2:
Jess Dornan Lynas – Storyteller, Tech-Founder, Creative
Stephen Lusty – Technologist, Entrepreneur, Samaritan
Fergal McFerran – Activist, Uncle, Optimist
Siobhan O’Neill – Scientist, Mental Health Advocate and Mother
Nichola Corner – Spiritualist, Courageous and Loyal
Alice McCullough – Writer, Performer, Artist

Session 3:
Tim Brundle – Director of Research and Impact
Una Jennings – Copper, mummy and multitasker
Colin Davidson – Contemporary Artist
Deepa Mann – Kler – Artist, Technologist and Author
Saul Betmead – Creative strategist. Part-time behavioural scientist. Test & learner

Launching the speakers today, Eva Grosman, Curator of TEDxStormont 2019 said:

“TEDxStormont 2019 has really captured the imagination and we can certainly feel the excitement building ahead of the event at the end of August.”

“The backdrop of the Great Hall in Parliament Buildings is apt after a long period of political paralysis. The speakers lined up will help us to imagine that a new way forward is possible.”

“This year, as part of the speaker event, we will be working with The Executive Office Urban Villages Initiative and running a ‘Talk like TED’ youth training programme. The young participants from five Urban Villages areas will take part in a series of workshops in the weeks leading into TEDxStormont at the end of August. One finalist will be selected to take to the stage at Stormont and deliver their TEDx talk.”

“This is a really exciting element and shows that this is not just a one-off event but acts as a catalyst for other projects and programmes that are community based and allows for young people with great ideas to have those ideas amplified to a huge audience.”

Talk like TED – Urban Villages Initiative for Young People

TEDxStormont organised by the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building is joining forces with The Executive Office Urban Villages Initiative, Ulster University and global PR and content agency Smarts, to provide a unique personal development opportunity to young people (16 – 24 years old) living in one of the Urban Villages areas.

Talk like TED

Would you like to deliver a persuasive and memorable TED style presentation?
Master the art of storytelling?
Get audience behind your ideas?
Accomplish the art of Influencing and persuading major stakeholders?
Share your unique idea on TEDxStormont stage on 31st August?

Apply to be part of Talk like TED programme by Wednesday, 19 June at: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/Y2FVD9V

Workshops will be delivered by expert facilitators Sarah Travers and Camilla Long at Ulster University Belfast campus on:

• 27 June
• 4 July
• 11 July
• 18 July
• 25 July

On Thursday, 8 August you will take to stage at the graduation event in Parliament Buildings, Stormont to share your idea. Afterwards the expert panel will select one speaker to deliver their TEDx talk during the main TEDxStormont event on 31 August.

This programme is being supported by the Urban Villages Initiative and your challenge will be to create your ideas, your story around one of the initiatives three key aims: Fostering Positive Community Identity; Building Community Capacity and Improving the Physical Environment. This can be applied to the place where you live and the people that surround you or the wider implications for the city or the world, give us your big ideas!

About TED and TEDxStormont

TED is an annual event that brings together the world’s leading thinkers and doers to share ideas that matter in any discipline — technology, entertainment, design, science, humanities, business, development. The talks at the conference, called TED Talks, are then made available to a global audience to watch for free on TED.com.

In the spirit of “ideas worth spreading,” TED has created TEDx, a programme of local, self-organised events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience.

TEDxStormont event will take place on Saturday, 31 August 2019 in the Great Hall, Parliament Buildings, Stormont. We are bringing together a range of exciting speakers to inspire our audiences, as we believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately the world.

The overall theme of TEDxStormont 2019 is “Imagine” – we will look forward and imagine the kind of future we could have together as a society in Northern Ireland and beyond. For more information please visit https://www.tedxstormont.com

The Spy Who Loved: Talk by the award-winning author Clare Mulley

As a part of the Polish Heritage Days celebrations, Lord Alderdice invites you to the talk by the award winning author Clare Mulley on secrets and lives of Krystyna Skarbek – Britain’s first and longest serving female special agent of the WWII on Monday, 29 April at 6pm in the House of Lords.

Please register at: https://getinvited.to/cdpb/cm/

The Spy Who Loved (Macmillan, 2012)
Polish-born Countess Krystyna Skarbek, aka Christine Granville, was Britain’s first and longest serving female special agent of the Second World War. The vital intelligence she smuggled across borders prompted Churchill to remark she was his favourite spy. Despite arrest, Krystyna used her guile to save not only her own life, but also those of many of her male colleagues. For her courage and achievements in three different theatres of the war, she was awarded the OBE, the George Medal, and French Croix de Guerre. The Spy Who Loved has been optioned by Universal Studios and led to Clare being decorated with Poland’s national honour, the Bene Merito.

Clare Mulley is the award-winning author of three books. The Woman Who Saved the Children won the Daily Mail Biographers’ Club Prize, and The Spy Who Loved, now optioned by Universal Studios, led to Clare being decorated with Poland’s national honour, the Bene Merito. Clare’s third book, The Women Who Flew for Hitler, is a dual biography of two extraordinary women at the heart of Nazi Germany, but who ended their lives on opposite sides of history. Clare reviews non-fiction for the Telegraph, Spectator and History Today, and was recently chair of the judges for the Historical Writers Association Non-Fiction Prize. A regular contributor to TV and radio, and popular public speaker, she lectures in London and Paris on wartime female special agents, has given a TEDx talk at Stormont, and recently become an honorary patron of the Wimpole History Festival. www.claremulley.com

This event is part of the Polish Heritage Days supported by The Embassy of the Republic of Poland in the UK.

International Women’s Day 2019: Balancing for Better

Throughout my career, on almost a weekly basis, I have found myself the only woman in the room. It has been disappointing, frustrating and on few occasions even intimidating, but it has also provided me with the determination to create opportunities for women and to challenge the status quo.

I remember the experience of meeting a small group of the Taliban elders in Kabul. Since the encounter took place at the British Embassy, they had no choice but to politely engage with me. The meeting went well – I was able to share some valuable lessons about the Irish Peace Process and establish some rapport with those rather intimidating men. During that trip, I learnt that Afghanistan had a higher proportion of parliament seats held by women than the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont (where I worked at the time), which was shocking, but also encouraged me to act.

On my return, I decided to host a dedicated TEDxStormont Women event to provide a platform for female voices in political and public life. I also developed and delivered several capacity building programmes to support and nurture the future female leaders and others interested in public service. Alongside this, I was appointed as Northern Ireland Ambassador for Women’s Entrepreneurship Day and organised gatherings to celebrate, empower and support women in business.

Currently, as a part of the Global Thinkers Forum Telemachus programme, I mentor young women, role which is both humbling and rewarding. I have also just been appointed as an Advisory Board Member for the Global Women’s Narratives Project, an exciting initiative whose purpose is to gather and share personal narratives of lived experiences of women around the world.

So, how the best to #BalanceForBetter? I can’t think of a better response than one of my favourite quotes by Amelia Earhart: “The most effective way to do it, is to do it”.

It is really not that complicated. Everybody, women and men alike, have many everyday opportunities to create more equal and balanced world. Some may be able to influence policy and bring on radical shifts; others, through simple ordinary actions can contribute to incremental cultural changes – just answer an e-mail when asked for support, talk to a younger woman, be inclusive, invite your female colleagues to meetings and events, don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t be afraid to speak up.

Recently, I came across a really fascinating TED Ideas article on trying to tackle big problems – it suggests we should ‘think like a bee’. According to a beekeeper Marianne Gee, a bee in her lifetime produces only one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey, which is a tiny fraction of what a typical colony needs to survive. “A bee won’t even directly benefit from the honey she makes; instead, it will allow future generations to thrive after she is gone. This too is how we can change the world — by not worrying about the size of our contributions and by letting our efforts join the actions of others”.

Sometimes “thinking small may be the best way to think big”. So, let’s start balancing for better. You know it makes sense!

Eva Grosman is an Alumna of the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford; CEO of the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building and a Research Associate at St. Benet’s Hall, University of Oxford.

Lord Alderdice: Religious Experience, Religious Difference and Transcendence – a contribution to inter-faith dialogue

Join us for a talk on inter-faith dialogue by Lord Alderdice on Monday, 4 March at 5pm at The Athenaeum, Pall Mall, London.

Booking is essential and can be made by emailing Christine Gahan at christine.gahan@stb.ox.ac.uk

Understanding Fundamentalism, Radicalization and Terrorism – the Psychology of the Large Group Training

The Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict (CRIC) is a multi-disciplinary research and conflict resolution centre based at Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford.

For some years we have been applying cutting edge field-based research methods from the cognitive and behavioural sciences, in collaboration with the policy community, to better understand and address fundamentalism, radicalization and politically motivated terrorist violence. We have also been involved in various peace initiatives around the world and now for the first time we are offering a short training workshop to make our experience more widely available.

The workshop, which will take place from 18 to 20 March in Harris Manchester College, Oxford will be led by CRIC Director, Lord Alderdice, a key figure in the Irish Peace Process and Dr Jerry Fromm, President of the US-based International Dialogue Initiative (IDI). They will be assisted by faculty from both organizations and will provide a teaching and training experience that is likely to be of interest and value to those working in this field, or interested to move in that direction, whether national or international government agencies, NGO’s, academia or consultancy.

Participants will receive a Certificate of Attendance from CRIC as well as useful papers and the opportunity for subsequent follow-up.

The cost of the Workshop is £350 plus an additional £350 for full board and accommodation in Harris Manchester College, including dinners and other meals in the impressive College Dining Hall. Register at: https://getinvited.to/cric/training1/

Further information from the CRIC Director at: john.alderdice@hmc.ox.ac.uk

Brexit and the Belfast Agreement: mitigating the return to disturbance in our historic relationships

The 2018 Dr Garret Fitzgerald Lecture

Delivered by Professor the Lord Alderdice FRCPsych
at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin

It is a delight for my wife, Joan, and me to join you here this evening in such august surroundings, redolent as they are of the history of medicine in Ireland, and I am most grateful, Chancellor Maurice Manning, for the honour that you and National University of Ireland do me by your invitation to deliver the 2018 Dr Garret Fitzgerald Lecture in the presence of such distinguished guests and, especially, members of the Fitzgerald family. I am also grateful to my old friend Senator Michael McDowell for agreeing to give a response to my lecture afterwards.

In the mid-1980s, along with Mary Pyle, whose husband Fergus was sometime Northern Editor of the Irish Times, and others including Michael Fitzgerald, Kate Nowlan, Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop and Ross Skelton, we set up the Irish Forum for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy. We met regularly at Mary and Fergus’s home on the Palmerston Road, just next door to Garret and Joan Fitzgerald. It was around 1986/87 when he was Taoiseach and I was astonished to find that outside his house stood one single, very relaxed looking, member of the Garda Siochana, who seemed quite unconcerned that I was parking my Northern registered car just across the road from the Taoiseach’s home. It was a striking contrast with the security measures we were used to in Belfast.

Every significant public figure had substantial protection arrangements in place – my wife, Joan, and I lived next door to RUC HQ in East Belfast and so were used to a rather more substantial police presence than was apparent outside the Fitzgerald’s home on the Palmerston Road in Dublin.

However, despite living in another part of the island of Ireland which was worlds away in its atmosphere and politics, Garret Fitzgerald was persistently concerned about the North, describing his great aim as the creation of a pluralist Ireland where the Northern Protestants of his mother Mabel’s family tradition as well as the Southern Catholics of his father Desmond Fitzgerald’s family, would feel equally at home. It was not only that fervent commitment to a tolerant future, but also his thorough-going liberalism and his preparedness to confront traditional conservatism that attracted people like me in the North, as well of course as so many young people here in the South, to his him and his politics, and it was during those years that the relationship between Fine Gael and the Alliance Party became very strong indeed. He was in addition a deeply committed European, fluent in French and acquainted with continental thinking. Roy Jenkins, later President of the European Commission, the best Prime Minister the UK never had, and the Leader of the Liberal Democrats when I went to the Lords in 1996, paid Garret Fitzgerald what was in his terms one of the highest compliments possible. After hearing Garret speak at the opening of the European Parliament he said of him “There, I thought, spoke the Ireland of Joyce and Synge and the Countess Markicwiez. It was he who made me feel provincial.” How could I not be attracted to this great Irish leader, committed as I was to reaching across the community divisions and building a genuinely liberal and pluralist Ireland, with close relations with Britain and in the wider European context.

I have always been a fervent European. It is an emotional thing as much as an intellectual one. My parents took our family travelling in every country this side of the Iron Curtain as youngsters and from an early stage I was involved in European networks in personal, religious and political life. Both of our daughters-in-law are from outside of the UK and our most of our grandchildren are growing up bilingual, some in English and German; others in English and Portuguese. My wife and I make our home not just in the United Kingdom but also in France. As a former vice-president of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party and someone always committed to Europe, it is not just personal, but political. Intellectually too, the principles behind the European project have been a driving force in my understanding of a better way of doing politics, particularly, of course, in my own part of the world, in Northern Ireland.

The border between the North and South in Ireland is currently, as it always has been, something of a problem, but it is not itself the cause of our problems. It reflected problems that were there long before, though it did exacerbate them. However, the way that the European project worked in its earlier years provided my generation with inspiration and with a model that enabled us to work to change community relationships within Northern Ireland, between North and South, and between Britain and Ireland. Indeed the three-stranded talks process that emerged from the consideration of these three sets of relationships was the most important discovery of the Irish Peace Process – a realization that is applicable to other areas of conflict – that our problems were a result of disturbed, historic relationships, and their resolution was to be found, not only in better institutions, changed constitutions, recognizing everyone’s human rights, improving the economy, and the transformation of policing and the administration of justice, but, fundamentally, in addressing intercommunal relationships. It was not just about the linearity of better regulation but about engaging with the complexity of better relationships between and among the various large groups or communities of which we are members. We came to appreciate the importance of process in achieving understanding, of inclusivity in reaching sustainable agreements, of the slow evolution of new forms of self-governance and of the building of a structured network of relations.

All of this emerged not only from the history of previous failed attempts at bringing peace to Ireland but from the success of the post-war European project in which France, Germany and the others first began to cooperate over coal and steel, rather than using them to make the weapons of war with which they had wreaked such havoc on each other twice in a generation. The way they had worked creatively and flexibly in those early days to share sovereignty and invent new ways of governing was a model for us of how things could be – new structures, new laws, new levels of cross-border cooperation but most importantly new relationships resulting in new levels of prosperity and a better life for all. As the progress being made in South Africa and the Middle East in the 1990s helped us see that political conflict and violence did not have to remain intractable, so Europe at the same time helped us to see how that could be done.

However, for me, sadly, it was neither entirely a shock nor a surprise when the UK’s Brexit Referendum went the way it did. For some years I had been warning friends and colleagues that the project was not going well and, unless those of us who are pro-European were able to persuade our colleagues in Brussels to change the way that the European Union was developing, ​we would find those opposed to the Union increasing in number and in fervour, and it would not be good for the project—indeed, it would be destined for disaster if there was no change. I said so in speeches in Westminster on a number of occasions but there was not a preparedness to listen.

It was a common trajectory. What starts with inspiration, novelty, creativity and flexibility in one generation, hardens down to legalism, regulation and conservatism a generation or two later – and so it has been with the European Project. It started as a peace project with the determination of Jean Monnet, Konrad Adenauer, Robert Schuman and others to use coal and steel as the foundation for the subsequent political cooperation that would make war unthinkable. It was not about the euro or the single market, and it was not about providing a space at the top table of global affairs for Presidents and Prime Ministers of small European countries. It was a peace project to try to make sure that Germany and France and the rest of us in Europe did not go to war again. Now, tragically, the project itself has become the focus of division, not only within the United Kingdom, but right across Europe.

Pro-EU Europeans should have been looking for a long time at why things were going wrong. If a couple get divorced after 40 or more years together, and the one who leaves does not do so in order to go to another partner, the one who is left needs to ask themselves some serious questions about the motivation for the divorce after such a long time. There was clearly a problem of a serious order in the relationship. What went wrong in Europe? I believe that the answer is that the European Union was not built on liberal principles of freedom, flexibility, organic growth and development, with appropriate and meaningful sensitivity to differences of identity and culture right across Europe, not only between Northern and Southern Europe, but between East and West too. Instead, it was centralising and focused on itself and on the interests, concerns, preoccupations and beliefs of the elite, with the result that many ordinary people found themselves becoming disenchanted. This is a disaster. We know what happens when Europe becomes divided, but divided it has become, and our job now is to try to find a way of bringing it together.

The move to Brexit has made this an immediate problem for all of us in Ireland. But before turning to what can be done it may be useful to say a few more things about why Brexit is coming about. There has been a lot of foolish chatter about Britain seeking to turn the clock back to the glory days of empire, but those who voted for Brexit are no more eager to have immigrants come from the countries of the former empire than from the rest of Europe. There is indeed good reason to look to history, but we need to go further back. Brexit has been with us before. Almost 500 hundred years ago Henry VIII took the church in England out of the centralized community of Western Christendom, risking not just economic disaster, but hell fire for ever. There were many more things involved in that breach than ending his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. In addition to the general religious foment of the time and people bridling at being subject to rules and regulations imposed by religious authorities seen as corrupt and distant, there was something of the wish for independence common in many an island nation – a sense and sentiment not unknown in this island. Britain joined the European Economic Community on 1 January 1973 (on the same day as Ireland) for economic reasons and never entirely subscribed to the political dynamic of the EU. When those political ambitions seemed to be jeopardizing the capacity of British people to decide about their own future and identity as a nation state, they were into territory that some of my colleagues call ‘sacred values’. All of these emotional issues – the sense of independence, the concern about national identity and integrity, the wish to be accorded respect and be treated fairly – were all felt to be under threat, a view that was profoundly confirmed when just after the referendum, the President of the European Commission, Mr Jean-Claude Juncker, demanded that Britain implement Article 50 straightaway, saying that it was a requirement. It was not a requirement, but it was an extremely unhelpful intervention because it gave precisely the impression, of arrogant and insensitive Brussels talking down to everybody, that had produced the problems in the first place.

It is important to note at this point that, as in any situation of conflict, we ought not to try to justify one side or the other, but to try to understand why we have such a deterioration in relationships and what to do about it. Relationships are more than even a two-way affair; they are complex and involve a whole network. In addition to structure and boundaries, we must be prepared for flexibility if relationships are to evolve, and even survive. It may be too late to do other than have a relationship where the United Kingdom is outside the European Union, but it is not yet too late for some of the other countries, because this is not just a question of Britain. Many other countries are asking themselves similar questions and have deeply dissatisfied populations, and this year we have seen some developments of a thoroughly untoward order, for example in Italy and Spain in the south and in Hungary and Poland in the east of Europe.

When it comes to the border in Ireland, I had hoped that leaders in London, Dublin and Brussels would come to understand that it is in all our interests to be flexible and creative and not simply say, “Well, take it or leave it. If you want to do Brexit, here are the consequences”. I sometimes feel that if those engaged in the current negotiations in London, Dublin and especially Brussels had been in Belfast 20 years ago, we would never have had the Good Friday Agreement, because it required us to go way beyond the normal rules and procedures.

What then, should be done?
Instead of immediately rushing to find practical solutions we should focus on the question of relationships. Those three sets of relationships that I mentioned – between the two main communities in Northern Ireland, between North and South in Ireland and between Britain and Ireland, were held and supported by the external relationships within the EU and with the USA, which have special relationships with both Britain and Ireland. Now all five sets of relationships are in difficulty. The USA is enmeshed in problems of internal and external relationships and the EU is experiencing its own difficulties. More immediately for us the British and Irish Governments have not been focussing sufficiently on their important relationship with each other. The leaders of both countries need to realize that Ireland is not merely ‘one of the 27’. There is a very special relationship, with the common travel area and the acceptance of citizenship and the right to vote being only a few of the examples of that special relationship. In all of history, when Britain has disregarded the importance of Ireland, or Ireland has sought out relationships with other parts of Europe in preference, it has never ended well for either.

In the Westminster Parliament I have repeatedly warned the British Government that they need to pay more attention to the relationship with Ireland. I remember in 2013 when the then Crime and Courts Bill was being debated, I realised that problems were emerging in Northern Ireland over the question of whether there would be a legislative consent motion in the Assembly. I therefore met with Lord Taylor of Holbeach, who was responsible for the Bill in the House of Lords. I asked him, “Has the Right Honourable Theresa May”— who at that stage was Home Secretary —“had a consultation with the Minister for Justice in the Republic of Ireland, because the NCA, which is going to be created by this Bill, has border security as one of its fundamental requirements? That is one of the things it is about. The only land border we have in the United Kingdom is with the Republic of Ireland. We have a British-Irish Council. We have a whole series of international agreements. We have meetings of Ministers in every context. Has the Home Secretary consulted the Minister for Justice in the Republic of Ireland about this question?”. The Lord Taylor of Holbeach, who is a very honest and open man, was clear. It had not even entered their minds to have such a conversation. It had not even entered their minds! It was not nastiness. It was not malevolence. It was not meant as a snub or a dismissal. It just had not even entered their minds. It reminded me of the response I received from an old friend who used to run the CIA. I asked him if the USA had consulted with India prior to invading Afghanistan, after all, India has always been just next door to Afghanistan, it has a million men under arms, and is an ally of the West. “We never thought of it,” he said. What a disaster, that they never thought of it.

My fear is that Theresa May has brought to the office of the Prime Minister many of the attitudes, the people and the approaches of the Home Office, and in the case of relationships with Ireland, North and South, that creates endless problems for her and for all of us. That is why I appealed publicly for her to understand that being Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is not just about being Prime Minister of England and a few add-on bits. It is about Scotland; it is about Wales; it is about Northern Ireland; and it is about many parts of England that do not necessarily feel entirely at home with the approaches that are taken in London. That entails a stretching of imagination and political creativity, it means engaging with people and while not entirely easy, it is essential in creating the right kind of environment within the United Kingdom and in relationships within and beyond the EU, but especially with Ireland.

But I must also say here in Dublin that to be seen siding with the rest of the EU against Britain is not a recipe for success. England’s difficulty is likely to be Ireland’s difficulty rather than Ireland’s opportunity. This is especially true of economic relationships. A great deal has been said about the economic consequences of Brexit given the border between North and South, and this is indeed significant, but it is paltry in comparison with the amount of trade between Dun Laoghaire and Holyhead. Even after a hundred years of independence there is a huge linkage between the two islands and it has received a great deal less public attention than it needs and deserves. Indeed, as I told the committee of the Seanad addressing Brexit, if agriculture and the agri-food business, along with energy (especially electricity) were removed from the equation through a bilateral arrangement that London and Dublin agreed and took together to Brussels, much of the border problem, such as it is, would be addressed. The east-west trade issue is a much more complex and difficult one and I hope that it is receiving more attention behind closed doors than is evident to date in the public space. Whether or not that is the case, of one thing I am certain, a great deal needs to be done by both sides to rebuild the relationship between London and Dublin. Ireland has a long history of looking in vain to Europe to help them against England. It would be much better to act as a bridge between the UK and Europe, than as a bulwark for Europe against Brexit Britain.

Garret Fitzgerald realized this. You will recall that after his work with the New Ireland Forum elicited the notorious “Out! Out! Out!” response from Margaret Thatcher in 1983, he and the Irish diplomatic service did not attack back, but instead persisted in a positive engagement with London and the result was the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement – a watershed in British-Irish relations and a testament to Garret Fitzgerald’s steady work of relationship-building with Britain. Unfortunately, while he kept the SDLP informed, the British Government not only failed to keep Unionists and Alliance informed, but purposely misled them, with disastrous consequences.

In addition to the East-West relationship, the two other important sets of relationships – within Northern Ireland and between North and South – have also suffered much in recent times. There have been various reasons for this, not the least being the divergence in view about the Good Friday Agreement. For Unionists it was a settlement – an end of violence in return for fundamental changes in political structures, policing and the administration of justice, and inclusivity of Irish culture. For Republicans however it was regarded as a vehicle that would facilitate moves towards a United Ireland. While Ian Paisley and Martin Maguinness understood what had to be done and gave leadership during their time as First Minister and Deputy First Minister, the divergence between the perspectives of their party members and especially the generation that followed them, ensured that the Assembly and Executive in the North never truly settled into a solid working relationship, and the various recent problems over accusations of corruption, as well as the disrespectful behaviour of some senior members of the DUP led to Sinn Fein walking out and bringing down the Executive. Attempts to repair that relationship will require more focus and sense of responsibility from the leadership of the two parties than we have seen to date. Sinn Fein currently seems more focussed on its prospects south of the border and the DUP remain new-fangled with their significance at Westminster. These preoccupations will pass, but the need to find a way of living together in the North will not.

The North/South relationship too will only work when unionists feel that the Dublin Government is not going to use Brexit to press towards Irish unity, and at the moment that is how the position of siding with the rest of the 27 against the UK is perceived – again a problem of relationships returning us to the suspicions of the past rather than building on the principles of the Irish Peace Process.

Garret Fitzgerald understood this very well. For many years after his time as Taoiseach he wrote a weekly column in the Irish Times, and in his contribution to Ireland’s newspaper of record on 25 February 2006 he wrote about how history would judge those who mismanaged relationships in these islands. He said that he doubted that any of the players would emerged unscathed. Unionist Governments in the North had alienated what was then a 35 percent Nationalist minority; the British Government had abandoned their responsibilities; and successive Irish Governments had actually heightened tensions within the North. He saved his fiercest criticism for the IRA, whose campaign of violence he regarded as morally reprehensible. They had, he said, actually wrecked the prospect of Irish unity by creating a massive divergence, economic as well as political, between North and South. But let me quote from a section near the end of the column.

“Simultaneously with the demise of the Cold War having finally eliminated any strategic British interest in Northern Ireland, Britain’s primary concern was now also the restoration of peace and stability in the North.

During the 1980s, and even more so in the 1990s, this new identity of interest of the two states (the United Kingdom and Ireland) in relation to Northern Ireland came to transcend all other differences, and has since led to the emergence of a closer relationship between them than exists between neighbouring states elsewhere in Europe – and this in turn has been increasingly reflected at the popular level.”

We are of course part of a wider world where relationships are uncertain, and anxiety is high, as a consequence of globalization, new disruptive technologies, the financial crisis, the dizzying pace of societal change and the collapse of the old post-war structures and alliances. However as was the case many centuries ago when Europe was in dark times and Ireland sent out the message of hope to the rest of Europe, we have a chance, given our experience of the Irish Peace Process to contribute something really important to wider political understandings, but only if we are able to return to implementing what we said we had agreed in the Good Friday Agreement twenty years ago. The origin of our problems and the healing of our divisions is to be found, as Garret Fitzgerald pointed out, in addressing our historic community relationships. I believe that we can do that, and for the sake of all our children and grandchildren, I believe that we must.

Noli Timere – Christmas reflection from Lord Alderdice

These are difficult and frightening times. Democracy is fraying and peace is hard to find. Those of us who are committed to building democracy and peace could be forgiven for feeling dispirited. So Christmas is all the more welcome for the powerfully paradoxical message that it brings.

At a time of year when it is cold, dark and wet, we come together to celebrate the Dayspring that came in just such a time as a poor, helpless, little refugee, threatened by powerful forces, in a country under violent occupation and yet is for us, two millennia later, still the Prince of Peace and the most powerful, indeed the ultimate inspiration for our lives and our communities.

We may feel downhearted that, in the words of the late great Seamus Heaney, “The world has turned into a big Ulster”. A depressing thought you may feel, but what were Heaney’s last words? According to his son, the Latin text that Seamus Heaney sent by mobile phone to his wife just before his untimely death was ‘Noli Timere’ (Do not be afraid!).

It was the same command that Jesus gave to his disciples in Matthew 14:27. They were out on the water when their boat was caught in a storm. They were terrified, and even when they saw Jesus walking to them on the water they were not reassured, fearing that he was a ghost. But he told them not to be afraid, and instead to be of good cheer.

As our ship of state is tossed about and we seem to be surrounded by the ghosts of past conflicts and assailed by the fear of new ones, may the Christmas Season imbue us with new hope and a re-invigorated commitment to the building of peace, justice and freedom from want and fear. Noli Timere.

Lord Alderdice
Chairman, Centre for Democracy and Peace Building

Polish Ambassador to visit Belfast this week

The Polish Ambassador to the United Kingdom His Excellency Arkady Rzegocki will visit Belfast this week.

The Ambassador, who has held his post since September 2016, will meet with political leaders and senior civil servants to help promote cultural and economic ties between Northern Ireland and Poland.

He will also give a talk at Queen’s University Belfast on “The Role of Poland in Europe in the Context of Brexit” on Thursday, 15 November. On Saturday, 17 November he will join the ceremony of unveiling of Monument dedicated to Polish Airmen at the Cenotaph, Newtownards, while on Sunday, 18 November he will attend the First Congress of Polish Diaspora Education in Belfast.

Poland is the only European Union state with a Consular presence in Northern Ireland and there are deep ties between the two countries, with approximately 30,000 Poles currently living here. The official opening of the new Consulate on Belfast’s Malone Road is expected to take place in the coming weeks.

Polish immigration into Northern Ireland increased after the EU expansion in 2004, however the connection between the two countries goes back decades with Polish forces playing a pivotal role in the Second World War including the 303 (Polish) RAF Squadron which was stationed at Ballyhalbert in Co Down from 1943 to 1944.

This year Poland is also marking its 100th anniversary of the country regaining its independence.

Paweł Majewski, the Polish Consul General in Northern Ireland said:

“This is a very important year for Poland, its people and its diplomatic missions round the world as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Polish independence.”

“We are looking forward to welcoming the Ambassador to meet political and community leaders in Northern Ireland. Visits like this are important to help strengthen and develop the already solid ties between our countries.”

“Those ties are incredibly important both to the Polish government and to the large community of Polish people living here, who contribute so much to the cultural and economic life of Northern Ireland. There’s a proud history of friendship between Northern Ireland and Poland and we look forward to further building on that.”

For further information and to set up an interview with the Ambassador on Friday please contact:

Tomasz Tadla

Vice-consul
Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Belfast
e-mail: Tomasz.Tadla@msz.gov.pl

Tel. 07880706068