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Relationships, identity and the importance of language by Héctor Portillo

I met Lord John Alderdice and Jeffrey Donaldson this October, when they came to our Conflict Resolution Theory course at The Fletcher School to give a talk about their experiences in Northern Ireland and the work of the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building. I will fully admit that prior to that moment most of what I knew about Northern Ireland came from Sunday Bloody Sunday (both the movie and U2’s song) and some episodes of Sons of Anarchy. That is, I barely knew anything about it. I come from México and, although we have strong sympathy towards the Irish people (especially because of the Saint Patrick’s Battalion), I have focused most of my research on the conflict that my home country is going through.

As Alderdice and Donaldson spoke to us about their stories and views on Northern Ireland, I was simply blown away by how a conflict that is so far away and so different is, at heart, also very close and similar. As they talked about relationships, identity, and the importance of language, I could only nod emphatically. When they mentioned the need for closing the gap between political elites and civil society and engaging civil society in the peace process, I could have sworn they were talking about Mexico.

The tragedy of Ayotzinapa, where 43 students were kidnapped by municipal policemen and then handed over to the local drug cartel, has sparked the biggest civilian mobilization I have seen in my country in recent years. It’s not only the tragedy itself, it’s the fact that violence has become part of our lives: over 20,000 people have “disappeared” during the last 8 years, and estimates of murders related to drug violence and the drug war range between 60,000 and 100,000. It is becoming less and less easy to call it a “security issue” and increasingly appropriate to simply call it a “civil war.” The violence may or may not decrease, but we still will have relationships to fix and identities to figure out. Perhaps Mexico and Northern Ireland have more in common than I had thought, and hopefully we can share our experiences and learn from each other.

 

By Héctor Portillo, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University

Tufts

Cultivating a relationship of trust by Kristin Bushby

“The next generation of successful political leaders in Northern Ireland will play to their best hopes, instead of their worst fears.” These words stood out to me during a recent lecture given by Lord Alderdice and The Right Honourable Jeffrey Donaldson MP on their experiences working to establish sustainable peace in Northern Ireland. As a master’s degree student at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, I had the opportunity to learn firsthand about the work of the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building (CDPB), and their role promoting peace, stability, and reconciliation both in Northern Ireland and throughout the world. Reflecting on the discussion, several critical themes emerged.

Creating a Space for Negotiations to Succeed

The Northern Ireland experience embodies the importance of creating a political and social environment in which negotiations have the chance to be successful. For negotiations to succeed, significant backchannel work cultivating support within one’s party is needed, which requires strong transformational leadership, as well as the ability to communicate effectively with the opposing party. A negotiator must navigate the difficult balance of first and foremost representing the interests of its party, while at the same time, cultivating a relationship of trust with other negotiators and trying to understand their party’s needs, so that the negotiation becomes an atmosphere where mutual gains are possible, instead of a zero-sum process. Lord Alderdice and Rt Hon Jeffrey Donaldson MP repeatedly emphasized the importance of cultivating strong relationships throughout negotiations, as well as paying careful attention to language used during the process, which should aspire to transcend issues and create an atmosphere of respect.

Preparing for Implementation of the Agreement

The negotiation process is a means to an end; it is crucial to remember that negotiations are only successful if the implementation of their outcomes is adequately planned. In the case of Northern Ireland, it took nine years to establish stable political institutions following the Good Friday Agreement. Lord Alderdice and Rt Hon Jeffrey Donaldson MP discussed the need to create a space through which realistic societal change could take place, which means allocating appropriate time for implementation of the agreement. This can be extremely challenging in post-conflict societies where citizens and political parties alike are demanding immediate change, yet taking the time to ensure institutions are ready to implement peace deserves serious attention, and should not be rushed. Having this time is also critical to begin the lengthy process of working toward cultural change and gaining acceptance for peace within a society.

Looking Ahead to Sustainable Peace

Northern Ireland is still facing some legacies of its past, including the need to establish a collective identity through the memorialization process. This process, which according to Rt Hon Jeffrey Donaldson MP, may take up to another 10 years to complete, would be completed over twenty years after the Belfast Agreement was initially signed. That this process may be as long as the duration of the twenty-five year conflict itself is a testament to the complexity of peace processes, and the need for a long-term approach to achieving reconciliation.

While the Northern Ireland experience is contextually unique, the lessons learned from its process have valuable implications for conflicts around the world today. Lord Alderdice and Rt Hon Jeffrey Donaldson MP closed their remarks by noting that reconciliation in Northern Ireland was extremely difficult, and that conflict-ridden societies with more economic disparity and ethnic diversity than Northern Ireland face even greater challenges. This makes the work of CDPB and its efforts to share the Northern Ireland experience with the world even more critical.

 

By Kristin Bushby, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University

Tufts

Working with the trauma and wounds by Rabia Altaf

The lecture given by Lord Alderdice and MP Donaldson to Fletcher students had a profound impact on all of us: to hear practitioners of peace building who had a personal stake in the outcome of their conflict was of enormous benefit to the peace builders in training. My personal experience in witnessing conflict has been through my work with the US Department of Defense, mostly with my work having focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Having returned from a 17 month stint in May, Lord Alderdice and MP Donaldson’s lecture provided a way for me to see the interethnic conflict within Afghanistan a bit differently, as well as the role of the international community in solving these long-simmering crises.

NATO’s role in attempting to pacify Afghanistan after the American invasion in 2001 has mostly been military-led, with both soldiers and civilians working at the grassroots level up to the national level to calm tensions based on tribe, ethnicity, and political affiliation. The complicated history of Afghanistan coupled with the destruction of its society several times over make for a heartbreaking conflict in which human life’s worth has plummeted. The lecture by MPs Alderdice and Donaldson reframed my understanding of the Afghan conflict by emphasizing that past wounds and trauma, while surmountable, cannot simply be waved away over time. Forging peace requires working with the trauma and wounds that exist as a result of the conflict, and understanding that the group today was not the group that existed yesterday or 30 years ago.

The peace building must be rooted in the present, or else it becomes a rehashing of past wrongs. This is a key issue with Afghanistan’s government and the Taliban: both don’t recognize the other’s right to exist and are at stalemate in their struggle for full control of the country. While Northern Ireland’s peace process does not mirror Afghanistan’s, the lessons to draw from it are still useful in understanding the dimensions of peace building not readily apparent to outside observers.

 

By Rabia Altaf, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University

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CDPB report shows NI benefits from immigration

Northern Ireland is benefiting from immigration.  A major new study published today has revealed the substantial economic and social benefits that newcomers bring to our society.

Commissioned by the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building with support from Belfast Policing and Community Safety Partnership and written by Professor Peter Shirlow and Dr Richard Montague at Queen’s University Belfast, the report’s key findings challenge a number of myths, stereotypes and commonly held misconceptions about migrants.

The report examines a number of areas such as population; employment; housing; benefits; economy; healthcare; education; crime; and social cohesion. Below are some of the report’s key findings:

  • Migrant workers contributed around £1.2 billion to the Northern Irish economy from 2004 to 2008
  • Only 4% of the Northern Ireland workforce is made up of migrant workers
  • Only 3% of the total number of pupils attending school in Northern Ireland are ethnic minorities
  • 81.5% of migrants in the UK are employed
  • Less than 5% of EU migrants claim Jobseekers Allowance
  • The cost of temporary migrants using the health service amounts to around 0.01% (£12 million) of the £109 billion NHS budget

The Unite Against Hate campaign has recently been re-launched by the Centre for Peace Building and Democracy who commissioned the ‘Challenging Racism: Ending Hate’ report into the facts about migrant populations in Northern Ireland.

The report highlights the fact that, contrary to popular belief, migrants contribute more in tax than they consume in public services. In Northern Ireland, migrant workers contributed around £1.2 billion to the Northern Irish economy from 2004 to 2008. Migration also contributes to sustaining economic growth, filling labour shortages, bringing much needed skills and enriching society through cultural diversity.

Speaking about the report, the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building Chairman Lord Alderdice said:

“In response to a number of race hate attacks in recent months, the Centre for Peace Building and Democracy was keen to commission a piece of work that would look seriously at the migrant population in Northern Ireland and demonstrate how much migrants contribute to our society.

“The report highlights contributions in tax, skills, labour and cultural diversity – enriching our society rather than threatening it.”

Belfast Lord Mayor Nichola Mallon said:

“Tackling racism continues to be a priority for Belfast City Council and is a priority which has all party political support.  The report provides a strong evidence base for Belfast as a city to be able to champion the positive social and economic benefits of diversity and to continue to promote Belfast as a welcoming and inclusive city”.

Professor Shirlow added:

“The report and its findings are profoundly important because they completely rebut the stereotypes that have plagued our migrant population in recent years. People need to be educated about the facts.

“We frequently hear claims that migrants take our jobs and use up our limited services. Migrants pose no threat to our society. This report will hopefully go some way towards changing the conversation about migrants in Northern Ireland.”

PCSP Chair Colin Keenan said:

“Belfast PCSP’s community engagement has shown that these myths have led to negative stereotyping of the migrant population in Belfast.  In extreme circumstances, these myths have been used as an excuse for racist hate crime which cannot be allowed to continue.  Belfast PCSP will play a full role in challenging these myths going forward.”

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CDPB endorses #CommonPlatform response to the Racial Equality Strategy

Centre for Democracy and Peace Building and the Unite Against Hate campaign endorsed the Common Platform paper and welcomed the partnership approach in addressing racial inequalities in our society.

Recent months have witnessed a drastic increase in the number of hate crimes reported to the PSNI. Hate crimes are particularly serious, as they compromise the quality of life for individuals and communities. Hate crimes damage people and the social fabric of Northern Ireland.

Combating hate crime requires consistent, integrated and multi-agency approach.

The Racial Equality Strategy needs to demonstrate clear leadership and commitment to the development of the Hate Crime Action Plan to improve the strategic and operational response to hate crime. Hate Crime Action Plan should focus on victim support, prevention and intervention, should tackle under reporting and consider the implications for the criminal justice agencies.

We need to bring everyone together with the collective goal of building more positive attitudes towards diversity in Northern Ireland, challenging prejudice and hatred.

Living with diversity is an integral part of modern life and we all need to take responsibility for creating an atmosphere where diversity is accepted as normal.

The Common Platform paper has been agreed by organisations working for and with people from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) backgrounds living and working in Northern Ireland, in response to the draft Racial Equality Strategy, A Sense of Belonging, produced by the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister.

The Common Platform highlights agreed common themes and principles that the undersigned organisations believe are critical to the successful implementation of a strategy.

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Unite Against Hate Seminar

Centre for Democracy and Peace Building and the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen’s University Belfast will be hosting the Unite Against Hate Seminar on Thursday, 18 September 2014 at 6.30pm at QUB.

Lord Alderdice, FRCPsych, Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford, Professor John Brewer, HDSocSci, MRIA, FRSE, AcSS, FRSA, Queen’s University Belfast and Professor Mike Cowan, Loyola University New Orleans will examine how the hate we see in racism and sectarianism fits with the religious commitment often claimed.

Professor Michael Cowan and Lord Alderdice will, via their backgrounds in psychotherapy, explore the metaphors, differences and similarities of ‘racism’ and ‘sectarianism’, that reproduce the deep detachments of community division. This will be framed with regard to political and cultural impasse in both New Orleans and Belfast. John Brewer will explore the differences and similarities between racism and sectarianism and highlight the role of faith in underpinning both.

The seminar will be chaired by Professor Peter Shirlow, AcSS, Queen’s University Belfast.

There will be a small wine reception from 6pm preceding the seminar.

For more information or to attend this event please RSVP to Robbie McGreer at ctsj@qub.ac.uk.

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First World War centenary service at St. Anne’s Cathedral

A service commemorating the centenary of Britain’s entry into the First World War is to be held in Belfast.

It will be led by Dean of Belfast John Mann, who will be joined at St Anne’s Cathedral on Monday August 4 by other faith leaders. It marks the date Britain declared war on Germany in 1914.

A candlelit vigil and act of remembrance will be held later that night at the Cenotaph at Belfast City Hall.

Organiser Jeffrey Donaldson said: “We face a decade of significant centenaries in Northern Ireland and on the island of Ireland and I feel it is important that these should not become divisive.

“The global events that took place during 1914 – 1918 involved people from across the island and the political divide and had a profound effect on the history of Ireland in the 20th century.

“We owe it to those who sacrificed their lives with such valour to ensure that the centenary is used to promote better understanding between our various traditions on this island.

“The centennial commemorations of the war provide an opportunity to enhance our shared understanding of this history and to promote reconciliation.”

A member of the Royal Family and First Minister Peter Robinson will be present at the commemorative service along with a senior member of the Irish Government and other community leaders from across Ireland.

Representatives of the Royal British Legion and regimental associations of the army will also attend.

The candlelit vigil will coincide with a similar event at Westminster Abbey and in other regional capitals across the UK. It will be open to the public and those planning to attend are encouraged to bring a candle. The ceremony will include a short act of remembrance and wreath laying, with “lights out” in City Hall for a period during the vigil.

Mr Donaldson chairs a Centenary Committee which organised the events. It believes the key themes for the commemoration of the First World War in Northern Ireland should be remembrance and reconciliation.

The DUP Lagan Valley MP added: “We have sought to engage in traditional acts of remembrance such as the Last Post and the laying of wreaths but
we also recognise that arts and culture must play an important role in our commemoration of the First World War.

“The war itself produced and inspired great poetry, prose, music and art and I hope that over the next four years we are able to add to that with contemporary work that will help us reflect on the war in a new way.”

The committee has identified a number of significant dates that Northern Ireland will play a part in. The centenary of the battles of Gallipoli in April 2015 and Jutland in May 2016, with HMS Caroline in Belfast playing an important part in that particular commemoration. July 1 2016, the centenary of the commencement of the Battle of the Somme, will also be of special significance in Northern Ireland.

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CDPB re-launched the Unite Against Hate campaign

The Centre for Democracy and Peace Building re-launched the Unite Against Hate campaign in partnership with Victim Support NI. The multi-agency driven initiative aims to raise awareness of hate crime among the general public and services available for victims, address the under-reporting of hate crime and promote the benefits of diversity among people in Northern Ireland.

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New Centre for Democracy and Peace Building Launched

The Centre for Democracy and Peace Building was launched today at the Ulster Museum in Belfast as part of Community Relations Week.

Chairman, John, Lord Alderdice, Directors, Jeffrey Donaldson MP and Liam Maskey, and CEO Eva Grosman, are bringing together the substantial international work they have each been doing separately to jointly offer a more thoughtful exploration of the Irish Peace Process for those from other conflicts who want to hear the Northern Ireland story.

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