Lord Alderdice response to the Statement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on the developing crisis in the power-sharing institutions at Stormont

Responding in the House of Lords today to the Statement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on the developing crisis in the power-sharing institutions at Stormont

Lord Alderdice (LD):

My Lords, for a number of years when I was on the IMC I focused a great deal on the monitoring of paramilitary organisations. Is the Minister aware that the balance and order of things in this Statement could potentially be misleading? It focuses heavily on the question of whether there has been IRA activity, as though that was the real primary cause of the current crisis, when in truth this crisis has been developing for months and months over the failure of the political parties—particularly the two leading political parties—to work together in a proper governmental way. This recent event is important, but it should not be allowed to distract us from the fact that if it were magicked away tomorrow morning, the problems would remain.

Secondly, is the Minister aware that even if welfare reform were taken back to Westminster—and if it has to be so, I certainly would not oppose it—that would still leave a complete breakdown in the relationship between the Democratic Unionist Party leadership and the Sinn Fein leadership? Without a working relationship together, the devolved structures will not be able to continue, whether or not they have a problem of welfare and whether or not there is any indication of IRA activity. One must say that Sinn Fein has said the kind of things that many people wanted it to say for years on the IRA: that this was criminal activity; that people should go to the police with information; and that there was absolutely no justification. The Statement refers to “politically motivated violence”, but I have the sense that everything we know about this incident means that it was personally motivated violence rather than for the purpose of destabilising Northern Ireland.

Therefore, will the Minister take back to his colleagues who are engaged in this process that we do not need another monitoring commission or another short-term political fix but a change in the kind of relationships there are between the senior leaderships of the DUP and Sinn Fein? If not, we will be faced, as the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, has suggested, with legislation in this place to take back powers, which would be a disaster.

Lord Alderdice to speak at RISING – a new global peace forum

 

RISING, a new global peace forum in Coventry, UK, is launched on Monday 17 August, with a specially filmed message to the world from Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Speakers confirmed for the first annual event include Rt Hon Gordon Brown, Terry Waite CBE, and Cardinal Onaiyekan, Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria.

With the theme ‘A Hard Road to Hope’, the inaugural RISING 15 will see global statesmen, business leaders, peace advocates and members of the public meet in the city from 11 – 13 November 2015. Together they will push forward new ways of thinking about peace and conflict in our turbulent world. Tickets go on sale shortly and it expected that up to 400 people from around the world will attend.

RISING is a partnership between Coventry City Council, Coventry University and Coventry Cathedral. Coinciding with Armistice Day and the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Coventry on 14 November 1940, it will take place in buildings surrounding the shattered ruins of the city’s medieval cathedral. Preserved as a reminder of the trauma caused by World War Two, this iconic landmark has become a potent symbol for peace and reconciliation around the world.

Speakers at RISING 15 will include:

  • Rt Hon Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister and UN special envoy for Global Education.
  • Lord John Alderdice, former Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly and leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, now a Liberal Democrat in the House of Lords where he chairs Parliament’s All Party Group on Conflict Issues.
  • Terry Waite CBE, humanitarian, author and former aide of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was kidnapped and held hostage in Lebanon for 1,763 days.
  • Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, one of the world’s biggest Christian denominations with 85 million members in over 165 countries.
  • Cardinal Onaiyekan, Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria.
  • Michael Binyon OBE, Veteran foreign correspondent and leader writer for The Times.
  • Mary Harper, the BBC World Service’s Africa Editor.
  • Sam Lee, Director of Send in the Clowns, a documentary film exploring the impact of prolonged aid in Haiti as it follows a group of idealistic volunteer performers from Clowns without Borders.
  • Iman Icar, Deputy Mayor of Mogadishu, capital of Somalia and one of the world’s most divided and volatile cities.
  • Emma Sky OBE, who served in Iraq longer than any other senior military or diplomatic figure, first as the Coalition’s Governorate Coordinator for Kirkuk province and later as an adviser to the US Commanding General.
  • Richard Smith, a peacebuilder and anti-apartheid activist working with one of Africa’s leading peacebuilding organisations, the Action Support Centre.
  • Karam Hilly, an activist and community organiser from Syria working for peaceful demonstration and change. Karam was detained by the Assad regime in 2014 and fled to Turkey. He still works in Syria to keep hope alive, but at great personal risk.
  • Colonel Dr Brendan O’Shea, a Commandant in the Irish Defence Forces who has worked on international peace support operations in the Middle East, the Balkans and West Africa.

For more information please visit www.rising.org

Honoured with 2015 Prize for Freedom

The Chairman of CDPB has been presented with the 2015 Liberal International, Prize for Freedom, by LI President, Dr Juli Minoves, at a ceremony in Zurich in June in the presence of many liberal politicians from around the world.

The annual Prize for Freedom is Liberal International’s highest recognition and has been awarded each year since 1985 to an individual who is seen as having made “an exceptional contribution to the advancement of Human Rights and Political Freedom”. 

Previous laureates of the Prize for Freedom have come from across the world and have included, Helen Suzman, Aung San Suu Kyi, President Mary Robinson, President Vaclav Havel, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Hans-Dietrich Genscher and President Corazon Aquino. The first recipient in 1985 was former Argentinian President, Raul Alfonsin for his various contributions to peace in South America.

The nomination for the 2015 Prize for Freedom came from the German Group of Liberal International which cited “Lord Alderdice’s contribution to negotiating the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland and his participation in peace missions around the world….work which continues particularly through his Directorship of the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict, based at Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford”.

Lord Alderdice speaking in a debate in the House of Lords on the role of soft power and non-military options in conflict prevention.

Moved by The Archbishop of Canterbury –

That this House takes note of the role of soft power and non-military options in conflict prevention.

Lord Alderdice (LD):

My Lords, like other Members of your Lordships’ House, I thank the most reverend Primate for securing the debate, but also for the manner of his speech and the leadership and encouragement he has given over quite a number of years to those of us who are interested in, and committed to, addressing conflict in non-violent ways. Many people from outside your Lordships’ House will read his speech and continue to be encouraged, as they have been in the past, by the approach that he has taken and by the active way he has engaged in these matters. I declare an interest as the director of the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict, based at Harris Manchester College, Oxford, and of a new centre we are developing in Belfast, the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building.

At the start, I want to make clear that, as someone committed to this kind of work, I take the strong view that military and security roles are extremely important. As the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, said, it is quite true that military options on their own, without what we are calling soft power, can lead to wickedness and tragic results. However, it is also true that soft power as we describe it can often be wholly ineffectual and sometimes little more than a description of a wish list.

If one speaks to those involved in, for example, policing and military operations in most parts of the world, thoughtful people in our own services will say repeatedly that there is no security solution to this particular dilemma but there is a security role. I make an analogy with my medical background. Pharmacology rarely cures problems but, without that back-up, psychology rarely leads to the kind of cure that we want to see. We have to contain the problems but not leave it there; we have to find ways of working through them. Sometimes we can stop when we have contained them, only to regret the fact that it all goes to pieces again. We have many examples of that.

I make it clear that in everything that I say—and I am going to focus on the non-military side, which is the subject of our debate—the military and policing role is critical. If there is one great failing of the United Nations system, apart from our difficulty in reaching agreements with each other, it is that its lack of capacity to implement its decisions means that increasingly our people look at the UN not as a force for hope for the future but as a disappointment and a broken reed. There are issues there about the appropriate use of force that need to be properly considered.

Other noble Lords have given us a list and a description of some of the important institutions of soft power in this country, and they are extremely impressive. The Commonwealth was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby and the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, who is a stout defender of the importance of this quite extraordinary institution and network of relationships. Also mentioned was the British Council, which, tragically, is probably known much more widely in other parts of the world than in the United Kingdom, where it ought to be valued much more. The Foreign Office, the Department for International Development, the BBC and our English language have also been mentioned, but there are many others that have not.

It is interesting that your Lordships’ House has not been mentioned, yet it is a source of significant influence. A young colleague from Colombia was listening to a debate in your Lordships’ House earlier this week. He said, “You probably don’t think about it but there are other countries in the world that are probably going to implement the legislation that you have been discussing in five years’ time”—precisely because they look to this place because of the moral integrity that has, at least in better times, been a mark of this place. Gladstone was committed to democracy as,

“trust in the people qualified by prudence”.

I have always regarded the other place as “trust in the people” and your Lordships’ House as the qualification, “by prudence”—but the second is very important, too.

There are other elements that I would like to pick up. I do not want to focus on the institutions but, rather, on what is at the back of this. One is the notion of common law and the way we conduct ourselves. This is a remarkable contribution, but sometimes it is not well understood by liberals. Many liberal colleagues focus on the importance of creating law, institutions and regulations which hold people to important principles. The institutions themselves do not necessarily hold people to important principles, and in fact can mislead people into thinking that they are the key issue. Frequently, people come to me from other parts of the world asking for a description of the processes that we have and the institutions that we created in my part of the United Kingdom. I say, “I’m not going to tell you about that. You can read about that in a book—but simply adopting them won’t solve your problem”.

In the same kind of way, tragically, the European Union, of which I am strong supporter and defender, has in many ways lost its purpose. Why is that? It is because its purpose was to make sure that there was not another horrible war in Europe. All the things that we have put in place—the euro, economic co-operation and all the structures and bureaucracy, including the European Parliament—are for the purpose of making sure that we do not have another war. Yet, tragically, within Europe these institutions have themselves become the purpose for many people, and, sadly, many political colleagues see them as a way in which we can sit at the top table in political terms. That is not the purpose and it is one reason why the people of Europe are disenchanted—because that is not what it was about.

In the same kind of way, just because you pass a clinical room that says “Therapy Going On Inside” does not mean it is so just because there is a therapist and patient. They may simply be going through the motions. It is very important that we distinguish between the purpose of the enterprise and the mechanisms through which we can have things happen.

All of the things we have been describing are the mechanisms, so what is at the back of them? Common law helps us because it helps to facilitate relationships between groups of people. If one key thing came out of our experience at home, it was that finding peace was not about putting into place institutions; it was about dealing with historic disturbed relationships. We constructed a peace process that had three strands of three important sets of relationships and everything came after that. The key thing about common law, which distinguishes it from civil law in many ways, is that it looks to a degree of flexibility within structure that enables people to deal with relationships appropriately.

I will give an example from my own experience. We put into place certain rules and regulations for how the Assembly Chamber might operate in Northern Ireland, but it was clear that there were times when it was more important to give one group of politicians room and space than another. For example, if there was a big bomb in a nationalist area it was important to give more nationalists the chance to speak about it than unionists—and vice versa—rather than simply hold to a rule that says, “You have to have this number of minutes for this and this person”. If it was done in a context of concern and relationship, it was not only possible but an enrichment and people felt that something worthwhile was happening, whereas if we had simply stuck to the rules rigidly, everybody would have been frustrated. That approach, which is a characteristic of your Lordships’ House and of the culture of this country, is absolutely crucial.

If there is one thing that this country has lost over a number of years, it is a degree of confidence in its own culture and the things that are important about it. When we think about relationships between people we think about the personalities of those who are involved. In a way, the culture of our community is the personality of this whole country—the personality of the whole group. I do not mean the symbols of culture such as art, flags and all those kinds of things but the way of being in the world of our community and country—a way in this country that was characterised by a degree of stability, integrity, respect, ethical behaviour and rules that were there for the purpose of relationships, not in order to dominate relationships. It was characterised by an attitude and approach that was open, not nationalistic but international, and respectful of people with different faiths and different approaches.

However, that did not mean that the faith of the people in this country was something that they did not believe in because it was just one of many. On the contrary, it was that degree of certitude, commitment and faith that made it possible to be open to others who had a different approach. Maybe it was even the fact that this island was not invaded for most of a thousand years that gave us the possibility of having that kind of confidence and being outgoing to others. In a sense, some of this has been lost as people have begun to feel that it is all about everybody having the same values—and we do not. There are those cultures that promote female genital mutilation. I do not accept that such a culture should be allowed to survive and thrive. We should speak against it. We should not necessarily attack it militarily, but we should try to make a change and realise that our values have something very important to contribute.

I finish by speaking of two things. First, the most reverend Primate has shown great leadership. I will give an example of a place where I think religious leaders could do so. In Jerusalem, at the moment, there is a deep split between Jewish nationalism within the country and—largely but by no means exclusively—Islamic Palestinians. But Christians have a stake in Jerusalem. If His Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch and the most reverend Primate were together to say to the Israeli Government and Palestinians, “This is not just a fight between the two of you. We have a stake in this as Christians throughout the world”, you would change the psychological dynamic from a fight between two to a relationship with a larger body of people who have a say—not because they want to govern or to rule, and not because they want to send in the legions of His Holiness, but rather because they want to change the dynamic into something fruitful.

I shall finish by saying this. I have mentioned your Lordships’ House as an example of our culture. I suspect that relatively few places in the world have a Parliament in which religious leaders sit as of right—but there is one at least, and it is Iran. It may be the case that your Lordships’ House in this country has a very particular role to play at this time, when hard power and military might are absolutely impotent in dealing with the challenge of the relationships between East and West, between Iran and the western world. With our experience we can show respect for others who have a different religious perspective but who value matters of ultimate faith and transcendence. We could show them, by building and developing relationship, we can make a difference. The most reverend Primate has given us the leadership; I trust we will follow.

The ‘long and winding road’

The ‘long and winding road’ towards peace in Ireland still has a few steps to go, but part of the path to a better future for ourselves is found not only in developing new ways of working at home, but in sharing our journey with others elsewhere whose communities have also been trapped in violent political conflict.
Read more