Leadership Academy: Social Media and Challenges of Conflict and Prejudice

By India Fahy, Washington Ireland Program Class ’15

We have hosted the third #LeadershipAcademy last month. As you may be able to tell from my perpetual hash-tagging, the focus of the session was social media and its relevance to the challenges of conflict and prejudice. We heard from Nick Pickles, Head of Public Policy at Twitter, Enda Young, founder of Transformative Connections, and Oxford researcher Lydia Wilson.

Nick provided a fascinating insight into the concept of positive messaging and really drove home the responsibility borne by social media platforms, such as Twitter. I was inspired by some of the facts and figures presented, which demonstrate that users are standing up more and more often, challenging what they think is unacceptable content. Nick stressed that people are much more likely to have a healthy debate, conducive to productive outcomes, if they see that negative narrative challenged. That being said, Nick stressed that although social media now plays a role in conflict, with that comes immense challenges. He stressed the fact that whole teams of people are dedicated to drafting ‘responsible posting’ guidelines, and that Twitter are very aware that they have a responsibility to ensure that they respond appropriately to any irresponsible usage of their platform. The question that Twitter are facing, Nick said, is ‘how do we ensure that our platform is used to challenge the narrative, and isn’t a platform for people to promote terrorism.’ In typical Twitter fashion the presentation ended with a 21st Century ‘If you have any questions… you could always Tweet me’.

Enda Young, co-founder of Transformative Connections, gave a wonderful presentation about the use technology for peace building, or #PeaceTech. How can we effectively harness the power of social media, and technology, to harmonise conflict? How do we ‘de-jargonise’ social media so that we can effectively harness its power to harmonise conflict? How we measure the real life impact of social media will be crucial to our understanding. How do we translate tacit support i.e. a ‘like’ on Facebook into action? Social media presents an unprecedented opportunity for crowd-sourced information. Where does this data meet government focused statistical analysis?

One thing that particularly sparked my interest was the concept of fact-checking. Enda is involved in the launch of FactCheckNI, a platform designed to allow users to check the accuracy of the information they are viewing on online platforms. After the presentation we discussed the dangers of misinformation, citing recent examples such as an incident in Belfast when a Facebook user posted a photo of a flag supposedly being burnt by City Hall. This provoked a riot, despite imaging software being able to prove that the image had previously been posted years before.

Enda discussed the possibilities for the use of #PeaceTech in furthering the peace process specifically in NI. He presented a project which he is involved in, using virtual reality to engage with a community group and create a community interface, to show them what their community would look like after the interface walls came down. Through this project the offline world has met the online world; they have gathered information offline about what members of the community would like their community to look like, and have created a real life representation, complete with a 3D walk-through. Studies have shown that the use of virtual reality in such circumstances increases the level of empathy and understanding, by helping people to visualise the change and see tangible opportunities for their community.

All of the research carried out by Transformative Connection has been compiled into a concise and accessible report, which Enda presented to us, complete with a super high tech code to scan to access the report (cost-effective, and quite impressive really) – apparently ‘good old fashioned’ QR codes are now old news, who’d have thought?

Lydia Wilson, a researcher at Oxford, presented ‘The Allure of the Islamic State’. Lydia praised Twitter for its record of identifying repeat content, evidenced by the immense difficult she faced trying to track down content. She warned that it would be remiss to describe their attempts as a game of ‘whack a mole’, because contrary to public belief, Twitter is actually slowing them down. Lydia presented a number of stark examples of ISIS’ sophisticated use of technology and social media, including a version of Call of Duty. When it came to Q&A it was fascinating to hear that one of the attendees, a social worker working with youth at risk of radicalisation, had had her eyes opened by the presentation to a whole new possibility of ensuring that the children are not exposed to propaganda.

This #LeadershipAcademy provided a compelling insight into the phenomenon of social media and technological advances, coupled with their immense potential for challenging conflict and prejudice. What is also clear however, is that with this comes an increased risk of hijacking, so we must work to keep it neutral, to ensure that it fulfils its potential as a platform for free and open conversation, conducive to solving disagreements and engaging new voices.

The next Leadership Academy on 26th April 2016 will focus on Understanding and Countering Violent-Extremism. Sign up here: https://getinvited.to/cdpb/leadership/

CDPB Chairman, Lord Alderdice talks to Israel TV about Peace Building

On a brief visit to Israel in March, Lord Alderdice gave an interview that was broadcast on Israel TV1′ s main Saturday evening Foreign Affairs programme.  There was a lot of positive comment from various parts of the Middle East and we thought that CDPB web-site followers might be interested to see it too.

The interview is short, but in a few minutes Lord Alderdice maps out some of the key elements to the approach that he took in addressing the Talks in Northern Ireland and the subsequent long-term and continuing process of implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.  He also discusses the similarities and differences between the problems facing Israelis and Palestinians in their long-standing conflict, and the applications and limits of experiences in one conflict as applied to other places.

Music Unite: Bands March To The Beat Of Their Own Drum

A new report into the Music Unite project has shown how music can unify people, address alienation and challenge stereotypes.

The report by Professor John Brewer and Dr Francis Teeney from the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice, (Queen’s University Belfast) has been published by the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building (CDPB).

The report specifically examines the Music Unite pilot project developed by CDPB in partnership with Beyond Skin.

The project gave the Shankill Road Defenders Flute Band the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas and genres with musicians from other backgrounds and cultures, develop new skills and challenge stereotypes associated with the Loyalist bands.

Junior Minister Emma Little Pengelly said: 

“Tonight’s showcase clearly demonstrates  how bringing people together from diverse cultures and backgrounds can break down barriers, change perceptions and  help build a more united community. The Music Unite project is a great example of work undertaken to deliver the aims of the Northern Ireland Executive’s Together: Building a United Community strategy. We are determined to build a more reconciled and united Northern Ireland. Building on a shared interest Music Unite has given the people who took part the opportunity gain new skills, experience and, most importantly, an understanding of each other. Tonight’s showcase shows just what can be achieved when we work together.”

Professor John Brewer said:

“Through the study we wanted to see if we could change perceptions of the Loyalist flute band culture by allowing the members of the Shankill Road Defenders the opportunity to meet other musicians, exchange musical ideas and genres and widen their musical horizons and repertoire. 

“The study demonstrates that music is indeed a powerful way of drawing together people from diverse backgrounds. It is widely accepted that there is a growing sense of alienation amongst young working class Loyalist men and we are delighted to say that the project was warmly welcomed by all involved and especially SRD participants who do feel that their music and cultural expressions are greatly misunderstood.”

An event to showcase the Music Unite project was held at the MAC Belfast on 30 March and featured an eclectic mix of traditional flute band music fused with Colombian, Kurdish, Ghanaian, Sri Lankan and Irish sounds. There were performances by Shankill Road Defenders, North Down Defenders and Ballykeel Loyal Sons of Ulster.

At the event, Beyond Skin  also showcased their two international flagship projects connected to Music Unite – WOMAD NI and Parallel Versing with special guests from Sri Lanka and Colombia in attendance.

Chief Executive of the Centre for Peace Building and Democracy, Eva Grosman said: 

“We were keen to demonstrate the power of the arts in contributing towards peace-building in Northern Ireland. Following the success of the pilot project with The Shankill Road Defenders,  we are delighted to provide opportunities like this to many other bands with our partners Beyond Skin who have enabled us to collaborate with international musicians.

“The project gives Loyalist band members an opportunity to interact with musicians from different cultures and celebrate their own identity whilst addressing some of the very negative stereotypes that exist around these bands.”

Senior members of CDPB offer assistance in Colombian Peace Process

​As we come to a critical period in Colombia’s history, senior members of CPDB have returned to offer assistance on a number of fronts.

The negotiations between the Government of Colombia and senior officials of FARC are coming to a conclusion and though it had been clear for some weeks that the March 23rd deadline would not see the signing of an agreement, it was equally clear that the commitment of both sides is very likely to see a positive outcome within weeks.

Director, Jeffrey Donaldson MP and Chairman, Lord Alderdice both made separate visits during March to follow on their previous involvements in the Colombian Peace Process.

In his three-day visit Jeffrey Donaldson continued his work with other Northern Ireland politicians engaging with FARC political figures and elected and governmental officials, including the Presidents of the Senate and the House in the Colombian Congress.

Lord Alderdice met senior government officials including the country’s President, Juan Manuel Santos and also spent much of his week-long visit encouraging and supporting university and professional groups and peace NGO’s, including the Colombian Peace Council and the Centre for Memory Peace and Reconciliation in Bogota. He focussed in on the needs of the seven million victims of the decades of violent conflict and explored the challenges the Government faces in re-integrating thousands of former guerillas and paramilitaries. He also addressed meetings of senior private sector CEO’s in Colombia about the opportunities and responsibilities of the business and commerce communities to contribute to the implementation of the Peace Agreement when it comes.

Speaking to the press in the Presidential Palace in Bogota after his meeting with President Juan Manuel Santos, Lord Alderdice said:

“I had an excellent meeting with the President and assured him of the support and good wishes for the Colombian Peace Process of the more than 100 member parties of Liberal International, of which I am Presidente d’Honneur, and also of people across the United Kingdom and Ireland. We discussed in some detail the challenges of completing the negotiations in the very near future, seeking public affirmation in a plebiscite and the difficult and inevitably long-term work of implementation during the rest of his Presidency and beyond. The President is working extremely hard to deliver a peace that will make for a better future for the children of Colombia, and for their sake this unprecedented opportunity for a settlement must not be lost.”

CDPB intends to continue to respond positively to the requests for assistance from Colombia.

Chris Maccabe CB joins CDPB’s Board of Directors

We are delighted to announce the appointment of Chris Maccabe CB to the Board of Directors of the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building. Mr Macabe is joining Lord Alderdice, Rt Hon Jeffrey Donaldosn MP, Liam Maskey and Professor Deirdre Heenan.

Chris Maccabe served as a private secretary to the Chief Minister of Northern Ireland, Brian Faulkner, during the short-lived power sharing Executive in 1974; and as a private secretary to the Deputy Secretary of State for Northern Ireland from 1975 to 1977.

Between 1980 and 1984 he was a special assistant to the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Sir John Hermon; and from 1988 to 1991 Director of Regimes in the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

In 1992 he was appointed head of the Political Affairs Division in the Northern Ireland Office, and subsequently Political Director of the NIO (an appointment coupled with the role of British Joint Secretary of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference). From then until his retirement from the NIO in 2008 he was deeply involved in the negotiations leading up to the Good Friday Agreement and beyond, and in discussions with the associates of various paramilitary groups. Since 2006 he has given advice to the governments of Sri Lanka, Kosovo, Tanzania and elsewhere on peace processes and political development.

He is currently a member of the International Verification Commission monitoring ETA’s ceasefire in Spain; the Minister of Justice’s representative on the team assessing the Minister’s 2010 agreement with dissident Republican prisoners in Maghaberry Prison; Chair of Belfast Conflict Resolution Consortium; a director of Forum for Cities in Transition (Belfast) Ltd; and a governor (and former Chairman) of Victoria College Belfast.

Chris holds bachelors and masters degrees in law from Queen’s University and the University of London. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Irish Studies at Liverpool University, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. In 2004 he was appointed a Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.


PSNI’s first multi-agency seminar to tackle hate crime

The Police Service of Northern Ireland hosted their first multi-agency hate crime seminar to illustrate and share practice about the range of work being been done to address hate crime issues across Northern Ireland.

ACC Stephen Martin, who is the organisational lead for hate crime, opened the event held at Newforge.

He said; “In 2014, following a rise in the incidence of hate crime the PSNI launched a range of operational measures to deal more effectively with what is a very serious issue.  Because the victims are in a minority, the impact of these crimes is much more keenly felt, can be long lasting and has a much wider resonance than just with the victim and their immediate family.  Hate Crime is a strategic priority for PSNI and I am extremely encouraged by the commitment of our partner agencies who work so hard with us to tackle prejudice and ignorance in our society. I truly believe that there is more confidence now for members of the public to report these incidents to police.

He continued; “However, we must not be complacent. We all recognise that there is still so much to do to confront hate crime and it is vital we continue to work closely with our partners and voluntary sector organisations.  Collectively we need to send a strong message that Hate Crime is not acceptable, and where it occurs, seek to catch those responsible and place them before the courts.”

Following the opening address Denise Wright, Race Relations Manager from South Belfast Roundtable and former PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan McIvor took to the stage to discuss working with the Syrian refugees.

Jonathan McIvor, who is Director of Siren Associates said; “For over two years former PSNI officers, as part of a British Embassy funded project implemented by Siren Associates, a Northern Ireland not for profit organisation, have been working to create safe and secure environments for Syrian Refugees in camps in Jordan in partnership with International Organisations. The process of integrating vulnerable Syrian Refugees into our communities here will require understanding, generosity and a commitment to valuing diversity. Some of the learning from that experience is helping to inform the process of receiving refugees into Northern Ireland.”

Kerry Malone, Probation Board NI Area Manager, said  “PBNI value the ongoing multi-agency partnership working and welcome the opportunity to present at the Hate Crime Seminar. PBNI address all aspects of abusive behaviours outlined under hate crime legislation through the provision of professional analysis in pre-sentence assessment and evidence based, effective intervention during supervision. PBNI are committed to changing lives for safer communities”.

Jolena Flett from the Migrant Centre NI spoke about the hate crime advocacy services and said; “We are encouraged by events like this that give the community and the PSNI the opportunity to come together and share learning and improve services to victims.”

Eva Grosman, CEO Centre for Democracy and Peace Building and co-founder of Unite Against Hate campaign added; “The Unite Against Hate campaign aims to raise awareness of hate crime among the general public, address under-reporting of hate crime and promote the benefits of diversity among people in Northern Ireland.  Our work would not be possible without the ongoing support from the key partners, including the PSNI. The Police Service was the main driver behind the original UAH campaign and continues to lead the way in addressing and improving response to hate crime across NI.”

ACC Martin concluded; “I remain convinced that hate crime will only be resolved with a co-ordinated, multi-agency approach. Together with our partner agencies we will continue to work closely and engage with our most vulnerable communities, increase confidence and ensure that Northern Ireland is a welcoming place for those who are forced to flee their homes.  We would ask the community to assist us in that effort.”


Music Unite in Ballymena

The Ballykeel Loyal Sons of Ulster band are to perform at the Ballymena Showgrounds as part of the ‘Music Unite’ programme on 23th March 2016.

Music Unite is a joint project between the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building and  Beyond Skin and supported by OFMDFM. The Ballymena event has been developed in partnership with the Ballymena Inter Ethnic Forum.

Music Unite provides an opportunity for band members and musicians from different cultures to develop relationships, celebrate identity and perform together as well as to challenge stereotypes that are associated with Loyalist bands.

The Music Unite Ballymena project builds on a very successful pilot programme with the Shankill Road Defenders (SRD) Flute Band.

A public event will take place on 23rd March at 7.30pm at Des Allen Suite, Ballymena Showgrounds. The Ballykeel Loyal Sons of Ulster band will be joined by the Shankill Road Defenders and artists from Slovakia and Ghana and a special guest from Columbia.

You are welcome to join us to celebrate diversity and bringing people together through their love of music.

Light refreshments will be provided.

Music Unite 23rd March Flyer

Leadership Academy: Hate Crime and Community Policing

The Leadership Academy has been developed by the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building and the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool. It shares the knowledge and experience of conflict and conflict transformation in Northern Ireland and beyond, and its relation to dissent and risk in contemporary British society.

By India Fahy

On Tuesday we hosted the second of our Leadership Academy sessions, this time focused on Hate Crime and Community Policing.

IMG_4035It was a pleasure to hear the insights of Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin, who discussed at length the importance, particularly in NI, of police building their cultural competencies and being constantly alert to the nuances of everything they say and do. This messaged was reiterated by Paul Giassani who highlighted the overlap with the PSNI and the Police Service in England and Wales and stressed that hostility exists in every society, the willingness of the state to deal with it is considered to be a key indicator of a thriving society.

One message that I took away was the notion that a business can never be successful without understanding its clients’ and their needs and wants. It seems that there has been a drive within the police force to adopt a more ‘client-centric’ approach, seeking to understand the communities they police. ACC Martin made the point that it would be nonsensical to arrive at the house of a Catholic family in Derry/Londonderry to deal with a domestic violence issue and refer to the city as Londonderry. This is certainly a welcome development.

ACC Martin stressed that the response of police officers to hate crime is critical; until officers begin to identify with victims of hatred and truly appreciate the fear and isolation it can create, he believes that we will always be one step behind – policies and other measures will not resolve the problem. On a more somber note ACC Martin stressed that as Northern Ireland moves beyond ‘The Troubles’ he can’t help but wonder if we are starting to displace traditional sectarian hostility with hostility based on difference by ethnicity, other religions, or sexuality.

This fear was certainly corroborated in some respects by the quantitative research study presented by Professor Peter Shirlow. Professor Shirlow provided a fascinating insight into the role of ‘signals’, particularly in a post-conflict society like Northern Ireland, in influencing perceptions of crime. He provided the comparison of a young man wearing a celtic or rangers shirt attacked at a bus stop, and a young man in plain clothing being attacked in the same circumstances. He stressed that because of our identification we can perceive that an attack with a ‘signal’ is an attack on ‘us’ and our community. Professor Shirlow’s study on perceptions of crime surveyed 990 families in Belfast interface areas about how common they believed that sectarian and ordinary crimes are in their communities. Whilst the level of recorded sectarian crimes across the wards ranged fro 1% – 7%, perceived levels of sectarian crime ranged from 23% to 55%. The study also revealed that perceived sectarian crime was the biggest indicator of a negative attitude towards the police.

A personal highlight of this week’s leadership academy was the attendance by two members of the police force of Somalia. Somalia is now emerging from conflict after 27 years and the challenge that the police force are facing is immense, in particular challenges from extremist organisations are proving extremely difficult to assuage. The two officers attended the Leadership Academy hoping to gain an understanding of how they can move forward and gain the confidence of their community. Both ACC Martin and Paul Giassani provided practical and innovative advice based on their experience of building relationships and rebuilding some semblance of unity.

This is just a snippet of the lessons that emerged from this Leadership Academy session. Deirdre, Stephen, Peter and Paul spoke eloquently about their own experience and advice moving forward.  It is evident that remnants of the problems of the past still linger in Northern Ireland, and that we are likely to face a host of new issues. What matters going forward is that we have clear and concise strategies moving forward which are executed as sensitively as possible.

The next Leadership Academy on ‘Social Media as a Driver of Conflict/Conflict Transformation’  will take place at the University of Liverpool’s London Campus on Wednesday 23rd March 2016 at 2.30pm.

University of Liverpool’s London Campus on Tuesday 23rd February 2016 at 2.30pm

Sign up here: www.getinvited.to/cdpb/leadership/

Leadership Academy: Engaging with Communities at Risk

By India Fahy

The Leadership Academy has been developed by the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building and the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool. It shares the knowledge and experience of conflict and conflict transformation in Northern Ireland and beyond, and its relation to dissent and risk in contemporary British society.

The first session, ‘Engaging with Communities at Risk’, took place on 26th January. At the heart of the focus of the session was an examination of the role and impact of leadership in public service. I left the session feeling enlightened and with a revived interest in the study of Northern Ireland.

I had never before even considered the role played by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in creating a peaceful and fair society. Jennifer Hawthorne, Head of Communities for the NIHE, led a fascinating session on ‘Building Peace through Housing’, giving an overview of the work that the HE is involved in within interface communities and some of the hardest hit areas of NI. The work carried out by the Community Cohesion team is focused on building better relations, ensuring that communities are safe and welcome to all, and strengthening cohesive communities.

One specific element of the projects carried out resonated with me, it seemed clear that the emphasis of the projects is placed on a careful process and impact, rather than tokenistic sentiments. The re-imaging programme works directly with communities, ensuring that they are fully involved from the project’s inception, giving a real sense of ownership and pride from the outset. Emotive examples have included new artwork featuring images close to the communities’ heart, such as a Mandela anti-racism mural created in Woodbourne.

Professor Shirlow made another interesting observation, about the fact that we often forget that there is a peace process worthy of study and consideration right on our doorstep. He highlighted that many conflict theorists are guilty of looking to former conflict regions further afield, such as the former Yugoslavia, before considering Northern Ireland. After the session I had a conversation with another WIP alum which shed further light on this matter, in-fact she had travelled to Yugoslavia with a view to studying the peace process there. As a resident of the Republic of Ireland she had never considered that a peace process worthy of study existed just across the border. 

These were just two lessons that I took away from the dynamic and comprehensive Leadership Academy session led by Professor Peter Shirlow, Debbie Waters and Jennifer Hawthorne. It is just this type of realisation that is the very purpose of the Academy itself, the Academy is intended to raise awareness and understanding, and capture the experiences of the many processes at work in Northern Ireland’s ongoing peace process. I came away from the session with a refreshed interest in such matters and a desire to expand my knowledge further.

The next session ‘Hate Crime and Community Policing’ on 23rd February will look at the evidence on hate crime and its impact on community/policing relationships and the policies adopted to challenge the reproduction of hate crime and its destabilising effect.

University of Liverpool’s London Campus on Tuesday 23rd February 2016 at 2.30pm

Sign up here: www.getinvited.to/cdpb/leadership/

First EU Debate NI event launched in Belfast City Hall

The first EU Debate NI event was launched in Belfast City Hall by Deputy Lord Mayor Alderman Guy Spence on Friday, 5 February. It brought together representatives from across business, public and community sectors to discuss the issues that need to be considered in Northern Ireland in relation to the upcoming UK referendum on continued EU membership.

EU Debate NI is a programme of the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building (CDPB). CDPB are taking a neutral position in this debate, seeking to stimulate and inform debate on the issues in this referendum.

Conor Houston, Programme Director at CDPB commented following the event that “it was a lively, engaging and interactive event. We had round table discussions together with interactive polling allowed for diverse opinions and a range of views to be debated – including issues around trade, cross-border, immigration, effect on peace-funding and many other topics.”