The Art of Listening Webinar | 19 October | 3pm – 4pm

Join us for the webinar on The Art of Listening

Tuesday, 19 October | 3pm – 4pm

Lord Alderdice in conversation with Padraig O’Malley and Graham Spencer about the importance of listening in conflict resolution.

Register HERE.

John, Lord Alderdice is a psychiatrist who, as Leader of Northern Ireland’s Alliance Party was one of the key negotiators of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, then first Speaker of the new Northern Ireland Assembly, and subsequently one of four international Commissioners who oversaw security normalization in Ireland.  A member of the House of Lords since 1996 and Convenor of the Liberal Democrats in the Lords during the Coalition Government, he was President of Liberal International – the global federation of liberal parties – and currently has various appointments at the University of Oxford including as Director of the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict. Lord Alderdice is also the Chairman Emeritus of the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building.

Padraig O’Malley is an Irish peacemaker, author and professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston who specializes in the problems of divided societies, such as South Africa and Northern Ireland. He has written extensively on these subjects and has been actively involved in promoting dialogue among representatives of differing factions.

Graham Spencer is Professor of Social and Political Conflict at the University of Portsmouth, UK. He has worked extensively with conflict groups in Northern Ireland and published widely on the peace process. His recent books include Inside Accounts: The Irish Government and Peace in Northern Ireland, from Sunningdale to the Good Friday Agreement (Vol 1) and from the Good Friday Agreement to the fall of power-sharing (Vol 2), Manchester University Press (2020); The British and Peace in Northern Ireland, Cambridge University Press (2015); and From Armed Struggle to Political Struggle: Republican Tradition and Transformation in Northern Ireland, Bloomsbury (2015).


TEDxStormont: TED Circles April 2020

In April, TEDxStormont will host a special online TED Circles programme themed around COVID 19, changing world and your well-being. The ZOOM webinars will take place each Monday afternoon at 4pm (BST) and will be co-hosted by Lord Alderdice and special guests. Please join in to learn, share your perspective and connect with new ideas.

TED Circles is an open platform for meaningful conversations about ideas. Imagine a book club for TED Talks! A new TED initiative, at TED Circles you will meet others who are inspired by TED and interested in joining small discussions, facilitated by our volunteer hosts, on a variety of relevant and timely topics.

Register at:


Monday, 6 April
Emotional first aid with special guests Professor Siobhan O’Neill and Peter McBride

Watch Guy Winch: Why we all need to practice emotional first aid HERE.

Monday, 13 April
The art of stillness with special guest Fr Mark Patrick Hederman OSB and Bridgeen Rea-Kaya

Watch Pico Iyer: The art of stillness HERE.

Monday, 20 April
Compassion with special guest Padraig O’Tuama and Sr Judith Leckie

Watch Krista Tippett: Reconnecting with compassion HERE.

Monday, 27 April
Gratefulness with special guest Karen Sethuraman and Rev Dr John Dunlop

Watch David Steindl-Rast: Want to be happy? Be grateful HERE.


CO-HOST Professor, the Lord Alderdice FRCPsych

Professor, the Lord Alderdice FRCPsych is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords and was the Chairman of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords during the Liberal/Conservative Coalition Government. Previously a consultant psychiatrist at the Centre for Psychotherapy he established in Belfast, Lord Alderdice is currently a Senior Research Fellow and Director of the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict at Harris Manchester College (University of Oxford). He is also a Clinical Professor in Psychiatry at the University of Maryland (Baltimore) and Chairman Emeritus of the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building (Belfast).

TED Circle: COVID19 and the social distancing problem

Our first TED Circle webinar on COVID 19 and the social distancing problem will take place on Monday, 30 March from 3pm to 4pm (BST).

TED Circles is an open platform for meaningful conversations about ideas. Imagine a book club for TED Talks! A new TED initiative, at TED Circles you will meet others who are inspired by TED and interested in joining small discussions, facilitated by our volunteer hosts, on a variety of relevant and timely topics.

The webinar will be facilitated by the team at TEDxStormont and co-hosted by Lord Alderdice and Sinead O’Sullivan. We will discuss TED talk by Robert Waldinger: What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness and article by Scott Atran: Coronavirus & The Social Distancing Problem.

Please join in to learn, share your perspective and connect with new ideas.

Join us live on Facebook @TEDxStormont or register HERE.




Professor, the Lord Alderdice FRCPsych

Professor, the Lord Alderdice FRCPsych is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords and was the Chairman of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords during the Liberal/Conservative Coalition Government. Previously a consultant psychiatrist at the Centre for Psychotherapy he established in Belfast, Lord Alderdice is currently a Senior Research Fellow and Director of the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict at Harris Manchester College (University of Oxford). He is also a Clinical Professor in Psychiatry at the University of Maryland (Baltimore) and Chairman Emeritus of the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building (Belfast).

Sinead O’Sullivan

Sinead O’Sullivan is the CEO of Veriphix, a behavioural dynamics platform that detects and measures human emotion at scale. A Fellow at Harvard Law School (Center for Internet and Society) and a Senior Research Fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sinead is also part of MIT’s COVID19 task force that seeks to implement immediate economic and governmental policies in response to the global pandemic.

An Aerospace Engineer from N.Ireland, with a Bachelor of Aerospace Engineering from Queen’s University of Belfast, a Masters in Aerospace Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology, a Certificate of Space Engineering from the International Space University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. Her engineering experience includes human factors research at the European Space Agency, human spaceflight mission design at NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and autonomous robotics creation for the US Navy.

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

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:

Further information from the CRIC Director at:

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.

Annual Report 2018: The challenges of our time

In my life-time there has never been a greater need, across the world, for people to work for democracy and peace building.

When we started CDPB our focus was largely on Northern Ireland – what we had learned, and what we needed to do to complete the Peace Process. It has been exciting and inspirational to work with colleagues in CDPB, especially our remarkable CEO, Eva Grosman, as well as with friends and co-workers in the public, private and community sectors at home and right across the world. As you will see from even the briefest glance through the pages of this report, CDPB has been active from the Middle East to Latin America, throughout Europe, with colleagues in the United States, the United Kingdom and of course North and South of the border in Ireland.

In all these many activities we have seen much to confirm and develop both our understandings of conflict and violence, and also what we might call ‘civil paths to peace’. However, as I noted in last year’s report, we face huge challenges. How can we contribute to getting devolution in Northern Ireland back up and running? What is it possible to do to improve the atmosphere and attitudes in our divided community? Where can we find the best ideas for achieving an outcome to Brexit that takes us forward and not backward on the island of Ireland and in the United Kingdom? These are tough questions, and the answers involve everyone paying some kind of price, but with the chance of enormous community benefit.

You will see in this report an extraordinary range and level of activity. Some of our work, like Music Unite, has built on the methods and ideas that we have been using for a few years now, albeit with a number of new partners and new types of music. In other areas we have been exploring novel ways of understanding what can be done to capitalize on the extraordinary pace of technological development. There has rightly been much focus in the media on the threats from social media to personal privacy and freedom, and the proper functioning of democracy, and we are very conscious of these challenges, but we also believe that these technologies can bring new options and opportunities for democracy and peace building and we will continue to work on this in the upcoming year.

In any report of the past year I must of course draw attention to the cooperation with the British Council and others on the Peace and Beyond Conference in Belfast in April 2018 marking the twentieth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. This was a week of amazing events with real political significance and impact and we hope to work further with British Council in the next twelve months.

As we indicated last year the Board of CDPB has decided to engage more closely with some of our partners outside Ireland and especially the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict at based at Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford and already I look forward to being able to report next year on the new ways in which we are continuing to fulfil our commitment to democracy and peace building.

There are few things that are more challenging, or more worthwhile and necessary, and few colleagues more inspiring to work with than those in CDPB.

Why not join us and make your contribution?

John, Lord Alderdice

Lord Alderdice: Change and Challenge

Democracy_and_Peace_Annual2017-coverChairman’s Remarks – CDPB Annual Report 2017

Change and Challenge

The last year has again seen a remarkable level of activity for the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building, from the excitement of our Van Morrison fund-raiser, to our rapidly expanding international activities and our engagement with ground-breaking digital developments. However across the world, it has been a disturbingly challenging time for those of us committed to democracy and peace building.

Our EU Debate NI initiative was an enormous success, but while Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU the people of the United Kingdom as a whole voted to leave.  So now we face a new challenge – how to get the best outcome we can for the people of Northern Ireland – and CDPB is making its contribution to the thinking necessary in London, Dublin, Belfast and Brussels.

On its own Brexit would have been a major challenge, but the elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the second in less than a year, were another watershed.  For the first time since partition in a province-wide election the unionist parties saw their majority melting away, and instead of the election enabling a return to a functioning Assembly and Executive, it resulted in more uncertainty.  Unless agreement can be reached by the Northern Ireland parties before the end of June, the snap Westminster General Election may well be followed by yet another Assembly Election in the autumn, and neither of these contests is likely to improve relationships at the top political level nor bring a clear resolution of the problems.

Our on-going community programmes like Music Unite continue to do excellent work, but we are faced with the same financial challenges as others in the public and community sectors largely because the absence of a functioning Executive makes significant resource decisions impossible.  We have been cooperating with others, and especially with British Council, to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in April 2018, and if our plans come to fruition we hope that we will be celebrating in the context of more hurdles overcome in the Peace Process and new lessons learnt.

Whatever the challenges at home, they pale in significance against the global canvas.  While President Santos received the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership of the Colombian Peace Process, and we continue to work with our colleagues there on the implementation of last year’s agreement between the Government and FARC, there is no hiding the difficulties faced from the beginning of the implementation of the accord.  That said, it is one of the few significant peace processes anywhere in the world that is still making progress.  Democracy, peace building, and even truth in the public space have faced serious challenges across the world, not just in the descent into chaos in the wider Middle East, but in the unravelling of the European Project, the loss of by the United States of America of any sense of moral leadership, and the host of other crises and conflicts that have arisen on land and sea and in cyber space. Nowhere seems immune or entirely safe.

The Board of CDPB is determined to ensure that we do all we can to contribute to overcoming the problems faced by democracy and peace building at home and abroad, and in addition to internal restructuring we are engaging more closely with our partners, especially the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict at based at Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford.  We will only be successful if we strengthen our network of relationships.

I would like to express my personal appreciation to my Board colleagues, not least Liam Maskey who was with us from the start, but has stepped down from the Board for personal reasons.  I also want to note the wonderful work of Conor Houston who continues with us as Programme Director and Consultant but as his reputation has grown he is unsurprisingly in demand from many other sources, not least with his appointment as a Governor of the Irish Times Trust – congratulations Conor.

Most of all of course, I am joined by my Board colleagues in expressing our deepest appreciation and gratitude to our CEO, Eva Grosman.  She carries a prodigious work load with irrepressible charm, extraordinary energy, and a serious and profound commitment to all the causes which the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building was founded to promote.  All of you who know anything of CDPB, know how fortunate we are to have Eva, and as you read in this report about the work of CDPB over the past year, you will see the positive signs of Eva’s engagement in every single activity and project.

In this difficult and uncertain time you will be encouraged by what it is possible to achieve, and I hope that we can depend on you to work with us in making the next twelve months a better one for democracy and peace building.

John, Lord Alderdice

You can download CDPB Annual Report 2017 HERE.


Lord Alderdice Blog: Why has this generation dropped the baton?

On the long and winding road of the Northern Ireland Peace Process the most important lesson we learned was that such intractable, violent, political problems were a result of disturbed historic relationships between communities of people.

The three key sets of relationships upon which the negotiations and subsequent institutions were based were between Protestant Unionists and Catholic Nationalists; between the people, North and South, in Ireland; and between Britain and Ireland.

So long as we kept focussed on addressing these historic, disturbed relationships and realized that changes to constitutions, institutions, policing and the administration of justice, protections for individual and group rights, and social and economic development, were all instruments to build better relationships rather than ends in themselves, we continued to move forward, and indeed had something important to contribute to others who had similarly been mired in intractable conflict.

We had learned some lessons from the European post-war experience where the French and Germans realized that the alternative to endless cyclical violence was building better relations, and they embarked on the European Project starting with the European Coal and Steel Community and eventually arriving at the European Union.

So why are things going so badly wrong, both for Europe and for Northern Ireland?

It would be tempting to assume that this was simply the consequence of the next generation forgetting about the horrors of war, taking peace for granted and confusing the instruments of peace-building with the purpose of peace-making.

The purpose of the European Project was not to create the euro and the free movement of people, goods, capital and services, or even to ensure a seat at the top table of global affairs for European politicians.

These were some of the instruments for achieving the purpose, but the purpose itself was peace in Europe.

When in recent elections I tried to persuade my Liberal colleagues to focus on the purpose instead of the instruments, they could not see what I was getting at, because they were too caught up in the game of political party rivalry to appreciate the central significance of inter-communal relations.

In Northern Ireland it was sometimes thought that if only we could change the individual leaders we could resolve the problems.

Leaders are leaders for so long as they represent as well as lead their communities, and our problems were not only about individual leaders, whether they were women or men, but about their contribution to the relationships between the communities they lead.

This year we mark 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg and triggered the Protestant Reformation. This new way of thinking did not bring peace, but the Wars of Religion in Europe. The Renaissance had started in Italy, however it was Germany that saw the birth of the Reformation and when the Enlightenment followed it had different impacts in Northern and Southern Europe. The culture of the North and South are not the same.

These communities have different ways of what Heidegger called ‘Being-in-the-World’, and what is true of Europe is also the case in Ireland. It is not only a question of identity and allegiance; there are also cultural differences.  So when John Hume said that the Germans could still be Germans and the French could still be French, but both could be Europeans, he was only partly right.

Unless a new European consciousness or culture developed, the deep and dangerous fault-line that long preceded the Reformation would remain between the north and the south.   In truth there was a need for a new shared culture to be born, and the focus on the instruments instead of the purpose was a distraction from this crucial task.

With the Enlightenment came an appreciation of the opportunities created by Human Rationality, and extraordinary progress followed in science and technology, medicine and public health, government, politics and human well-being.

Germany was the most educated country in the world in the early twentieth century and the Second World War showed us that rationality alone was not enough to contain human aggression. The result was a focus on Human Rights, recognized since at least the French and American Revolutions but now promoted across the world by the United Nations.

What the global deterioration of recent times has demonstrated is that Human Rationality and Human Rights are not enough. We need to add Human Relationships to our social understanding and engagement.

Complexity science, systems theory, large group psychology and cultural evolution all point in this direction, and the practical politics of the Northern Ireland Peace Process actually showed how it could be done.

However the insistence that Unionists and Nationalists could continue to simply follow their traditional politico-cultural routes and all would be well, was misguided. A relay race is not just about handing over a baton, it is also about continually moving forward. The next generation of politicians need not just to try to maintain what has been handed to them, but to build upon the recognition of the central significance of communal relationships and appreciate that this requires an evolution in our communal ways of ‘being-in-the-world’.

Instead of grasping this understanding, seizing the baton, and running the next stretch of the relay, the new generation of political leaders in Europe, and in Northern Ireland, seem to think that they can implement the rules without addressing the relationships; without making positive changes in their community’s way of ‘being-in-the-world’.

They have dropped the baton.

Can it be picked up again? Yes, but only if they realize that they have dropped it, and only if all sides are seized of the need to leave some old ways behind. You cannot win the race if you keep going back to the starting line, much less if you retreat to the unchanging rooms of your own team.

Statement from Lord Alderdice on the death of Martin McGuinness

Statement from Lord Alderdice on the death of Martin McGuinness

Speaking of his sadness on hearing of the death of Martin McGuinness and sending his condolences to his family circle, John, Lord Alderdice described him as “a remarkable leader, an excellent colleague, and ultimately an essential peacemaker.”

Lord Alderdice said:

“Only a few who occupy positions of leadership are truly transformational leaders, but Martin McGuinness was one such person.  I knew him well through the period of negotiations, then during the time when I was involved with the Assembly, after that while we tried to address the complex process of security normalization and later in taking the message of hope from Northern Ireland to other places, particularly Iraq. He was the same person in each of these circumstances.  He was deeply thoughtful and insightful and when he made an agreement, he stuck to it. He had the courage to take risks, as a leader must if he or she is to make a real difference. Ultimately his journey led him to give up violence and become the essential peacemaker in Ireland and an inspiration to many others well beyond the island home to which he was so devoted.  May his family circle be comforted in their grief and may Martin rest in peace.”