Duncan Morrow discusses how reconciliation has provided a crucial direction for efforts to move away from violent conflict towards peaceful partnership in Northern Ireland, shaping and being sustained in large part by a wide variety of grassroots interventions. Yet recurrent political crises and cultural disputes suggest that the goals of dealing with the legacies of past violence and promoting shared existence have yet to be prioritised over political power-sharing and the containment of violence.
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In focus: Gender Principles for Dealing with the Legacy of the Past - The Legacy Gender Integration Group
- Gender integration: Fully integrate gender into processes for dealing with the past
- Process-orientation: Understand gender and dealing with the past as a process, not an event
- Empowerment, participation, ownership and control: Prioritise victim ownership and control of process
- Inclusivity: Be inclusive and accommodate complexity
- Addressing structural obstacles: Recognise and redress structural obstacles to inclusion
- Holistic approach: Respond to the whole victim and survivor
- Giving voice and being heard: Honour individual stories
- Macro analysis: Be attentive to the bigger picture
- Equality and diversity: Value gender expertise and lived experience
- Local and global learning: Craft bottom-up local responses that draw on international good practice.
- Is the future each party seeks to present bearable or acceptable, and in which each can see their fundamental interests protected? (Shared futures)
- What practical steps do each party have to take to make agreed change a realistic possibility? (Trust and confidence)
- What changes have to be made to politics, society and economy to enable sustainable peace? (Justice and entitlements)
- How do all parties address and manage the losses of making peace? (Adjusting to loss).
No one can say his heart is altogether clean, his hands altogether pure. Thus, as we wish to be forgiven, let us forgive those who have sinned against us and ours: That was the beginning of American reconciliation, and it must be the beginning of Northern Ireland’s reconciliationUS President Bill Clinton, Belfast 1995
Antagonism and reconciliation
- By the mid 1980s, both the UK and Ireland’s overriding interest was ending violence. This diplomatic alliance drew support from both the US and European Union (EU), and for two decades generated a mostly persistent and resilient commitment to negotiation.
- The 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement generated new priorities in public policy, including policing and education reforms, equality legislation and funding for grassroots activity. Increasingly, direct political authority over Northern Ireland from London (known as Direct Rule) was mediated through locally recruited bodies that were required to comply with principles of ethnic neutrality, equality, human rights and operational independence. This process produced new norms of equality of opportunity in employment and encouraged significant bottom-up innovation.
- By the mid 1990s, few inside Northern Ireland doubted that the military situation had reached a stalemate. Popular desire for an end to violence enabled a pragmatic, if uneven, process of negotiation, despite recurrent setbacks.
Despite this, obstacles to reconciliation remained deeply embedded. The ability of governments to act as sponsors for peace was profoundly compromised by their own historic roles in Ireland. For Republicans, British imperialism rather than Northern Irish Unionism was the historic enemy. British responsibility for security had included direct Army deployment in many Catholic-majority areas for 25 years, internment without trial, secret operations including the recruitment of agents, state killings, torture and breaches of human rights norms. Unionists, in contrast, felt under existential attack by Republican ‘terrorism’ and deeply resented the claim to sovereignty over Northern Ireland outlined in the Irish Republic’s constitution.
Reconciliation in practice
- There was no timetable for paramilitary disarmament and no agreement over who was responsible for delivery or what consequences would flow from failure.
- The Agreement provided no guidance on dealing with the legacy of violence. Victim suffering was acknowledged, but there was no recognition of responsibility, or clarity as to how this would be taken forward. Meanwhile paramilitary prisoners were released early, but their criminal records were not expunged.
- Policing reform was agreed in principle, but the outcome still depended on the deliberations of an international commission.
- Commitments to address profoundly contentious issues such as rights, community relations, equality, symbolism and culture remained undefined.
- Developing a shared vision of an interdependent, fair society.
- Acknowledging and dealing with the past, including mechanisms for justice, healing and restoration. /li>
- Building positive relationships following violent conflict.>/li>
- Significant attitudinal change towards a culture of respect for human rights and differences.
- Substantial social, economic and political change to address legitimate grievances, identified inequality and injustice.
Reconciliation and peacebuilding
- Recalibrating ethno-national goals towards accommodation.
- Reframing constitutional reform to allow for flexible citizenship.
- Establishing core political norms and values such as equality, human rights, consent and self-determination.
- Insisting on non-violence and the rule of law in all political activities.
- Developing extensive grassroots experience and capacity for building inter-group relationships.
- Addressing injustice and violence in the past and present.
- Addressing socioeconomic injustice and inequality.