Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 10 July 2014

We need to break the ice and end this Cold Peace

This year we should focus our energies on creating a constructive peace to replace the failed 'shared-out' future, says Trevor Ringland

No Going Back was the original name suggested for what, ultimately, was called the One Small Step campaign. The former title was rejected as being too negative, while the latter was seen as positive.

This was important for a campaign established to promote a constructive, shared future, by encouraging individuals to build relationships through 'small, incremental steps'; challenging our leaders' too-often-divisive tendencies and highlighting the considerable and important work that was constantly being carried out in our society and which often acted as a strong counter to those promoting division and hatred.

After recent events, I feel it is important that, as a society, we commit ourselves to ensuring that there is No Going Back to the conflict of the past.

More than 3,600 people dead, thousands more injured, relationships fractured and, as a result, our society deeply divided, thousands imprisoned and a huge negative impact on our economy.

Is a repeat of this really what we want for ourselves and for our children?

War or serious conflict is, of course, one possible future, the risk of which we should not ignore.

Another option for the future is one based on the principles of the Cold War: peace brought about because the alternative is mutual destruction. It probably best describes the period between the paramilitary ceasefires and the 1998 Agreement.

Hardly an attractive proposition for our children, or would-be investors, as the real potential for further conflict would remain a constant risk.

The third is a 'Cold Peace', which is better-known as a 'Shared-Out Future'.

Again, the danger of conflict would remain, particularly in the long term, as the divisions in our society would remain, trust would not be built and there would be a deepening of the Balkanisation that exists as a consequence of the Troubles.

It would be a poor outcome for the people of Northern Ireland, as relationships would often be determined by the lowest common denominator.

Worryingly, and unfortunately, it is the model currently being promoted by the British and Irish governments and all the five main local political parties.

The final potential future is what I will call a 'Constructive (or Warm) Peace'.

This is one where we face up to the failures of the past and take a proactive approach to addressing its legacy, whether it be in education, or housing, over identity, sectarianism in general, the truth and justice issues arising from the past, victims's needs, the way we practise politics and so many other areas requiring constructive solutions.

Is a 'Constructive Peace' unrealistic and unachievable? In my view, absolutely not.

Over the last number of years, as co-chairman of the One Small Step campaign, I have been privileged to see so many examples across our community of people building relationships and breaking down the barriers thrown up by our past history of conflict.

Practical examples exist of what can be achieved to address the issues we face. However, too often there is a lack of leadership and commitment to build a 'Constructive Peace' from many of those charged with that responsibility, right across our society.

At the same time, it is there in the wider community, but missing at the political level, where narrow self-interest still prevails.

Let us refocus our energies in 2013 and not squander this real opportunity to create a 'Constructive Peace'.

It can be achieved and is the only model for the future that will guarantee a peaceful and stable society for our children and, hence, the only one we should be accepting the promotion of.

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