Belfast Telegraph

NI peace process like a sickly child that is alive but not thriving, says ex-victims boss

By Ann W Schmidt

A former Victims Commissioner has said the state of peace in Northern Ireland is functional but not thriving.

Brendan McAllister was one of four Victims Commissioners in Northern Ireland from 2008-2012.

Today he is a senior mediation advisor with the United Nations Department of Political Affairs and he sits on the board of the Community Relations Council (CRC) in Northern Ireland.

Mr McAllister said he thinks the peace in Northern Ireland is stable, but there is room for growth and transformation.

"In many ways, Northern Ireland's peace is like a sickly child who won't eat their porridge in the morning and won't run out and play. The child is alive, it's functioning, it's turning up in school, but it's not happy and it's not thriving and it's not developing itself," he said.

One of the projects of the CRC is Community Relations and Cultural Awareness (CRCA) Week, starting today. There will be events across Northern Ireland sponsored by local authorities and organisations working towards better community relations. The event is coordinated by the CRC in conjunction with The Executive Office and Department for Communities.

CRCA Week gives organisations a chance to celebrate and promote their work.

"It's meant to continue to encourage the public to think about cutting-edge issues and challenges that we still are facing up to as a society. It's an opportunity once a year to seize the public mind in a strategic moment in a concerted way," he said.

Mr McAllister said that even though there are still issues to be worked out, Northern Ireland is recognised internationally as a success story.

"Current research suggests that in societies where there has been a political agreement, those agreements run into serious difficulty in the 15 year mark. We are on 18 years now.

"Now we're doing well with things, not only have they not collapsed, they're actually working. I believe the glass is more than half full."

He added that there is still a ways to go before Northern Ireland is thriving.

"The issue of the past remains one of the unresolved matters. We do have to deal with the past, but if we deal with the past as an end of itself, we would go around in circles. We have to deal with the past in ways that build for the future."

One of the challenges Northern Ireland faces towards continued development of reconciliation is that people are tired from the Troubles and they feel like dealing with the past would just mean continuing to circle around the issues.

"The whole area of peace and reconciliation can seem like inviting people into darkness again when a lot of people feel they've had enough of conflict and want to move on," he said.

He believes the process should be relational and promote reconciliation, though that does not mean that everyone gets along.

"By reconciliation I don't mean asking people to forgive.

"I don't mean people living in harmony with those who have hurt them. I mean enabling us as a society to come more to terms with all that has happened."

Mr McAllister said that for peace to develop in a healthy way, Northern Ireland needs to be able to develop a coherent voice through civic leaders who work beyond sectional interests and are able to point things out to the Government.

"In any peace process, the mechanisms for dealing with the past need to be independent, free from partisan or sectional influence or interest."

He also said that he still feels positively about Northern Ireland's situation, but that doesn't mean it's time to relax.

"We have to stretch ourselves because if we don't continue to stretch ourselves and face new challenges, then we are stopping short of what peace building means."

Belfast Telegraph


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