Belfast Telegraph

Nobel conference: Peace promises are 'yet to materialise'

Many promises of a better society made during the Northern Ireland peace process have yet to materialise, a conference attended by six Nobel prize winners has heard.

The fourth biennial conference of the Nobel Women's Initiative, which is being held near Belfast, is examining global lessons from the efforts to resolve the conflict in the region.

Attended by a range of conflict resolution experts as well as the six Nobel Laureates, the three day event aims to particularly focus on the impact violence has on women and communities.

One the first day of the three day programme, a range of speakers expressed concerns that 15 years after the signing of the historic Good Friday peace agreement the goal of creating a truly shared society had not been attained.

The conference is being hosted by Mairead Maguire, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976 for her work with Peace People, an organisation set up to help end the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Ms Maguire described today's discussions on the peace process as "powerful and challenging".

"We have come a long way 15 years after the Good Friday Agreement but a lot of what was promised hasn't been implemented in terms of human rights and a shared future," she said.

"The reality is we are stuck and we have got to break the deadlock and build on what we have achieved."

Ms Maguire has been joined at the event by fellow Laureates Leymah Gbowee from Liberia, Tawakkol Karman from Yemen, Shirin Ebadi from Iran, Rigoberta Menchu Tum from Guatemala and Jody Williams from the USA.

One of the speakers was Patricia McKeown - regional secretary of trade union Unison - who said the Northern Ireland peace process had not lived up to its promises.

"How do you build a shared future?," she asked.

"You don't do it by ignoring equality and human rights. The biggest losers in the peace process have been the poor and women. We are profoundly disappointed that 15 years on, the promises haven't been delivered."

The audience also heard the experiences of two ex-combatants in the Troubles - former loyalist prisoner Tommy Kirkham and former republican prisoner Gary Smyth.

Ms Williams, who is chair of the Nobel Women's Initiative and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work to ban anti-personnel landmines, said there were so many lessons to be learned about the role of women and ex-combatants in helping to build the peace.

"There is so much to explore in their experiences and what they had to say," she said.

The conference at the Culloden hotel in Holywood will run until Thursday and will explore ways of increasing global security by bringing an end to war and militarism.

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