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Republic 'needs to understand NI better', says peace centre chief

Peace centre chief says raising awareness vital


Welcoming: Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation

Welcoming: Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation

Welcoming: Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation

The head of a Co Wicklow-based centre for peace and reconciliation, which has played a key role in building bridges between communities in Northern Ireland, has called for the establishment of a state-of-the-art centre for conflict resolution.

Barbara Walshe, chair of the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, said raising awareness of the complexity of Northern Ireland in the Republic of Ireland over the next five years will be crucial if a border poll takes place.

In an interview with the New York-based Irish Central website, Ms Walshe said: "It's unfair and short-sighted to ignore the concerns of the unionist community.

"It's more important than ever that the Republic of Ireland really engages with this and understands the complexity of Northern Ireland."

She added: "There are nearly one million people who identify as British and that identity will have to be accommodated.

"If a border poll returns a 51-49 result, we have seen across the water what a close referendum like that has caused over the past four years."

Ms Walshe said Glencree has stood as a symbol of hope in the quest for an end to violent conflict.

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Over the past five decades, the former English military barracks in the heart of the Wicklow Mountains has been helping both communities in Northern Ireland move towards peace and reconciliation.

In 1974, Una O'Higgins O'Malley, the daughter of Ireland's first Minister for Justice Kevin O'Higgins, sought to build a reconciliation centre for people living through the Troubles.

Her father had been assassinated in 1927 when she was just five months old and she spent much of her life attempting to reconcile violence as a result.

O'Higgins O'Malley sought to bring people from both communities in Northern Ireland to the centre where they could discuss their differences in a private and safe space.

"It was a safe space. It was expert facilitation," Ms Walshe told IrishCentral.

"It was a kind of speaking and listening, even when people felt very strongly about things.

"It was a place for people to hear and to listen at a time when nobody wanted to listen to anybody," she added.

"There's no judgment. People who wanted to come, regardless of their background, could engage in peace and create the conditions for peace if they wished."

After the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, Glencree's role shifted toward the legacy of the conflict.

The centre has since hosted more than 50 confidential discussions between politicians and community and civic leaders on both sides of the border, seeking to iron out contentious issues in the historic peace agreement.

It has also hosted discussions between representatives from the UK and Ireland and has continued working with victims of the Troubles, allowing people to discuss the lasting impacts of the violent conflict.

"What we saw in Glencree after the Troubles was the legacy of the Troubles. You had the end of the conflict. You had the peace agreement," Ms Walshe said.

"Then suddenly, people started to talk about what had happened to them 20 or 30 years ago. It became evident from people coming to Glencree that it might have been 30 years ago, but for them, it was 30 minutes ago."

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