Baroness Nuala O’Loan spoke on the importance of studying conflict resolution and reconciliation at yesterday’s launch of my School’s – Trinity College Dublin at Belfast’s (the Irish School of Ecumenics) – new master’s (M.Phil.) programme in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation.
Baroness O’Loan, Special Envoy to Timor-Leste for the Republic of Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs and the former Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman (1999-2007), drew on her own experiences in a substantive, inspiring and wide-ranging speech. Audio of the speech is available here.
The event also marked the launch of a new website, www.conflicttransformation.ie, which makes some of the Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation resources publicly available.
Baroness O’Loan commended the study of conflict resolution and reconciliation as essential for informing policy and developing skilled mediators and practitioners for work at the grassroots. She said,
“We do need people who are prepared to study to Master’s level in these areas. Peacemaking is a lengthy and volatile process. We know that the average peace agreement lasts for only five years and that the average time before there is regression to war, or other forms of conflict, is on average 15 years. We need to know why this is the case? We need to know what would assist the creation of peace agreements with a potential to remain in place for longer.”
As coordinator of the new programme, I made some brief remarks about its distinctive features, including partnerships with the Glencree Centre for Reconciliation in Co. Wicklow and TIDES Training in Co. Antrim. Both Glencree and TIDES will be teaching at residential sites that offer students an insight into the ‘lived experience’ of the work which takes place at centres for peace and reconciliation.
The programme also includes opportunities for students to work with local organisations through its ‘community based learning’ programme, and options to take modules intensively or on a week-by-week basis. You can read my remarks here.
Baroness O’Loan shared insights about issues that must be addressed during conflict transformation processes, including:
- the role of ‘contributing experts’ (here she commended the work of US Senator George Mitchell for his ability to listen patiently to all parties in Northern Ireland),
- dealing with the past by addressing the needs of victims/survivors,
- considering truth commissions and reparations,
- devising just and safe resettlement programmes if necessary,
- the importance of ‘talking to terrorists,’
- devising strategies for reducing violence,
- achieving decommissioning,
- releasing prisoners, and
- reforming police and security systems.
Baroness O’Loan warned of the challenges of conflict resolution and reconciliation work, but told the audience that the risks and the difficulties could indeed usher in the greater reward of peace. She said,
“It is work in which wounds may be opened, and people may know again the acute pain of their anguish, but sometimes the opening of the wound brings with it healing and healing enables the person to move forward, and so, slowly, slowly we move to peace.. Most of the real work of reconciliation is the work done, away from the TV cameras, by ordinary people, in community centres and leisure centres – it is the work of healing and it is the work which will enable reconciliation.”
Dr Geraldine Smyth, head of the Irish School of Ecumenics, commended Baroness O’Loan for the example she has set during Northern Ireland’s peace process and for her work further afield.
As a token of thanks, students who are currently enrolled on the new programme presented Baroness O’Loan with books written by staff of the Irish School of Ecumenics.