Fifteen laws of peace processes

Fifteen laws of peace processes
by Quintin OLIVER for Belfast Telegraph
9 April 2013

Quintin Oliver who helped run the non-party and cross-party ‘YES’ Campaign in the 1998 Referendum reflects…

Fifteen laws of peace processes may help us understand where we are in our incredibly successful process, unlike so many other cases around the globe:

  1. Your side hated our side much more and did many more worse things than we did’; selective memories must be expunged over time — fifteen years is but a blink; progress around the Maze Long Kesh site is a positive omen;
  2. ‘Citizenship should be clarified and open to all’; as many ‘unionists’ apply for Irish passports and vice versa, without any hassle, we should all feel free to make and exercise our own choices;
  3. ‘Security must be guaranteed for all, without fear or favour’; apart from some recent aberrations, we have achieved a much more stable situation, with confidence increasing;
  4. Policing must be seen to be fair and reliable’; one of our under-recognised successes, a world-class, human-rights compliant unified police service, with over 30% ‘minority’ participation, lauded worldwide for its transformation;
  5. ‘Interpretation and implementation of the law is guaranteed through an independent judiciary’; apart from last month’s public debate, now hopefully put to bed after a public exchange, our institutions have survived and flourished;
  6. ‘Truth will always vie with justice as we try to understand what happened to us’; a robust process of managing the past is essential; what became of the bulk of Eames / Bradley, after the £12k payment was thrown out, baby and all?
  7. ‘Armed groups must be subject to full disarmament, disbandment and reintegration’. Have we achieved this yet, or have recent events exposed our partial failure, certainly in respect of reintegration? Can we better deal with ‘dissident republicans’?
  8. ‘The first government after the peace deal is often swept away as a transitional necessity’. For some time we thought that was the 1999–2002 UUP / SDLP government, but might it also be the DUP / SF version? Or are we fated to a Fianna Fail / Fine Gael endgame a century on?
  9. International and external forces must be eased out of the day-to-day decision-making’; have we learned properly to stand alone, or are we still over-dependent on the British and Irish, the EU and the US and other helpful supporters?
  10. ‘You must bind in all legal voices, so as to absorb their political views appropriately, or else you will remain dependent on a military solution’; are we headed down the Sri Lankan route (where the Tamil Tigers were all but exterminated) or can we still be inclusive, as we were in 1998, with the PUP, UDP, UKUP, Women’s Coalition and others? Are the voiceless being heard?
  11. ‘You must build societal infrastructure based on equality and sharing, or risk intensifying division’; education, transport, housing, teacher training, arts and sport — have we made enough progress towards one society, or are we still dividing back-to-back?
  12. ‘A vibrant civil society is enabled and dissent encouraged’; despite the unheralded demise of the Civic Forum, the voices of voluntary and community groups, business and trade unions are all heard loudly!
  13. ‘A free press is self-evident, holding the powerful to account without interference’; despite a little recent wobble, the challenge and scrutiny from the press is alive and well; can we use it more proactively for creative policy development?
  14. ‘The institutions of the peace agreement are implemented equally and fulsomely by all sides’; Strand Two’s North / South institutions are another huge success, offering little controversy and seamless application; likewise Strand Three’s East-West processes; the Civic Forum’s stillbirth has hardly been contested; The Assembly and Executive are stable — to the point of gridlock;
  15. ‘Each party to the conflict can argue for its own different vision of the future with impunity’; there is no shortage of evidence for this, with the upcoming decade of centenaries an example of mutual respect for alternative versions of a democratically underpinned future, based on consent.

So, what does this all mean for us?

First, we have made remarkable progress that we often overlook in our impatience for faster forward movement; but that acceleration might itself topple some delicately negotiated houses of cards; look back at the seemingly glacial pace of power-sharing, decommissioning, ‘the war is over’, support for the police, devolution of justice powers, acceptance of Irish or British symbols — but all are being achieved and embedded.

Second, we ignore at our peril the extraordinary success of the equality agenda — workplace discrimination is all but history, Section 75 of the NI Act, while contested by some as too close to ‘positive discrimination’, has entered our bloodstream, and principles of equal treatment for women, gays, and lesbians, people with disabilities, of different races and so on are hard-wired into the consciousness of decision-makers.

Third, we are a changed society, looking south with ease, and not just for rugby, hockey or boxing. I can recall when the late Sir George Quigley proposed a ‘Dublin-Belfast economic corridor’ in the 90s — he was derided by many; now it seems obvious, with an accompanying single electricity market, a plethora of all-island bodies, not only those presaged by the Agreement, and more exports south than to all other EU countries combined; the hallmark of ‘ordinary’.

But now, lest anyone think me to be naïve or rose-tinted in outlook, there remain challenges that Quigley outlined as he oversaw loyalist decommissioning:

Now is the time for society to put high on its agenda a vigorous and sustained effort to address the social and economic needs of all disadvantaged communities across the board, thereby tackling the gross inequalities in our society and demonstrating that devolution really does make a difference. The aim should be nothing less than to bring the margins into the mainstream and the fact that we may be entering an age of austerity makes the task even more pressing. Only then can we ensure the enduring peace and stability which all the people of Northern Ireland deserve after so many troubled years.

If only we had listened?

Quintin Oliver makes international comparisons with Northern Ireland through

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