Peace Work (Radio 4)

On today’s BBC Radio 4 programme, Peace Work, Mark Devenport investigates how Northern Ireland’s politicians are sharing their experiences of conflict resolution. Interviews include Professor Padraig O’Malley (University of Massachusetts, Boston), Quintin Oliver (Stratagem (NI)), Jeffrey Donaldson MLA (Junior Minister, OFMdFM), and Martin McGuinness (deputy First Minister).

Immediate disclaimer: I am assisting Prof. O’Malley in a forthcoming conference on divided cities, to be held next month in Boston, and Quintin provides regular assistance in my main employment. So not surprisingly I’m sympathetic to their views of conflict resolution.

Devenport’s journey begins with O’Malley’s achievement of getting Northern Ireland politicians to travel to South Africa over ten years ago, before the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, for conversations with Nelson Mandela. Donaldson and McGuinness refused to be in the same room, but each left with their own positive impressions.

Fast forward to 2007/8, and O’Malley is driving another ambition to get Iraqi politicians to meet Donaldson and McGuinness for similar conversations. The result was an agreement among the Iraqi delegates to the Helsinki Principles, which pledged the signatories to pursue completely peaceful politics.

Critics say that it’s absurd (or in Jim Allister’s case, outrageous) to think you can export Northern Ireland’s tenuous stability as some one-size-fits-all conflict resolution product. But in the interview, O’Malley makes no such boast. Instead, he emphasises the shared human behaviour of those involved and affected by conflict situations in divided societies.

Indeed, O’Malley’s next step is to develop this concept for divided cities. The premise is that those elected representatives and policy officials in municipalities that have emerged (or are emerging) from division share an understanding among other municipalities in similar circumstances, than those which haven’t.

The forthcoming conference on divided cities will bring in delegates from Derry/Londonderry (Northern Ireland), Kirkuk (Iraq), Mitrovica (Kosovo), and Nicosia (Cyprus). The objective is not for anyone to attempt to solve anyone else’s division as some part of grand conflict resolution, but rather exchange experiences of how councillors and staff have dealt with them.

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