Stratagem Iraqi delegation

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Last week, Stratagem (NI) Ltd hosted a delegation of representatives from Kirkuk, Iraq (and some other places), for a week-long series of meetings and seminars. Programme was under a United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) contract. Topics included:

  • an overview of the Northern Ireland peace process
  • internal governance of Northern Ireland
  • its constitutional relationships with the rest of the United Kingdom and with the Republic of Ireland
  • policing
  • parades
  • equality matters
  • finance

There was also an excursion to Derry/Londonderry (with a mayoral reception, Tower Museum as well as Apprentice Boys visit, finished with a welcome by deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

I enjoyed tagging along, being an impromptu technical assistant, notetaker, and photographer.

One afternoon there was an organised tour through north and west Belfast. Think not “black taxi” but “big white coach” tour! I was impressed what narrow streets the drive managed to get us through.

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During this tour, narrated by mural expert Bill Rolston, we stopped at a number of sites, including the new 180-foot work on Cupar Way, which is part of the Greater Shankill Partnership’s “If Walls Could Talk” project. There are individual panels for Israel, Palestine, Shanill, Falls, Nicosia, Baghdad, and Berlin. I enjoyed watching the Iraqi delegates taking photos  of themselves standing in front of the Baghdad section.

On Thursday, I helped out setting up portable headsets. This “Infoport system”, made by Sennheiser, is a clever, portable, convenient method for interpreters, who can whisper the language translation so as not to disturb the original presenter.

One of the sessions was on financing of a devolved, regional government. This was held at the Northern Ireland Audit Office. There were informative presentations by John Dowdall (NI Comptroller & Auditor General), Sir Nigel Hamilton (former Head, NI Civil Service), and by Brandon McMaster (NI Assembly Public Account Committee).

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Lord John Alderdice made an impromtu appearance, arriving from presenting a report by the Independent Monitoring Commission. Lord Alderdice emphasised what he described as the crucial role that public civil servants in Northern Ireland played in realising what was agreed under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. He described how the political party dimension in Northern Ireland complicated this work, presenting Sir Nigel as an example of how his commitment made such an important, positive contribution to creating a working Northern Ireland government.

Lord Alderdice added that even where the international community wants to help in conflict situations, and where the local politicians also aspire to progress conflict management/resolution, if there is an insufficient civil service to keep the process of government going, then it won’t work. Here, he cited the current poor situation in Nepal.

He also described the shortcomings in the Middle East process, where a one-off meeting can be organised, but there is no systematic continuity.

The next stop for the delegates was Groundwork, where they heard alternative perspectives of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, from previous Assembly Junior Minister, Dermot Nesbitt (UUP), and former Assembly Minister for Finance and Personnel, Sean Farren (SDLP).

Friday was full of events in Derry/Londonderry. Quintin wanted to present Mayor Gerard Diver with a poster from a recent conference in Boston (that several of us attended), so I duly drove out from Belfast, with poster in the back seat.

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After the Mayor provided us with a tasty lunch, he provided a tour of the Guild Hall, which is still under repair. The delegates then got an escourted tour through the Tower Museum before walking on the city’s famous Walls. With clear views of the Bogside, I trust the flying Palestinian flags weren’t raised especially for our Palestinian delegate!

The final session of the day was a programme summary, which was interrupted by another impromptu visit, this time by deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness. The delegates were suitably impressed and all wanted their photographs with this man who encouraged them to exercise leadership. Here, I suddenly became the club photographer, taking snaps from the dozen cameras strapped to my wrists! I managed to get a colleague to take one with yours truly in the frame:

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Mr McGuinness left, and the programme lesson review continued at St Columbs House. Meanwhile, I left with programme organiser, Andrew Gilmour (UNAMI), whom I drove back to Belfast City Airport to catch his flight. We talked a bit of shop, but also about some return tourism suggestions.

On a serious note, by all accounts, the programme was a worthwhile and noteworthy success. From what I witnessed, the delegates certainly paid attention, as their quetions to the presenters got ever more specific during the course of the week. I look forward to some of the follow up work.

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