In March 2008, a delegation of Iraqi parliamentarians, from Iraq’s Constitutional Review Committee, and Council of Representatives (ICOR), travelled to Northern Ireland to study its peace process. The study tour was supported by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), and organised locally by Stratagem.A serious and coherent analysis of the issues explored during the study visit was presented in an EU-funded report, “Iraq: Learning Lessons from Northern Ireland”, written by Quintin Oliver and Bronagh Hinds. This report was launched by the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Willie Hay.
Mr Hay welcomed all, reminding the attendees that the Assembly has welcomed visitors from throughout the world. This includes a special relationship with the Canadian parliament and links with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. The Speaker described how the Northern Ireland Assembly has opened its doors to others who see us in the hope that some part of our experience may inform theirs. This has included visits by delegations from Sri Lanka, South Africa, Burundi, Iraq, and the Basque country:
Jim Wells spoke on behalf of the Assembly’s all-party Committee on International Development. Mr Wells described the generosity of the Northern Ireland community in assisting others in less fortunate situations abroad. He also described his experience of having the President of Burundi visit the Northern Ireland Assembly:
Quintin Oliver (Director, Stratagem) underlined the Speaker’s thanks for the generosity of the MLAs in providing their valuable time for international visitors, and how this was a process of joint learning. Mr Oliver demonstrated this by describing his most recent experience in Iraq, where a delegation from Northern Ireland (Alex Maskey, John Alderdice) and South Africa (Roelf Meyer) travelled to Baghdad to meet politicians from the region of Kirkuk, the parliament of Kurdistan, and members of the Iraqi Parliament, to see how we could assist them with their process of dialogue, in the context of the Helsinki Agreement, which itself was agreed by cross-party representation in Iraq. He also made a plea for progress on a proposed international conflict resolution centre (which is currently stalled within the Northern Ireland Executive):
Report co-author, Bronagh Hinds, said how having international visitors to Northern Ireland reminded us of how far we’ve come and the role of political leadership. She explained how it was not the case of imposing a Northern Ireland template, but providing insights of how we dealt with our circumstances here. Ms Hinds described how the Iraqi delegation were particularly appreciative of the honesty of the Northern Ireland politicians, their honesty in describing the pain of some decisions they had to make as part of the peace process:
Finally, the Speaker concluded by thanking the MLAs and all political parties who have participated in international dialogue events. Mr Hay said that it is good that “we in the Assembly, we in the political parties, wherever we can help, we help”: