Workshop: Transformation and Ongoing Conflict in Contemporary Belfast

I participated in a workshop held at the Institute of Governance, Queen’s University Belfast, organised by Dr Audra Mitchell, Research Fellow, Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies, University of St Andrews.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

Theme One: Transformation

Possible themes to discuss: policies such as a Shared Future and PEACE; community work/projects; regeneration projects; interfaces; conflict transformation initiatives; ex-combatants and victims.

  1. What are the most prevalent types of transformation in your neighbourhood/area/line of work? (please mention specific policies or initiatives – for example, re-imaging or interface work)
  2. What do these policies try to transform? Are they effective in doing so? How can we tell if transformation has taken, or is taking place?
  3. How are members of the community (including yourself) experiencing these transformations – are they positive, negative, fast, slow, etc?
  4. (How) have these transformative initiatives changed relationships between the community and a) policy-makers or the Government b) other groups or sectors of the community
  5. Who or what resists transformation, and why?

Theme Two: Ongoing Conflict

Possible issues to discuss: interface violence; youth violence; segregated space; sectarianism; human rights; paramilitary activity.

  1. Has conflict been removed from Northern Ireland? Why or why not? What kinds of conflict persist alongside peacebuilding initiatives?
  2. How do we know today that Belfast is or was a conflicted or divided city? What signs, symbols, experiences, or activities related to conflict remain?
  3. What are people most worried about with regards to the legacy of conflict, or its continued presence?
  4. What elements of conflict affect their daily lives the most? Please give specific examples.
  5. How does ongoing conflict relate to peace-building, and to the policy goal of transformation?

MY NOTES

  • Importance of unequal relationship between Great Britain and Ireland
  • Republican aim of “building a society of equality”
  • Importance of relationship building
  • Exhaustion of seeing so much of the Agreement undone
  • In addition to news story, want to hear what’s being done about it
  • Denial of being a part of the conflict
  • Issue of participation by widest spectrum possible
  • Method of conflict has changed, but causes haven’t [though everyone will never agree causes]
  • Does offer of transformation create hope for the future?

FACILITATORS FEEDBACK

  • Fuzziness of “transformation”, which can mean conflict management or more ambitious change
  • Risk of increased expectations, “peace promise”
  • Those left out of transformation process risk feeling isolated and resentful
  • Whether apathy is an acceptable normative status
  • Importance of grassroots ownership of process
  • Forms of resistance to transformation, from spontaneous acts to “spoilers”
  • Criticism of consultation process
  • Transformation is not change OF conflict but change FROM conflict [inferring a mutually dependency/responsibility for the conflict: a challenging acknowledgement in itself?]
  • Negative peace, i.e. peace being the absence of violence

PARTICIPANT FEEDBACK

  • As Northern Ireland is not a two-tribe problem, the solution mustn’t be two-tribe in nature
  • Conflict itself isn’t always bad, if it leads to sorting out an issue
  • Difference between a truce and a transformation
  • Difference between “peace-building” and “reconciliation” (which is more ambitious)

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