Transformation through collaboration: Foster

First Minister for Northern Ireland, Arlene FOSTER MLA, Harri HOLKERI lecture, Riddel Hall, Queen's University Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Transformation through collaboration: Foster
The Harri Holkeri lecture: Women, leadership and peacebuilding
by Allan LEONARD
23 May 2016

First Minister for Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster MLA, was the guest speaker at the fourth annual Harri Holkeri lecture series, on this year’s topic of “Women, leadership and peacebuilding”. Continue reading “Transformation through collaboration: Foster”

Living the stroke experience: NIMAST 2016

20160517 NIMAST

I was part of a five-member panel of stroke survivors and carers who presented short stories of our perspectives, to an audience of delegates at the fifth Northern Ireland conference organised between the Northern Ireland Multidisciplinary Association for Stroke Teams (NIMAST) and the UK Stroke Forum (UKSF), held at La Mon Hotel, Belfast. Continue reading “Living the stroke experience: NIMAST 2016”

Bringing our own lens: Visualising conflict in Palestine

NIF 20160315 Imagine - Palestine

Bringing our own lens: Visualising conflict in Palestine
by Allan Leonard for Northern Ireland Foundation
15 March 2016

The rear room at Common Grounds Cafe was the venue for a display of three types of imagery — participatory, documentary, and expository — for the Imagine! Festival of Ideas & Politics event, Visualising Conflict in Palestine, which was attended by a mixture of the artistically intrigued and politically motivated. Continue reading “Bringing our own lens: Visualising conflict in Palestine”


NIF 20160121 Be the Change - CDPB

Be the Change: A creative workshop
by Allan Leonard for Northern Ireland Foundation
21 January 2016

At a creative workshop entitled “Be the Change”, hosted by the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building (CDPB), in partnership with Twitter, over 50 participants spent the afternoon developing and pitching proposed campaigns for social change in Northern Ireland.

Examples included reaching out to local communities to increase access to The MAC (#stepinside); removing the fear of food, in all its dimensions (#food360); promoting Northern Ireland as a creative capital (#NI2030); addressing the misuse of alcohol; challenging racial prejudice; making politics in Northern Ireland more positive (#positivepolitics); and readdressing the concepts of beauty and self-esteem (#takebackbeautiful).

NIF 20160121 Be the Change - MyAngle
Polona ROGINA, Emma HUTCHESON, Neil HUTCHESON, Chris EISENSTADT, and Allan LEONARD. #myangle #bethechange

I sat at the table that developed a proposal to use crowd-based photography to show the many dimensions of numerous social issues: #myangle.

This was conceptualised by Neil Hutcheson, from Include Youth, and his partner, Emma, almost accidentally after taking dozens of photographs of municipal street cleaners in Belfast. These were collated into a single volume, Angles Magazine, which contains no body text.

NIF 20160121 Be the Change - Angles Mag

The revelation was that this could be applied to a wide variety of thematic social issues.

For example, you could ask people to take a photo, with their smartphone, of what the health service means to them. Maybe this is an image of medicine packets, an ambulance, or a relative who receives care at home. Individuals would upload and tweet their images with hashtag #myangle.

Then at the end of the month, say, a guest editor or team would review the images and make a large and broad selection to be brought together for a singular publication. This would be ideally a print issue, so that it could be brought back into communities and groups for further discussion.

The objective of #myangle is to hear as many perspectives on themes that affect our daily lives.

The images produced will challenge our own prejudices and reveal the interdependency of our society.

This campaign would be delivered in partnership with community and voluntary groups throughout the province.

Indeed, it will be in face-to-face post-publication discussions where critical thinking skills will be enhanced, through training and facilitation.

Success will be measured both quantitatively and qualitatively.

We want individual themes to trend on Twitter, with knowledge of geography and demographics of the tweets.

Endorsements from politicians and other decision makers and opinion formers should demonstrate respect from the entire community.

But most rewarding will be to learn how #myangles campaigns affect community work on the ground, as well as public policy.

As I briefly explained during a BBC Radio Good Morning Ulster programme (1:45 below), so many people already take and upload photos onto social media.

Now let’s do it for positive social change.

John Hume: Irish peacemaker. Discuss.

FARREN Sean - John Hume

John Hume: Irish peacemaker. Discuss.
by Allan Leonard for Northern Ireland Foundation
15 December 2015

Sean Farren and Denis Haughey have edited a new book, John Hume: Irish Peacemaker, published by Four Courts Press. As part of this book launch, there is a series of panel discussions, for which this event took place at the Canada Room, Queen’s University Belfast.

Moderated by Jim Fitzpatrick, the panellists were Arthur Aughey, Marianne Elliott, Maurice Hayes and Eamon Phoenix.

After a welcome by Sean Farren, outgoing Queens University Chancellor, Tony Gallagher, told the audience of a hundred that John Hume is the most iconic figure of Irish politics. Mr Gallagher made comparisons with Daniel O’Connell (whose orientation was Dublin/Ireland) and Charles Stewart Parnell (Westminster), while Mr Hume’s reference point is Europe and the lessons of two world wars and its reconstruction project.

With an appropriate anecdote of his own experience attempting, and succeeding, to gain entry to a White House hosted St Patrick’s Day reception of dignitaries (Ireland’s Foreign Minister to the rescue!), Mr Fitzpatrick invited each panellist to give a brief summary of their interpretation of Mr Hume’s contribution to politics.

Maurice Hayes discussed the significance of the 1973 Sunningdale Agreement, during which he served as senior civil servant in Northern Ireland. Mr Hayes said that one lesson for Mr Hume was that power sharing, of any type, requires the cooperation of the Unionist population; one can’t impose shared power.

However, Mr Hayes said that the inclusion and insistence on the element of a Council of Ireland — and with John Hume and Garret Fitzgerald (then Irish Foreign Affairs Minister) presenting a concerted effort in this regard — saddled Northern Ireland Prime Minister, Brian Faulkner, with more weight than he could handle, particularly in relation to Unionist cooperation.

Positively, Mr Hayes reflected how the Executive that resulted from the Sunningdale Agreement did have a “common purpose” and collective responsibility. Decisions were made consensually; there were few votes.

But as power and legitimacy went from the elected to the unelected, with the fallout after the collapse of the Sunningdale Agreement, achieving cross-community agreement would be more difficult, but that Mr Hume “bore with it”.

Eamon Phoenix provided a historical context of John Hume, a form of early years’ biography, as a suggestion to his character and outlook. First and perhaps foremost, unlike other leading northern Irish nationalists before him, Mr Hume came from “the achilles heal” of the Northern Ireland state, Derry-Londonderry.

And Mr Hume was greatly influenced by his docker father, who found himself out of work and once said to his son, “You can’t eat a flag,” in response to others blustering about partition.

John Hume got very much involved in the credit union movement, addressing both Hibernian clubs and Orange halls about the importance of saving.

But Unionist politics continued to disappoint him. A key moment was the decision in 1965 not to grant Derry-Londonderry with university status, even with wide local support, including the Unionist Mayor, Albert Anderson.

As Dr Phoenix explained, this primed Mr Hume for evermore direct political engagement, with his well known involvement in the civil rights campaign, which led to “more reforms in 40 days than anti-partitionists and the Republic had managed in 40 years”.

Marianne Elliott mooted whether John Hume is the “common name of Irishman”, referencing Wolfe Tone regularly. She argued that, like Wolfe Tone, Mr Hume can be viewed as an evolving contradiction of Irish nationalism.

This was demonstrated with examples of Mr Hume’s engagements with British Government ministers, Northern Ireland Prime Minister Brian Faulkner, and fellow Irish constitutional nationalists. In the last, he said in an 1964 article in the Irish Times: “If you are a constitutional nationalist, then you need to recognise the constitution of the country [Northern Ireland].” This was exemplified by Irish nationalists arguing for equal rights as being British citizens.

Arthur Aughey contributed a unionist critique of John Hume, while recognising the stateman’s talents. “Why don’t we have someone like him?” a unionist of the day might have asked.

With reference to ATQ Stewart, Professor Aughey clarified that the Irish nationalist objective in the 1960s wasn’t to get to know Unionists better, but to change them. Combined with the thinking that Unionist politics was pathological, then it was rationalised by others that Unionists “needed to be forced to be free”. Ergo the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Prof. Aughey concluded that now many tend to marginalise the contributions by John Hume, the SDLP and all constitutional Irish nationalists. He argued that the achievement of peace goes beyond the journeys of ex-combatants/ex-prisoners, to the efforts of “constitutional citizens”.

The subsequent audience discussion covered the significance of the European dimension to Northern Ireland’s peace, the pivotal moment of the Hume-Adams Talks, and whether any Unionist politician got on well with John Hume.

Maurice Hayes explained Mr Hume’s pursuit of European intervention, in his determination to change the context of the Northern Ireland question. Dr Phoenix added that Mr Hume wanted to remove trade borders, within Ireland as well as across Europe.

In regards to Sinn Fein’s entry into the peace process, Mr Hayes and Prof. Elliott made the familiar refrain that one does not make peace with one’s friends, but with who is doing the fighting. Dr Phoenix provided the context of the Enniskillen bomb and Sinn Fein’s President, Gerry Adams’s speech at the time, seeking a way out of the violence; John Hume reached out. Prof. Elliott added that elected representatives from Sinn Fein participating in local government councils “behaved better” than the party’s unelected spokespersons. Also, she said, when the news broke out about the Hume-Adams Talks, “It was at a time when no one knew where to go”; there was a need to break the mould. Prof. Aughey said that this felt like “a double whammy” for Unionists (combined with the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement), as well as a shock for some within the SDLP itself.

Prof. Elliott said that she was surprised by the level of public hatred by Unionists towards John Hume, which appeared more vitriolic than that expressed against Gerry Adams. But she also referenced the constructive engagements with Brian Faulkner and other Unionist ministers of the 1973 Executive.

One pertinent moment that demonstrates this enmity, though, was the 1975 Constitutional Convention. Dr Phoenix reminded us of the boycott by all Unionists on the day when John Hume made his presentation; he spoke to empty benches. Mr Hayes recalled Mr Hume’s speech at the time, quoting him, “One day we will understand the words that we use.”

To conclude the event, co-editor Denis Haughey explained the motivation for the book: “We were determined that John Hume’s legacy should not be misrepresented.” Mr Haughey added that the definition of a great man is one who pursues a vision, which when realised transforms the way we live. He declared John Hume as a great man.

Furthermore, Mr Haughey continued, Mr Hume invited the language of peace that we speak, “Hume speak”.

So while John Hume could be criticised for his unilateral actions, what he was doing was changing the context, participants and language to be applied for peace.

In this way, John Hume is undeniably an Irish peacemaker.



The book has been produced by Sean Farren and Denis Haughey. The foreword of the book is from President Bill Clinton and includes a series of contributions from Paul Arthur, Arthur Aughey, Austin Currie, Seán Donlon, Mark Durkan, Marianne Elliott, Cathy Gormley-Heenan, Maurice Hayes, Pat Hume, Brigid Laffan, David McKittrick, Seán O’Huiginn, Éamon Phoenix and Nancy Soderberg.

The editors were two of John Hume’s closest SDLP colleagues. Both served as ministers in the first partnership administration in Northern Ireland following the 1998 agreement. Seán Farren is the author of The SDLP – the struggle for agreement in Northern Ireland, 1970–2000 (2010).

Hope must lie with the children of Israel/Palestine

Professor Padraig O'MALLEY, The Two-State Delusion: Israel and Palestine, Queen's University Belfast, Northern Ireland. @ISCTSJ @MoakleyChairUMB
Professor Padraig O'MALLEY, The Two-State Delusion: Israel and Palestine, Queen's University Belfast, Northern Ireland. @ISCTSJ @MoakleyChairUMB
Professor Padraig O’MALLEY, The Two-State Delusion: Israel and Palestine, Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland. @ISCTSJ @MoakleyChairUMB

Hope must lie with the children of Israel/Palestine: Professor Padraig O’Malley talk at Queen’s University Belfast
by Allan Leonard for Northern Ireland Foundation
21 October 2015

Professor Padraig O’Malley gave a bleak prognosis of the Israel/Palestine peace negotiations, calling the two-state proposal ‘delusional’.

At an event hosted by the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice (ISCTSJ) at Queen’s University Belfast, Prof. O’Malley shared his insights into the psychological and structural complexities of peace making in that part of the Middle East, to an audience of 50 in the Old Staff Common Room.

Drawing upon his research for his recently published book, The Two-State Delusion: Israel and Palestine — A Tale of Two Narratives, Prof. O’Malley made his case under five headings:

  1. The passage of time (since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and even before)
  2. The facts on the ground
  3. The facts in the minds
  4. A new set of demographic changes
  5. The changed geopolitical landscape in the Middle East

Yet he said that the biggest obstacle to peace is that neither side had educated or united its community, to what a peace deal would entail.

Prof. O’Malley also mentioned the lack of transformative leadership within Israel/Palestine — the inability for current leadership to be responsive to changing demands as negotiations progress.

An even deeper problem is psychological: polls show an ever decreasing public belief in a future of Israelis and Palestinians even being able to live besides one another.

Prof. O’Malley describes how this abetted by a cyclical addition to war, which begets failure, which begets further grievances, which begets more war.

He called for inclusive negotiations, with Hamas, and for the Israeli Government to drop its insistence for decommissioning as a prerequisite for negotiations.

Prof. O’Malley explained how this precondition is a nonsense, with there being no one able to verify the quantity of arms held or their decommissioning, unlike the way this issue was managed in Northern Ireland.

Anyway, he continued, Hamas (or any other Palestinian group) could reacquire a large amount of significant weaponry almost immediately.

Within Palestinian politics, Prof. O’Malley described the relationship between the more theologically-driven Hamas block and the secular-oriented Fatah group (which is currently in power and feted by the international community).

“The reality is that they are rivals,” said Prof. O’Malley, giving examples of and inter- and intra-group contests for power.

The Israeli Government’s complete lack of trust was explained with a quotation from a high-ranking official: “They have to convince us that they are not a threat to our existence.”

Furthermore, Prof. O’Malley gave two challenges for peace:

  1. Young Israelis moving farther to the right, e.g. many preferring to be more ‘Jewish’ than ‘democratic’
  2. An agreement on settlements would be very difficult to implement, with Israel Defence Forces being called upon to physically remove their own citizens (Prof. O’Malley compared the 1914 Curragh incident in Ireland, when the British Government contemplated using force against those (especially Ulster Volunteer Force) who would not implement the Home Rule agreement; the British Army threatened mutiny, prompting the Government to consider (and implement) the geopolitical partitioning of Ireland).

Prof. O’Malley’s blunt conclusion is that currently there is neither the will nor adequate leadership to negotiate for peace.

For him, the situation is so bleak that even pacifist groups — both Palestinian and Israeli — have told him that perhaps only a large scale war will provoke a serious intervention by the international community.

Prof. O’Malley also described the systematic humiliation that ordinary Palestinians suffer from Israeli police and security forces, and a consequential belief that Israel won’t change its mindset until they feel the pain that Palestinians have felt.

But both societies are living in a state of trauma — he explained — with Israeli Jews crystallising their identity from the Holocaust, and Palestinians from the 1948 Nakba; both sources of identity are loss.

Professor O’Malley finished with some personal remarks:

“My sympathies are on both sides.

“My belief is that the occupation must end.

“Palestinians want their dignity back; their humiliation must stop.

“That demand for dignity has to find an outlet, at some point. And this is how a suicide bomber justifies killing himself, as an act of affirming humanity.”

During the subsequent question and answer session, Prof. Monica McWilliams replied to the pacifists’ apparent call for war, with a quotation that violence is the absence of creativity.

She agreed with Prof. O’Malley on the point that the international community has been collectively woeful in regards to Israel/Palestine, but highlighted the symbolic value that the Palestinian State has at the United Nations, as well as private efforts, such as the BDS movement (boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel).

Prof. O’Malley acknowledged that the boycott movement was very effective in ending Apartheid in South Africa, but Israel has an alternative of approaching Russia for increased trade.

We worked hard to end the session with a message of hope.

Prof. O’Malley’s initial response to this question was hope with a lot of pain:

“Hope lies in the fact that in the near future, the situation will become explosive.

“And when that happens, don’t go back to the two-state proposal, but start from where you will be.”

The cliché, “hope lies with the children”, was suggested.

But here, Prof. O’Malley suggested changing the school textbooks in Israel/Palestine: “The books are getting worse not better!”

He described the work of a group of Israeli and Palestinian teachers, who came together in 2000 to try to ‘disarm’ the teaching of the Middle East; the result is a ‘dual narrative’ history, Side by Side.

So while the current form of negotiations may be delusional — the repeat pursuit of  a failed predefined outcome — starting a conversation with children (and their parents) may be a more peaceful path to peace.


Professor Padraig O’Malley thanks ISCTSJ and Queen’s University Belfast for the organisation and opportunity provided by the event.


Professor Padraig O’Malley is the John Joseph Moakley Chair of Peace and Reconciliation at the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

The Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice was established in 2012, to facilitate sustained interdisciplinary collaboration in research and teaching and to provide strategic focus to support world class research.

Launch of #CivilSocietyNetwork

Conor HOUSTON (Young Influencers). Civil Society Network launch, Europa Hotel, Belfast, Northern Ireland. #CivilSocietyNetwork
Conor HOUSTON (Young Influencers). Civil Society Network launch, Europa Hotel, Belfast, Northern Ireland. #CivilSocietyNetwork
Conor HOUSTON (Young Influencers). Civil Society Network launch, Europa Hotel, Belfast, Northern Ireland. #CivilSocietyNetwork

Launch of #CivilSocietyNetwork
by Allan Leonard for Northern Ireland Foundation
2 October 2015

Just a few days before the event, an email was sent to people across the voluntary, community and business sectors, inviting all to the launch of the Civil Society Network.

Held in the ballroom at the Europa Hotel, ten individuals spoke briefly, for about three minutes each, on why they felt the need for such coalescence, “to advocate, support and challenge on behalf of civil society, during this time of political uncertainty and beyond”.

The motto was, “Encapsulating the thoughts of many for the good of all”.

The overarching aim was described as “harnessing the willingness, hope and desire of many to work in unity, to support the peace and political process in Northern Ireland”.

Liam Maskey began, by describing this initiative as a coming together of those who genuinely want to make a positive contribution. He also said how there are so many examples of people working together, but that politicians have not heard about what is going on.

“We want to help [the politicians]. In partnership, let’s go together and make this worthwhile,” Mr Maskey proposed.

“Yes, we want to work with the political parties,” Mr Maskey made clear.

In this regard, he reported that they have consulted with the five parties in the Northern Ireland Executive, and that all responded positively to this initiative.

“This is not the end, but a start,” Mr Maskey explained, with political parties likely to come back with a list of issues that this network could consider engaging with.

The next speaker, Reverend Lesley Carroll, continued on this sentiment, by describing the initiative as “an opportunity for a shared vision to have flesh put on its bones and for civic society to take some responsibility for how this society functions”.

Among those she called to mind:

  • the communities of people who have done their best to transform, but who still cannot shake off the old ways of doing things
  • the politicians [with] their human hearts clashing with their political heads
  • the victims and survivors who have been waiting and waiting and waiting…
  • the wider society … putting to the back of their minds all thought of what still needs to be done for people to make peace with each other

For her, this network is about opening the space in which others can do hard things for the good of everyone, but especially for those who are most broken in this society.

“Here we are today, starting to do something about it. In the present context, that will require an almost God-like effort. And so, today, we say, we will make an almost God-like effort,” Rev. Carroll finished.

David Gavaghan (CBI) described the purpose of the Civil Society Network as creating a coherent vision to be delivered by a cohesive group.

He then defined what a coherent vision could look like: a better future for our children. Where the least able have a decent life. And where young people want to stay in Northern Ireland, with well paying jobs.

Peter McBride (Make it Work) said that our society is disillusioned with our politicians, who operate in a divisive and adversarial way.

Though in this room, he observed, there is all form of opinion yet all are respected and able to work together for a common goal.

Mr McBride proposed that the way people best deal with the past is to have a bright vision of the future.

“How do we together create such a vision for Northern Ireland?” he asked.

Conor Houston (Young Influencers) began his speech with an excerpt from the recently departed Brian Friel and his play, “Philadelphia Here I Come”:

“I’ve stuck around this hole far too long. I’m telling you, it’s a bloody quagmire, a backwater, a dead-end! … And even though I’ll be on that plane tomorrow morning I’ll have doubts; maybe I should have stuck it out.”

Mr Houston told his story of hope, after returning from England at the age of 13: “I’ve been lucky to watch my home, the place I love, grow.”

He told the audience to stop pretending that everything would be perfect if weren’t for the politicians:

“In fact, I have to confess something. I have many friends who are politicians in all our political parties. Not only that, I like them. I respect them. I don’t always agree with them, but I admire them for dedicating themselves to public service and for trying to pursue change.

“I see today not as a chance for ‘us’ to blame ‘them’. In fact, I see today as the end of that narrative. We need to find new ways to work side-by-side, to find a new relationship. A voice that says to our politicians, ‘How can we help?’ A constructive voice that provides solutions to our politicians and perseveres with them to ensure delivery,” Mr Connor proposed.

He concluded by relating the birth of his nephew Ollie to the spirit of this endeavour:

“Ollie is alive thanks to the expertise, professional excellence, technology and teamwork of the brilliant medical staff who treated him. They displayed the compassion, world class service, energy and power of collaboration. They embody what we can achieve when we work together.

“Today is about Ollie.”

Jackie Pollock apologised for Peter Bunting, who was in Brussels at an Irish Congress of Trade Unions meeting, getting a motion unanimously passed on this very subject.

He described how trade union movements see the benefits of the political institutions in Northern Ireland, as well as the negative impacts that would happen if direct rule administration was reintroduced.

Mr Pollock pledged the ICTU’s support for this initiative, to see devolved administration ‘up and running’:

“The Northern Ireland Assembly is our assembly,” Mr Pollock finished.

On behalf of Seamus McAleavey (NICVA), Jenna Maghie explained that her organisation’s support was based on having political representatives responsible to the local electorate and accessible to civil society:

“Devolution for devolution’s sake is not helpful. There needs to be unity in the Executive; it cannot continue to exist as twelve separate silos loosely held together.”

She cited a NICVA membership survey conducted last year, in which 96% of respondents said that the Northern Ireland Executive should continue to make tough decisions, together, and that it should work under the principle of collective responsibility.

Ms Maghie warned of the dangers of a return to direct rule:

“Direct rule … [would create] a local political vacuum [and] a whole different set of problems for Northern Ireland and us in civil society, and crucially the people we work with.”

Father Gary Donegan described the gritty reality of Ardoyne (“don’t say ‘the Ardoyne’!”), where he works in Belfast, and how we need our political institutions to be relevant to our society.

“The time has come to lead,” Fr Donegan argued.

His fear is that we will run out of luck:

“Those of us who live at the edge know that it will never return to what happened before the Good Friday Agreement, but there are enough people lurking in the shadows to cause mayhem in our society.”

Patricia Lewsley spoke of the important voice of women, including the role they have in holding families together.

She wants women to be a crucial part of the roadmap on the way forward, especially in regards to developing interventions in order to prevent crises.

Ms Lewsley expressed a frustration with the lack of decisions by the Northern Ireland Executive:

“At least we could live with decisions made.”

The final speaker was Jim Roddy, who asked the audience what are we doing about complaints against politicians.

He made the case to get behind the politicians, and for the network to give reviews and opinions.

Yet, he added, “We have to believe that we’re working on something deliverable. There has to be the will. And we need positive behaviour.”

So as was declared at the start of the event, this launch of the Civil Society Network is just the beginning.

What makes it distinctive from other initiatives is it’s unambiguous acknowledgement of the power and role of elected representatives.

Indeed, more than an acknowledgement, there is a clarion call to work with politicians.

This morning there was broad representation across civil society — community organisations, faith groups, youth, business, trade unions, women — with unity of purpose.

Maintaining this cohesion will be a task in itself.

As will challenges from a cynical population and media.

But as Mr Houston suggested, this is a great opportunity for applying what we already do well — this is a great place with great people — just working for our future in better ways.

With enthusiasm and hope.

A lexicon of conflict: Paul Seawright exhibition “Things Left Unsaid”

Paul SEAWRIGHT; source: Belfast Royal Academy
Paul SEAWRIGHT; source: Belfast Royal Academy
Paul SEAWRIGHT; source: Belfast Royal Academy

A lexicon of conflict: Paul Seawright exhibition “Things Left Unsaid”
by Allan Leonard for Northern Ireland Foundation
1 October 2015

On the surface, the images shown in Paul Seawright’s work, “Things Left Unsaid”, are just a series of American television news stations. And in a tour that the Belfast-based artist provided as part of Community Relations Week, Mr Seawright explained how he approached this subject from a landscape photographer’s technique: “I even treated the people as plain objects, part of the props.”

But what is behind this work? As described in an introductory wall panel, a recurrent theme in Mr Seawright’s work is the suggestion that the real subject or event has taken place elsewhere: “The power of his images often rests on what is not shown or directly described.”

Or as the artist told us, “The things you’re talking about are not in the image. You want to give just enough: too much and it unravels; too little and it becomes too abstract.”

He also explained how a body of work is “80% conceptual/20% production”. One could be a master of the machinery but dumb in connecting what you produce.

Mr Seawright revealed that the idea behind this current work came from his previous serious, “Volunteer”, which explored the physical geography of recruitment to the US Armed Forces. He joked how he has found himself returning to America for more projects.

What fascinated him was the interplay between the technology of the studio and the technology of conflict. The commonality of the stage platform was also mentioned: control rooms, theatres of war, cutting down.

Ms Anne Stewart (Curator of Art, Ulster Museum) has done a superlative job presenting the images in a television stage environment: each image is backlit with a white border, and spotlit in a darkened room.

This sparked a conversation about displaying work in galleries versus books; Mr Seawright prefers the in-person experience, describing photobooks as a compromise.

Reflecting the sometimes contentious issue of whether photographers are artists, Mr Seawright replied:

“This is about me, growing up in Belfast, and expressing what I see as an artist. Whether you call me an ‘artist’ or ‘photographer’ is semantics.”

And one can see the lexicon of conflict as the envelope of Paul Seawright’s artistic career of over 25 years, how his work relates to conflict and social fracture, from Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, America and beyond.

For more insight behind “Things Left Unsaid”, Paul Seawright and Donovan Wylie had a video recorded conversation at the opening of the exhibition at the Centre Culturel Irlandais.

“Things Left Unsaid” is on display at the Ulster Museum through 3 April 2016.

Allan Leonard is a board member of the Community Relations Council.

Freeing up peace impasse with WD-40

David Stevens Memorial Lecture and Presentation of CRC Award for Exceptional Achievement, Parliament Buildings, Belfast, Northern Ireland. @NI_CRC #CRWeek15
David Stevens Memorial Lecture and Presentation of CRC Award for Exceptional Achievement, Parliament Buildings, Belfast, Northern Ireland. @NI_CRC #CRWeek15
David Stevens Memorial Lecture and Presentation of CRC Award for Exceptional Achievement, Parliament Buildings, Belfast, Northern Ireland. @NI_CRC #CRWeek15

Freeing up peace impasse with WD-40:
The David Stevens Memorial Lecture by Rev. Harold Good
by Allan Leonard for Northern Ireland Foundation
1 October 2015

At the third annual David Stevens Memorial Lecture, the Rev. Harold Good used a physical metaphor of a tin of WD-40 lubricant to illustrate the need to ‘unlock and free up the mechanisms’ of peace building.

The Chief Executive of the Community Relations Council, Ms Jacqueline Irwin, introduced Rev. Good by reviewing the life of Mr David Stevens, who was a founder member of the Council.

Mr Stevens was also General Secretary of the Irish Council of Churches, and also served as Spiritual Director and Chief Executive of the Corrymeela Community.

Ms Irwin said that Mr Stevens valued reflection, and cited a positive role that churches have in the voluntary sector: “Churches have a tradition of moral and social care [in our community]. There are bright spots.”

Mr Colin Craig then gave a tribute, explaining Mr Steven’s appreciation of going beyond mutual tolerance of one another, to where community is where one can feel that they belong, not just tolerated.

“What can we do today that will make a difference, so that drip-by-drip we can get to reconciliation?” Mr Craig asked the audience.

Rev. Good immediately paid homage to Mr Stevens, describing him as “a pilgrim”: “It is up to us to continue with the journey.”

Having taken off his tie, joining the rest of us appreciating the fine, sunny afternoon, Rev. Good then produced a tin of WD-40, mooting: “How do we break the impasse?”

He suggested proceeding with uncomfortable conversations, holding up a book with a title of the same two words:

“Only through conversations can we hear, understand and challenge. It was conversation that brought us to where we are [the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and beyond]. We need to put on the table that which we find uncomfortable.

“We need to be strong enough to have uncomfortable conversations,” said Rev. Good.

He added that such conversations must be had not only by our politicians, “but also in our golf clubs and churches”.

So what can we bring distinctively to the conversation?

“Your story,” he answered.

Rev. Good then suggested three words to help free up the conversation:

  1. Confession (Honesty)
  2. Grace (Generosity)
  3. Forgiveness

Confession (secular alternative: Honesty). Rev. Good made the observation the whole world is more comfortable living in denial than dealing with honesty: “We hide behind our irreconcilable narratives.”

He proposed a Day of Acknowledgement, with the purpose of identifying with each other, as a kind of “spirited WD-40”.

Grace (secular alternative: Generosity). Rev. Good noted that many that were unhappy with the early release of prisoners (as part of the Good Friday Agreement) were from the churches.

But Rev. Good explained that the scheme wasn’t about justice, but allowing all to be part of a new beginning, “whether you deem them worthy or not”.

Forgiveness (no secular alternative!). Rev. Good recalled when asked what is forgiveness,  the Dalai Lama replied, “Who knows what forgiveness is?” Rev. Good thought that perhaps only those who have forgiven and have been forgiven.

Here, he recommended the film, “A Step Too Far”.

Rev. Good concluded by saying that “to unlock the rusty mechanisms” to deal with the past, we need more than laws and legislation, quoting Nelson Mandela: “Reconciliation has to happen in the hearts and minds of people.”

“You can’t get a change of heart in a spray can,” said Rev. Good.

Allan Leonard is a board member of the Community Relations Council.

Forgive for the sake of the future?

Duncan MORROW lecture, "Forgive for the sake of the future?", Downshire Civic Centre, Downpatrick, Northern Ireland.
Duncan MORROW lecture, "Forgive for the sake of the future?", Downshire Civic Centre, Downpatrick, Northern Ireland.
Duncan MORROW lecture, “Forgive for the sake of the future?”, Downshire Civic Centre, Downpatrick, Northern Ireland.

Forgive for the sake of the future?
A lecture by Duncan Morrow
by Allan Leonard for Northern Ireland Foundation
29 September 2015

As part of the Community Relations Week programme, a former Chief Executive of the Community Relations Council, Dr Duncan Morrow, gave a lecture that explored how unresolved trauma affects the legacy for future generations.

Sitting in the same chairs as the elected representatives occupy in the chamber at Down District Council, Dr Morrow told the audience that he believed that reconciliation is not an event, but a process.

“What is the biggest obstacle to the future? The past,” he answered.

Indeed, he added, we keep pushing the issue of the past down the road.

In regards to the peace process, the easy part was the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, according to Dr Morrow, because it was a shared result between the British and Irish Governments (and endorsed by popular referendum).

The hard part is agreeing how to deal with the past.

He made the case that you have to do so by rehumanising the legacy of dehumanising.

Here, we need to re-see and re-hear each other, not only to tell our stories, but also listen to those of others. You may not like what you hear, but remember that they may not like what you say to them. And that there is a crucial difference between truth-telling and truth-adjusting, which will require joining up all of our stories.

One alternative, Dr Morrow mooted, was to ‘draw a line’ under the past, which is very tempting and practical. But if we did this, he argued, all of our stories and rituals remain intact, unchanged; the morality of our actions are not questioned; our behaviour will not change.

But what about justice?

Dr Morrow said that if you do use the familiar model of abused versus abuser, then you will not get a resolution or peace. He used the example of a child abuser, and how it would be preposterous to suggest that the abused child had any culpability in the actions of the abuser.

The alternative, he suggested, was to qualify the model by saying that we were both abused and abusers.

Significantly, Dr Morrow said that justice needs to be in front of us (i.e. our vision for a just society), because you can’t apply justice to make everything right retrospectively.

To put this another way, we could have stories where everyone is telling the truth, yet everyone feels injustice.

So how could we put justice in front of us?

Can our politicians tell other stories? asked Dr Morrow. Can we define justice and rehumanise? Can we endure the discomfort of telling and listening to our stories?

And what of forgiveness?

Dr Morrow suggested acknowledging injustice, for the sake of a new day, while recognising what needs to change (including collective responsibility taking for the past). Ask and answer the question, what would restoration mean?

We will need to show mercy.

“We will need to move into the future with those who have done us wrong,” concluded Dr Morrow.

Allan Leonard is a board member of the Community Relations Council.

Knitting together: CRC annual conference

20150928 CRC

Knitting together: CRC annual conference
by Allan Leonard for Northern Ireland Foundation
28 September 2015

As Chair of the Community Relations Council, Peter Osborne, welcomed delegates to their annual policy and practice conference at Stormont Hotel, Belfast, he explained the event theme, “One Place — Many People”:

“All of us in this room are a minority of some sort; we are all minorities in this place we call home.”

Mr Osborne added that it will be relationships between us that will dismantle bigotry and sectarianism. But that ordinary people in Northern Ireland are suffering from crisis fatigue in the political realm, undermining trust in power sharing:

“There’s only one conclusion from staggering [from one crisis to another]: you fall.”

He underlined the important role of civil society, informing the audience of a fresh initiative called Galvanising the Peace, which the Community Relations Council is helping to facilitate.

The first guest speaker was Mark Browne, from the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister (OFMdFM). He described the framework for the Government’s current policy on community relations, Together: Building a United Community (TBUC).

Mr Browne cited a list of TBUC accomplishments to date:

  • the first (of ten) shared neighbourhood projects started (Ballynafoy Close)
  • six proposals for shared education campuses are under consideration
  • a 12-week cross-community sports programme pilot was completed (Lower Falls and Greater Village), with a second phase underway
  • interface barriers have been reduced from 59 to 52, with formal engagement in 40 of the 52 remaining structures
  • 154 applications received for united youth programmes, with £2.2m pledged for 13 projects
  • five urban villages announced
  • 70 summer camp pilot programmes completed; 35 scheduled over autumn

He added that work is also underway to deliver further actions, as part of ten-year lifespan of the TBUC strategy. Though in this regard, he said that this would be done with assistance from a wide range of organisations in the voluntary and community sector.

In the subsequent question and answer session, several asked Mr Browne if the sector was adequate equipped (read: funded). The senior civil servant replied that his job is to advise the ministers of the implications of their decisions, including not making decisions. Yet he also reminded the audience that funding issues for the sector are directly linked to the wider debate on the current budget (welfare reform impasse).

Future Must Be Shared billboard @TheDetailTV. Conference: One Place - Many People, Community Relations Council, Stormont Hotel, Belfast, Northern Ireland. @NI_CRC #CRWeek15
Future Must Be Shared billboard @TheDetailTV. Conference: One Place – Many People, Community Relations Council, Stormont Hotel, Belfast, Northern Ireland. @NI_CRC #CRWeek15

The keynote speaker was the Editor of The Detail, Steven McCaffery, who explained their infographics campaign, which has now been resurrected onto roadside billboards and telephone kiosks.

The motivation behind the campaign was twofold: (1) there were certain, important items not making it onto the news agenda; and (2) what was being publicly discussed was “cyclical slogans”.

The campaign’s objective is to push facts into our conversation, onto mainstream media, to challenge political discourse:

“While some of our politics feels frozen, our society is changing. In time, we must influence politics.” said Mr Caffery.

Even if that seems elusive, he added that at least it is vital to ensure that local communities are up to speed with reality, across various topics such as demographics, parades, language, the past, education, and the changing political landscape across these islands.

For the next few hours, delegates attended two workshops of their choosing:

  1. Our shared community (Marion Jamison and Rab McCallum)
  2. Our safe community (Mick Fealty)
  3. Our cultural identity (Shona McCarthy)
  4. Our children and young people (Koulla Yiasouma)

After rapporteurs provided feedback to the reconvened assembly, workshop panellists shared their learning.

Mick Fealty (Slugger O’Toole) positively cited our resilient cross-community relationships in Northern Ireland, but observed that we don’t appear to have any collective strategy to put this to good use. In regards to paramilitaries (former and current), he said that we need to separate their positive and negative forms of social capital, in a defensible, transparent and accountable way.

Koulla Yiasouma (Commissioner for Children and Young People) suggested that it is not just the case of ‘fix the kids and you fix the world’; they live in an environment that we’ve created. For her, children and young people have rights in the here and now: “They’re human beings, not human becomings.”

Marion Jamison (REACT) said that in regards to relationship buildings, you may not like what you hear from others, nor they of what you say, but truth is the key basis of such work. She suggested that politicians could learn from grassroots work, citing the Galvanising the Peace workshop sessions highlighting priority issues of health, education and policing.

Rab McCallum (North Belfast Interface Network) saw a reinvigorated community relations sector, but also expressed frustration with the political sector, noting that there were no elected representatives attending today: “Why do they not feel the need to engage with us?”

Shona McCarthy (Shona McCarthy Consulting) discussed the importance of the arts and conflict resolution, arguing that public funding is an investment for future returns, not a grant for a bookended project. Referring to her work for Derry-Londonderry City of Culture 2013, she asked why not have a region of culture, with relevant constructs and structures? For this, the Government will need to have a profound commitment to culture and the arts.

Summing up this well-attended conference event was CRC Chief Executive, Jacqueline Irwin, who attempted to put the day’s discussion into perspective:

“We are not at the start of a peace process. We are in the middle of it, a muddle of a peace and political process. Yet no one else has been in our place. We need to learn from what we have done so far.”

Ms Irwin then applied a safety net metaphor:

“The Community Relations Council has been a safety net, and some have fallen through the holes. But that means we need to weave the net tighter.”

Here, her proposal is for more local peace processes, like micro versions of the grand one we experienced, as well as to connect these up together. Ms Irwin’s hope is that we don’t need to address exceptional measures (emergency programmes), because everyone will be collaborative:

“A society that is working together is knit together.”

We need to knit in the political sector.

Allan Leonard is a board member of the Community Relations Council.

Life objects: Tenx9 Belfast

20150617 Tenx9 - Life Objects

20150617 Tenx9 - Life Objects I told a story at the Tenx9 event at Belfast’s Black Box venue. Tenx9 is a series of monthly events, where nine individuals tell a true, personal story, for up to ten minutes (hence the title). There are six Tenx9 city sites to date (why not start your own!); the Belfast series is led by Padraig and Paul.

I learned about Tenx9 through an event as part of the Belfast Photo Festival, and I was easily persuaded to be a story teller myself.

The theme for tonight’s even was “Show & Tell”, and I showed a medical object to the audience of about 100 people. I was introduced as a “first-time teller”.

I was a little nervous, but I had the reassurance of a typed out script. Compared to the completely noteless presentation that Beverley and I did at TEDxStormont, I was confident I’d survive the next nine minutes.

I nearly didn’t get the last line out, choking with emotion.

Returning to my seat to kind applause, what I truly appreciated was Paul announcing Beverley, with further applause.

Audio below (with kind permission from Tenx9), and transcript:

Life Objects
Tenx9 Show & Tell, Belfast
17 June 2015

This is a Guedel airway device.

According to the product sheet, it is a single-use oropharynageal airway, manufactured from Linear Low-Density Polyethylene (LLDPE), to the highest British Specifications conforming to BS EN 12181, and the design incorporates a colour-coded bite block for ease of selection of colour-coded catheters.

I know this device as what the paramedic tried to insert into my wife’s throat when he found her unconscious, breathing laboriously on our bathroom floor.

This would be the first of many objects used to save my wife from her acute stroke.

There was the evacuation chair. You know, the ones you see at airports and hotel stairwells. For older and frail persons. Or the younger woman whose body has become contorted because her muscles have seized up, inverting her hands, arms, legs and feet. Whatever it takes to get her downstairs and into the ambulance.

At the hospital, I was promptly asked to sign a release form for emergency surgery – to drill a hole in Beverley’s head, to release the excess fluid on her brain, which her body was producing in a reactionary attempt to flush out the internal bleeding. The fluid pressure was at levels so dangerous that that alone was threatening her life. The plastic tube protruding from her skull looked like a form of medieval torture. But this life-saving procedure was established only in 1982.

In intensive care, the ventilator was breathing for her. I was amazed at its complexity – rate, tidal volume, Positive End Expiratory Pressure. Beverley, who had just woke herself up one day after a drug-induced coma, still seriously weak, fought against this machine. Not knowing if she could actually hear me, I suggested to her that she let it do the work for her, for now, until she felt more confident. Within a week, Beverley was breathing on her own. The ventilator served its vital purpose.

The first permanent new object Beverley acquired was a shunt – a one-way valve inserted in her head, to replace the temporary, external device for excess brain fluid. The piping drains into her gut, and will be there for the rest of her life.

You know those little mitts for infants, to keep them from scratching their faces? Well, Beverley had an adult version – all white too. They were to keep her from pulling out the feeding tube out her nose, whether by day or during sleep.

And then there’s the wheelchair. The first one was pretty big, with a large headrest. But we in the family were just pleased, as the nurses hoisted Beverley from her hospital bed. A month after her injury, we wheeled Beverley outdoors. An object to return to nature – even if it was a neglected garden on hospital grounds. She was very happy to feel the sun on her face.

And as every person who goes through physiotherapy and occupational therapy knows, there is a plethora of objects available to aid recovery.

Beverley was so weakened by her injury, that she had to relearn a lot – about every essential function, like swallowing, speaking, standing and walking.

One contraption was to help her stand on her own. It really was a contraption – like a mashed up wooden school desk, with pillars to strap both lower legs, a brace for your knees, and a top to place your hands. I remember the moment she was belted in and able to keep upright and shake my hand.

After five months in hospital, it was time to return home. More objects. Sitting on our sofa, Beverley cried as the joiner installed the double hand rails. But this meant her being able to access our entire home.

We had to shift the dining table to the living room, to make space for the hospital bed. Neither of us liked that. It was a monstrous object, out of place in our planned domestic habitat. Fortunately, we were able to send that thing back relatively quickly to where it belonged – in a hospital.

Regaining her ability to walk took more time and more objects. I accompanied Beverley to her physio sessions at Bangor Community Stroke Team, and watched the Allied Health Professionals – how they’re known in the NHS – work their magic, positing plinths this way and that way, ever advancing in complexity to progress the client’s recovery. About a year after her injury, Beverley took her first unaided steps.

Though the brain damage to her cerebellum – specifically the area that controls coordination – will have a more permanent effect. This just means it’ll take a little longer before she’s running again. In the meantime, a four-wheeled rollator fits the bill as a walking aid. With metallic blue paint, handbrakes and an integral seat and large pouch, it’s a stylish way for a person with reduced mobility to get around the shops!

I was anxious that Beverley would feel inadequate with this walking object. To the contrary, she has welcomed it, because it has brought independence. We tested this during a trip last year in Brussels – which must be one of Europe’s least disabled-friendly capital cities, behind Paris. While I was off on work duties, my lady had little difficulty exploring Grand Place. For short-haul flights, we now leave the wheelchair behind.

Not all objects of adaptation came from medical catalogues.

Carryduff Building Supplies provided the wood for our decking unit, the paving stones came from Tobermore, which was used to create a flower bed with soil from a man in Fermanagh and plants from Dobbies.

A garden can be a therapeutic object, for both the carer and the cared for.

In our case, objects were mainly functional – life saving and aids for recovery.

You could resent having such things foisted upon you. But that puts the focus on the objects, not the beneficiaries.

The key is to see objects as enablers.

For the most important life object is each other. And I welcome any item that helps us live a full and happy life together.

I love you, Beverley Beattie.