Time to twist the Rubik Cube on the past

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(You can follow Sean Brennan on Twitter by clicking here)

With the Belfast Good Friday Agreement being one of the most successful and enduring people empowered peace processes yet developed it is only right and fitting that it is lauded both locally and internationally.

However, as the limitations of our peace building endeavours become increasingly noticeable, and critiqued, it is now time to learn from our experiences and begin to address the gaps in the peace process, particularly in those areas and communities yet to benefit from the peace dividend.

Therefore, undertaking a people-centered review and evaluation of our progress to date can help re-focus, re-energize and reconstruct a more bearable vision of what our shared peace process could, and should, look like.

This review can also help redirect resources, policies and programmes, towards those most in need: victims and survivors, the poor, the unemployed, the marginalized and disadvantaged, interface communities, the social and culturally excluded, to begin to tackle the underlying causes of our conflict at an ‘everyday’ level.

Lessons from such a review can then begin to develop a ‘second generation’ programme for post-conflict reconstruction, to help frame a new and localized Agenda for Peace that is fit for purpose and ‘shovel ready’ for the work ahead, in building a sustainable, inclusive and peaceful society for all.

Given that our political process has been unable to design or implement a strategy for Cohesion Sharing and Integration it may now be time for our ‘grassroots’ communities, business leaders, public institutions, universities and civil society organizations to take ownership of the peace process and begin to design our own Agenda for Peace.

As we move towards new forms of governance, securitization, democratization and development, through the Review of Public Administration, Community Planning, Community Safety, Community Care and Urban Regeneration, it will be critical to ensure local people, local academics, business leaders and public institutions work collaboratively to identify and address the underlying causes of the conflict.

This partnership approach is required in order to acknowledge and deal with a still raw and contested society slowly emerging from a prolonged and vicious socio-sectarian civil war.

To avoid further increases in poverty, youth unemployment, poor health care and a low waged economy, we need to work as partners to re-imagine this Agenda for Peace, to transform the everyday quality of life for those most in need.

This transformation process will necessitate local residents, academics, business leaders, public institutions and civil society organizations working collaboratively to effectively and efficiently resource, mobilize and politicize, people and communities, to take ownership of the peace process, from the bottom-up, and begin to shape a new Agenda for Peace.

With the Belfast Good Friday Agreement being a legally binding international accord between the United Kingdom and Ireland any review and proposed initiative will necessitate the direct involvement of both governments, to endorse and support this people-centered Agenda for Peace.

The direct involvement of both governments can also provide the leadership to mediate a resolution between the contested political process and the collaborative peace process, to help us move beyond the current constraining consociational model, of political elites, a shared out future and designed apartheid, towards an inclusive society at peace with itself.

To commence this process, of developing a ‘shovel ready’ Agenda for Peace, both governments can draw on lessons from the arms decommissioning process and appoint three experts of international standing, on post-conflict reconstruction, to manage and direct residents, public institutions, academics and civil society organizations, to co-author, construct and empower a new Agenda for Peace.

Commissioners for post-conflict reconstruction can oversee the design, implementation and management of this Agenda that can develop shared goals, delivery time frames, targets and outputs, to sustainably tackle the underlying causes of conflict.

Commissioners can also engage residents to design integrated action plans for political institutions, that is, departments, councils and statutory agencies, to improve services and deliver regeneration in both the physical and social environment of a post-conflict society.

Removing responsibilities for peace building from the adversarial party political arena can allow commissioners, academics, public institutions and local residents to develop the tools, technologies and techniques, to support victims and survivors, recover truth, deepen reconciliation and implement solutions to economic inequalities, poverty, ill-health, social and cultural exclusion at the everyday level.

To ensure inclusion of all interests in the formulation of this Agenda for Peace, processes of Social Network Analysis can be utilized, to identify and link the diversity of individuals, groups and communities present within society, many of whom feel marginalized and ostracized by the current political, institutional and community/voluntary elites practicing ‘top-down’ peace building.

Social Network Analysis can also help identify and link those groups, ‘grassroots’ communities and interests, not yet represented, or ostracized, by current peace building processes, partnerships, programmes or projects. Such research findings can also be used to link, engage and empower groups and communities around common understandings, of shared interests, shared options, shared visions and shared needs, to build a peaceful, inclusive and equitable society.

Through this proposed Agenda for Peace the commissioners can initiate, procure and develop ‘bottom-up’ processes of community-led quantitative and qualitative research, to create a robust evidence base that can transparently indentify interests, options and attitudes, not covered by current research or obfuscated by elitist practices at the local level. Community-led research can also better reflect local needs, attitudes and issues, that influence and shape tensions and disputes at the ‘everyday’ level. It can also identify ‘shovel ready’ projects for immediate delivery.

This transparent ‘bottom-up’ evidence based research approach can also help circumvent the prevalence of naïve realism within so many political, institutional and community/voluntary elites, towards marginalized, ostracized and disadvantaged communities or groups challenging the inefficacious nature of our current ‘trickle-down’ peace building practice.

If the commissioners are to be successful, in helping us design and implement an effective Agenda for Peace, then local churches, local business leaders, trades unions, youth providers, schools, young people, women, primary health care support groups and Older People’s networks will need to be engaged from the outset. Former combatants, from the police, Armed Services and all paramilitary groups, will also be needed, bereft of rank and file, to help shape a new Agenda for Peace.

Widening participation and empowering such diverse civil society members to co-produce peace can also help counterbalance the growth in party political and paramilitary aligned community groups, currently dominating peace building practice: thereby restoring and rebalancing the natural role of civil society, as a constant and critical friend, within a post-conflict liberal democracy.

Drawing on leadership from former combatants, the commissioners can also use the Agenda for Peace to encourage the design and empowerment of a civic forum that can effectively sustain a people-centered approach to post-conflict reconstruction, beyond the cosmetic, to the ‘can do’.

As a public affirmation of their serious and sustainable intent to support this ‘second generation’ Agenda for Peace, both governments can declare April 10 as our Day of Peace.

Through the celebration of our Day of Peace governments can legislate, direct and encourage ‘grassroots’ communities, public institutions, business leaders, universities and civil society organizations, to celebrate and reflect on what peace means at the ‘everyday’ level; and how local people are tackling and resolving the underlying causes of conflict for themselves.

Governments can also call on print and social media proprietors,  academics, public institutions, business leaders, churches, ‘grassroots’ community groups and civil society at large to launch a public media campaign to begin to design an Agenda for Peace.

They can also encourage EU, international funders and philanthrocapitalists to resource the construction of an Agenda for Peace.Within such a culturally supportive, inclusive, transparent and trust building peace process, we might then begin to transform and problem solve our current conflicts.

We may even realize a day when concerned residents groups invite, welcome and encourage, the Loyal Orders to parade past their communities as a sign of how strong our peace process has become at the local level.

We might develop a common understanding where flags and emblems represent our shared identities and shared histories rather than our divided allegiances.

We might also begin to tackle the scourge of sectarianism and strengthen our rich religious and cultural diversity rather than use the ‘prince of peace’ as a weapon to threaten our enemy’s life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

We might even come to a shared understanding where streets, parks, estates, neighbourhoods and public highways are viewed, not as ‘yours’ or ‘my’ areas, but as our land!

If we are serious, in helping our political representatives overcome their reticence to develop a shared future, we all now need to organize, educate, politicize and engage in a common cause, to begin to discuss and design a new Agenda for Peace.

To commence this ‘second generation’ peace process we can start sending emails, texts, or letters to our local mainstream media outlets, newspapers, talk shows and current affairs programmes, to encourage our journalists, opinion makers and commentators, to shape public discourses on what an Agenda for Peace for a shared future could, and should, look like?

Using our social media outlets, Facebook, Twitter and eamonmallie.com, we can all begin to contribute to this dialogue on designing an Agenda for Peace.

We can also start to encourage and give leadership to our public representatives, to help them discuss ‘what positive peace means ’ and how we get it?

Through our schools, youth clubs, our churches and our pulpits, our universities and our trades unions, we can also begin to ask politely what a ‘second generation’ peace building programme could look like: and from our collective and collaborative discourses, present our governments and elected representatives with modest proposals to help shape a ‘shovel ready’ Agenda for Peace.

In so doing, we can inspire each other, as well as the rest of the world, to design, develop and deliver, a people empowered Agenda for Peace that can overcome political, institutional and relational barriers and tackle the underlying causes of conflict, to build and sustain peace at the ‘everyday’ level, for our children and our children’s children.

Can we do this? Yes, we can!

(You can follow Sean Brennan on Twitter by clicking here)

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About Author

Seán Brennan is a part-time PhD candidate at the Queen’s University Belfast, School of Politics International Studies and Philosophy, researching Ulster Loyalism and the politics of Peacebuilding, Development and Security in Northern Ireland. He is a representative of the community on Belfast City Council’s Good Relations Partnership and has contributed articles for The Other View magazine, Pue’s Occurrences and Conflict Transformation Papers, Volume 9, Ethnicity and Nationalism (2005) and Volume 10, Peace by Piece (2005) and has contributed poems, The Gaza Ghetto (2008) and Belsen by the Sea (2008), for the Palestine Chronicle (16 July 2008). Seán also designs and delivers training in Community Relations, Conflict Resolution and Conflict Transformation and his Peace Building in Interface Communities programme was short-listed for the Times Higher Education Awards (2008).

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