‘Pen-pal politics’ – starting at Parliament Buildings…

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While some may prefer to wait until the conclusion of the Haas Initiative before attempting any review, or recalibration, of peacebuilding progress to date, the potential of a Haas inspired ‘Fair Parades Commission’ to emerge, become operative and in command, by this time next year, is extremely optimistic given our current administrative record on delivering Executive programmes.

If we are to break this emerging cycle of political elite led sectarian violence we somehow have to become the peace we wish to be.

In becoming this change, peace theorists, peace activists and peace practitioners, have to start moving beyond demonizing groups. Instead we all need to produce and deliver the peace that transforms us in our everyday world, piece-by-piece, neighbour-by-neighbour, and soul-by-soul.

We need action that matures our relationships beyond the politics of the last animosity and moves us all further down the road towards a fair and egalitarian system of government.

For this to happen public institutions, peace activists, church leaders, civil society groups and the business community, need to mobilize, energize and radicalize, enough people to move beyond the ‘two narratives’ theory of post-conflict peacebuilding currently being articulated by our political elites.

Public institutions, peace activists, church leaders, civil society groups and the business community also need to hold those who profess to be peace builders to account. To ensure the hard won funds given to reshape our future are used to build peace and prosperity for all those in need rather than the ‘usual suspects’.

We also need to energize, and hold to account, a multiparty Assembly that works on the everyday issues, of poverty, long-term unemployment, ill-health, economic development, equality for women, human rights for all and support for victims and survivors of violence.

If we honestly evaluate the challenges we now face, in this shared out sectarian state, the chances of us achieving a fair and egalitarian society are already slim to laughable.



In truth, such is our political economy, Northern Ireland can make the backwoods appear almost cosmopolitan at times, due to the vested interests of fake politicians, false peace builders and phony peace profiteers.

Yet in assessing the talent, intellect, skills, knowledge and entrepreneurial spirit of all our people, there is still hope that we can find a way to break this emerging cycle of shared out sectarian violence and proceed to build a better today, that can become a peaceful tomorrow.

As Brian John Spencer noted this would mean giving peacebuilding jobs to our hard working and qualified young people, who are our future, rather than the political elite’s community/voluntary affiliates, who are our past.

So, if we are to move towards an egalitarian future, for peacebuilding to bloom, we now need both the UK and Irish governments, as the co-signatories of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, to provide the political and moral leadership that moves us away from of this shared out sectarian state and let the opportunity of youth flourish through ‘second generation’ peacebuilding programmes, to rekindle the hope of 98.

While many may think that choosing this path towards peace is just ‘pie in the sky’ and that a security response is our only solution, a cursory glance at our history is reminder enough that violence only begets more victims, more parades, more commemorations, more past and less future.

No one should be in any doubt, the objective to make peace an everyday reality will not be readily achieved: but humanity has risen to bigger challenges.

Some people laughed, on September 12, 1962, when President Kennedy said:

‘We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too’.

Millions cheered, seven years later, on the July 16, 1969, when humanity reached President Kennedy’s pie in the sky.

In 1998, we chose to go to peace. We chose to do this ‘not because it was easy but because it was hard’ and ‘because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone’.

Now, in 2013, as we bear witness to the unraveling of the peace process we all need to chose to go to peace again, ‘to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills’ to move beyond old sectarian governance habits, and the politics of the last animosity, towards a more fair, egalitarian and healthy society, at peace with itself.

Instead of demonization and animosity, let us all now focus on our peacebuilding challenge, ‘one which we intend to win, and the others, too’, through a more honest, truthful and astute analysis on how we are to stem the rise in physical and structural violence now masquerading as peace.

To win this peace prize we all need to work hard, not through some localized grandiose political elite process, but through our own everyday actions and human being, to build a fair and egalitarian future.

As we cross the threshold of a new school year we need to learn lessons on how to screw our courage to the sticking place, to hold political institutions and political elites to account and rekindle that dream of 98.

Perhaps, in this new school year we can ask our centres of learning to launch a rocket, to the soon to be future, through a ‘pen pals for peace’ programme. To share their visions for peace with our political elites, to hold them to account and remind them the lesson today is… how to try, to reach our pie in the sky, to build our future, piece by piece by peace.

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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).


  1. You can see this little way of peace already at work in towns, villages and workplaces all over NI and it is a source of hope and light in the dark attitudes that have emerged lately. The question is how do you make it grow. Our media and our intellectuals need to give a lead as well as the two governments. But the question is, do they have the will.

  2. Norman Beverland Thorpe on

    You know i opened up a little registered charity cross community Shackleton and Aviation Museum three years ago at Magilligan Point covering the history of aviation in Ireland. Ihad many people from across Ireland and the world visiting. In my own time and expense I visited other museums to see if we could all work together forming a chain helping each other. Sadly they made excuses and were not interested. In February of this year Limavady Borough Council sent me a letter closing down my museum with three weeks to get out of their building. We paid the council £80 a month for the use of their building. Talk is cheap in this country and we do a lot of it moaning and complaining and blaming everyone else but ourselves. Marching here marching there protesting here protesting there. Its like an old record player playing the same old tune over and over again. The silent people who want to move on dont make good reading in the papers. Bombs and bullets sell newspapers. Went to the maze last Saturday open day for the Ulster Aviation Society with thousands attending and no coverage on the media . That sums up Northern Ireland.

  3. Media has a big part to play.
    They sensationalize most reports making judgements. They are selective with the facts.
    The only channel I find independent is channel four.
    They need to promote positive news that makes a positive contribution to society as a whole.

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