Time for British and Irish Governments to take control of peace centre? Sean Brennan asks

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Crumlin Road Courthouse


The debacle emerging from the plans to construct an iconic world class Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre on the former Maze/Long Kesh site has once again caused embarrassment both locally and internationally for the Northern Ireland Peace Process.

As ever, most politicians and people have divided along traditionally sectarian lines with Protestants, Unionists and Loyalists (PUL) generally opposed while Catholics, Nationalists and Republicans (CNR) appear to be in favour of the Centre being located on the Maze/Long Kesh site.

In the brouhaha to support or oppose its construction, little discussion actually took place on what benefits the Centre could have provided to move us all beyond the zero sum game of shared out sectarianism.

Now as we linger on the precipice of a 30 months electoral war, when the madness of mendacity will descend to convince a majority that our political elites can bring peace, it appears unlikely any deal will be agreed to construct an iconic world renowned Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre at the Maze/Long Kesh site.

So how do we resolve such international embarrassment and move beyond this messy situation?

Given the politics of animosity that has built up over the Maze/Long Kesh site it is now time to think of a new location for the Centre.

As discussed here, Peace Building is designed to address the deep-rooted causes of conflict by transforming war, violence, economic despair, social injustice, human rights and political oppression, through participatory problem solving activities, as a means of supporting societies to find a more sustainable and pervasive peace.

Therefore, any proposed re-location of a Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre needs to be in a place that has suffered high levels of political violence, economic despair, social injustice, poor human rights and political oppression so that it can break sectarianism and kick-start a physical and social regeneration process for those communities most in need.

As EU elections, in 2014, Local Council elections, in 2015, and Westminster/Stormont elections, in 2016, will polarize society even further, it will be difficult to find a compromise location.

Therefore planning to re-locate the Centre will necessitate the lobbying of the UK and Irish governments, the EU and US administration, to help ‘grassroots’ peace activists achieve this objective.

In addition, faith leaders support will be needed to help agree the re-location of a Peace Building Centre.

A compromise location, for an effective rather than and iconic world class Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre, could be agreed for North Belfast.

The re-location of the Centre in North Belfast would also compliment the construction of the University of Ulster’s new Campus in Frederick Street and help draw on the University’s academic skills and knowledge to make the Centre both effective and efficient in peace building and conflict resolution.

To offset the problems arising in the Maze/Long Kesh debacle, both the UK and Irish government civil servants could be directly appointed to manage the construction of the Centre. With EU funding, both governments could then ensure peace activists secure an international Centre for Peace Building and Conflict Resolution that is fit for purpose.

Locating the Centre on the site of the Crumlin Road Courthouse or Girdwood site would not only compliment the gaol opposite but also symbolize how this compromise location symbolizes government intent to deliver peace based on the justice and equality for the victims and survivors of the conflict.

With a national government project management structure in place an effective and efficient world class Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre could be constructed and then begin to provide education and training on how to tackle sectarianism, economic despair, social injustice, human rights and political oppression as well as providing support for victims and survivors in contested societies.

Providing education and training facilities in Conflict Resolution could also help develop local participatory problem solving activities, as a means of supporting the people of Northern Ireland in finding a sustainable and pervasive peace.

By taking direct control of the construction of this Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre both governments would not only be fulfilling their commitments, enshrined in the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, but also signaling to the wider Northern Ireland and global population that peace building and conflict resolution are the only tools and technologies to effectively overcome sectarian politics and promote a fair and egalitarian post-conflict society.

Through the construction of this Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre in North Belfast more people and places could begin to recover from shared out sectarian politics and develop a more prosperous and egalitarian society.

If peace activists can secure a non-contentious Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre then, as Brian Rowan notes in his eloquent and inspiring reflections on how to deal with the past, we all then might learn how ‘remembering, remembrance, commemoration can be done quietly and without the parade’ to make peace pervasive and provide a guiding light to move us all beyond the maze of ghosts that permeate our past.

With the construction of an effective Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre in North Belfast we might then help society to build reconciliation through peace, to move us all beyond the zero sum game of shared out sectarianism.

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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. Eddie Finnegan on

    Sean Brennan seems intent on redefining the word ‘Centre’ or, as some would have it, ‘Center’ just as drastically as he has already replaced ‘complement’ with ‘compliment’.
    Not even the most extreme of Little Ulster submissions to the Boundary Commissioners 90 years ago envisaged reducing the new statelet to Belfast alone, let alone North Belfast’s Crumlin Road or Ardoyne. Indeed the Commissioners’ own limited idea of horse-trading seems to have gone no further than swapping Crossmaglen & Hinterland for the slightly loyalist parishes of Mullyash – and even at that they lost their nerve.

    True, a literal Conflict Resolution CENTRE on Lough Neagh’s Coney Island might not be as practical as on the Maze/Long Kesh site. It would, however, suggest that those of us benighted enough to live well beyond Brennan’s Belfast Pale might occasionally benefit from a touch of the Conflict Resolution relic too. And if we can just adjust our spelling as flexibly as Sean Brennan does his, I’m sure Richard Haass will be a very generous purveyor of American dollars to our new PCR Coney Island Center. So, who needs the meddling of Westminster or Leinster House?

    The real problem in expecting North Belfast and U.U. academic types to show us how to beat our swords into ploughshares is that the same boyos wouldn’t know a ploughshare from a moul’board, and I doubt if they’d recognise a coulter knife even if it snapped off and bit them on the bum.

    But maybe the real site for your Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre has been staring you all in the face for nearly two millennia. Armagh has form and precedent in the peace and reconciliation field, from Patrick and Malachi to Andy Pollak, Seamus Mallon and John Hewitt. But who needs an “iconic world class Peace Centre” when the hovering ghost of Swift suggests an ironic one instead?
    “He gave the little Wealth he had / To build a House for Fools and Mad:
    And shew’d by one satyric Touch / No Province wanted it so much.”

    With a PBCRC in Armagh, at least a few of the so-called faith leaders wouldn’t have so far to travel. But, in any case, it must be up to Stormont’s two Joint-First Ministers (not Peter & his Deppity, mind) to lead their wee county council of a micro-state to the point Hewitt had reached over forty years ago:

    “Bear in mind these dead:
    I can find no plainer words.
    I dare not risk using
    that loaded word, Remember . . .

    So I say only: Bear in mind
    those men and lads killed in the streets;
    but do not differentiate between
    those deliberately gunned-down
    and those caught by unaddressed bullets:
    such distinctions are not relevant.

    Bear in mind the skipping child hit
    by the anonymous ricochet;
    the man shot at his own fireside
    with his staring family around him;
    the elderly woman
    making tea for the firemen
    when the wall collapsed;
    and the garrulous neighbours at the bar
    when the bomb exploded near them;
    the gesticulating deaf-mute stilled
    by the soldier’s rifle in the town square;
    and the policeman dismembered
    by the booby-trap in the car.”

    -from ‘Neither an elegy nor a manifesto’ (1972)

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