Choice – ‘petrol bomb ready’ society or shovel ready?

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Vice-President Biden

Vice-President Biden


The announcement, of Vice-President Biden’s direct engagement with the Peace Process, rather than appoint an Envoy, is a timely reminder of how important Northern Ireland is, not just to the USA but, as President Obama reminded us all in June, to the global community.

This announcement is not only a positive and thankful reminder of the force for good the American people play in energizing the movement towards peace but also a ‘wake up’ call for us all to reflect on just how lucky we are in having this support, to help us reconstruct a peaceful, fair and egalitarian society.

The announcement also raises the question of what the incoming team of US assessors will make of the state of the Peace Process, as they attempt to identify our thinking on how we conduct the conduct of government here.

From a local perspective, fifteen years beyond the Belfast Good Friday Agreement it is the question everyone needs to be asking now: who decides how we conduct our conduct of government, in politics, business the media, academia, the community and public administration, to deliver an Agenda for Peace?

This is certainly the question that will be uppermost in those minds tasked with providing Dr. Haass with an informed analysis of how to develop a solution to our current problems, manifesting as flags, parades and emblems.

With 3 MEPs, 18 MPs, 108 MLAs and 582 local councillors, a regional Assembly, 26 local councils, enumerable statutory Trusts and agencies, one voluntary, and two community, sectors, for a population of 1.82million it is difficult to make the case that we do not know how to conduct government.

Yet when we put this population figure into perspective, where there are 2.55m in Greater Manchester, 2.44m in the West-Midlands, 1.77m in West Yorkshire and 1.3m in Greater Dublin we can begin to better understand how we struggle to conduct good government here.

In addition to the population equivalence the other interesting comparison with these areas is that at some point in their evolution they all used violent forms of sectarianism to govern their local economy. Yet, while these places have implemented liberal-democratic mechanisms to eradicate their sectarian model we have not.

As both the latest NISRA statistics and Community Relations Council Peace Monitoring Report show, rather than eradicate sectarianism we have solidified and modernized it, ‘petrol bomb ready’ and fit for purpose, in our 21st Century shared out sectarian state.

Given that Vice-President Biden’s appointment will inevitably bring the global spotlight back on us all, there is now no sense in pretending any more that this ‘shared out’ trickle down sectarian model of government can deliver an Agenda for Peace, especially for those most in need.

However, rather than accepting these self-evident truths our political and institutional elites and their community/voluntary affiliates have resorted to type, and under this global spotlight, re-energized our conduct of conducting government through sectarian conflict.

And in the glare of this global media spotlight, through their militant ignorance, blamed everybody else in general and ‘grassroots’ loyalists in particular for our sad state of affairs.

This reality renders demands for ‘leadership’ to get us out of this mess into a quandary as we ask, lead us to where and for what?

Such a sobering realization, on the paucity of our leadership qualities, can only make us think that if we are to escape these nets, of nationalism, shared out sectarianism, economic despair, victimhood, political, cultural and social exclusion, then we all need to accept that to survive the growing global embarrassment arising from our attempts to conduct government here we need to return to our vision of 98 and develop a new Agenda for Peace once again.

Hopefully, as Vice-President Biden ponders on being present in our predicament he will refresh his thinking on what an Agenda for Peace aims to do.  This concept aims to transform war, violence, economic despair, social injustice and political oppression through peace building activities as a means of supporting societies and survivors find, true and lasting peace.

In the knowledge that we will reelect our same sectarian politicians to conduct our conduct of government how vice-President Biden reforms our shared out sectarian model and gets us back on the path to a sustainable and pervasive peace remains to be seen.

If he were looking for ideas on how to problem solve his predicament he would do well to look across Washington, towards the George Mason University, to see if he can glean any knowledge from there on models to conduct the conduct of government by transforming political power into the human needs paradigms that perpetuate peace.

As a first step, in their familiarization programme, Vice-President Biden’s advisors might also benefit from refreshing their thinking on John Paul Lederach’s conflict transformation theory, to help them shape middle range management policies in Public Administration, to work off NISRA statistics and begin to implement a more fair and egalitarian society rather than bolster up a shared out sectarian state.

With the direct involvement of Vice-President Biden, there is now also a new opportunity for more people here to begin to make their voices, views and perspectives, heard on how we conduct the conduct of government in this divided society.

As we all begin this conversation, on who runs this place, we all need to ask, if we are to be governed, not as ourselves, alone in two sectarian divides, but as one interconnected society, then how will we affect the conduct of government to find truth and reconciliation, to eradicate economic inequalities, poverty, ill-health, social and cultural exclusion, once and for all.

As we begin to grapple with such questioning, we can draw inspiration from Hanna Nelson and Maria Marsella, to remember that as we make our way through this puzzle, of how we conduct the conduct of government, our guiding light must lead us beyond our shared out sectarian state, towards a more fair, egalitarian and pervasive peace.

Can we do this? Yes, we can, with a little help from our US friends.

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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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