There needs to be a re-assessment of who is brought to the table in efforts to build and develop relationships. To move beyond the constant re-visiting of the same issues, perhaps we need to move the conversation beyond those “usual suspects”. The demographics of those engaging in these specific talks suggest that while many have shifted in their thinking to find areas of mutual concern and agreement, “new” voices will soon need to be heard.
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By Dr. Orna Young
Last weekend saw a gathering of senior PSNI officers, politicians and community representatives in Cardiff. The overarching aim of the series of talks was to improve relations between Loyalist and Republican communities and the police. While there has been much griping in the media and on social media platforms about the effectiveness of such an initiative, the spectacle of talks between such a range of actors cannot be dismissed. It illustrates the distances travelled and transitions made by many of those central to the bifurcated narrative of community in Northern Ireland, while placing focus on the challenges for policing in its wake.
The delegates included a veritable “who’s who” of those who regularly feature on the socio-political stage in Northern Ireland: politicians, community workers, senior PSNI officers and academics. While this multi-leveled approach must be welcomed, it nonetheless epitomises the exclusionary potential of efforts to alleviate inter-communal hostilities in the ‘post conflict’ context. The striking lack of inclusion of women, young people and wider grassroot based actors cannot be ignored. This is not to suggest that talks such as these are to blame for their limited representation but rather they are symptomatic of the exclusive political culture in Northern Ireland.
I have previously commented on how the role of former combatants in conflict transformation requires re-definition. Similarly, there needs to be a re-assessment of who is brought to the table (literally) in efforts to build and develop relationships. The saying “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got” springs to mind. To move beyond the constant re-visiting of the same issues year after year, Summer after Summer, perhaps we need to move the conversation beyond those “usual suspects”. The demographics of those engaging in these specific talks suggest that while many have shifted in their thinking to find areas of mutual concern and agreement, “new” voices will soon need to be heard. In effect, the white, middle aged, male may have brought us to this point, but we now require new ideas, perspectives and identities to move beyond the social, economic and political stagnation the region is currently experiencing.
Dr. Orna Young is a researcher working with the Institute for Conflict Research, Belfast. In her role she specialises on issues related to conflict, peacebuilding, human rights and social transformation. Orna holds a PhD in Politics from Queen’s University Belfast, where she researched the nature of conflict transformation and peacebuilding in interface areas of North Belfast. Her wider research interests focus on alternative applications and considerations of conflict transformation and social capital, as well as urban conflict and group identities.
This article was originally published on Orna Young’s blog ‘Thoughts on people, peace and power‘.