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Transforming division through human encounter

Ireland / Freedom for Peace / 13 apr 2018

Northern Ireland endured armed conflict between 1968 to 1998. This period, often called “The Troubles”, was characterized by bombings, shootings and armed conflict between a range of state and non-state actors as well as sectarian and inter-factional murders. In 1998 the Good Friday peace agreement between the parties was signed, marking the end of the conflict.

2018 marks twenty years since the peace agreement was signed, but a significant reduction in violence alone, does not ensure lasting peace. Relations between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland are still fractured, with communities remaining divided in many ways.

Corrymeela is Northern Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation organisation. Corrymeela began before the Troubles and continues to work in Northern Ireland’s post-conflict society to promote reconciliation and peace-building through the healing of social, religious and political divisions in Northern Ireland. Corrymeela’s residential centre on the north coast of Ireland hosts 10,000 people a year, alongside a lived community of volunteers and staff. In addition to hosting groups from the local community, Corrymeela’s staff travel across Northern Ireland to work with schools and communities. They run group sessions using dialogue, experiential play, art, storytelling and shared community to help groups embrace difference and learn how to have difficult conversations. Ultimately, the work of Corrymeela is about creating a world where we learn how to live well together.

Corrymeela’s programmes focus on four areas they believe are critical to the reconciliation process: tackling marginalisation, moving beyond sectarianism, addressing the legacies of conflict and public theology. Addressing Legacies of Conflict continues to be one of the most challenging and elusive issues at both political and social levels in Northern Ireland. There is no agreed narrative on the past and different people understand history and its impact on the present, in vastly divergent ways. One area where Corrymeela has made a significant impact is in the area of history teaching. Despite the lack of wider framework for addressing legacy issues, history teachers are expected to support young people to wrestle with the complexity of the past and its impact on the present.

Through the ‘Facing our History, Shaping the Future’ project, Corrymeela encourages students and teachers to explore issues such as identity and belonging, prejudice and discrimination and civic engagement. They use historical case studies where there has been deep-rooted violence, to encourage students to examine the causes from different points of view. In partnership with international NGO, ‘Facing History and Ourselves’ they focus on the events leading up to and including the Holocaust, the US Civil Rights movement and the ‘Causes and Consequences of the Partition of Ireland’. This approach supports students’ critical thinking both on historical episodes of violence and on how to build, nurture and sustain a healthy democracy in the present.

Through the ‘Legacies of Conflict’ programme, Corrymeela has worked directly with over 500 teachers, 2,500 young people and around 150 schools, and produced numerous resources to help facilitate difficult conversations about the past. Corrymeela believes that investing in the education system in Northern Ireland’s ‘post conflict’ society is critical in building a shared future for all.