Summary of "Beyond Violence: Conflict Resolution Process in Northern Ireland"

Summary of

Beyond Violence: Conflict Resolution Process in Northern Ireland

By Mari Fitzduff

Summary written by Cate Malek, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: Fitzduff, Mari. Beyond Violence: Conflict Resolution Process in Northern Ireland. Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 2002.

In Beyond Violence, Mari Fitzduff analyzes the changes that were necessary to transform the conflict in Northern Ireland. Over the course of thirty years it changed from a bloody, intractable conflict to a contained, hopeful one. Ultimately, she argues that there was not one approach that single-handedly transformed the conflict. Instead she uses the metaphor of a jigsaw puzzle. She writes, "[resolving a conflict] is a complex and interlocking process. In many ways, the task is like working on a jigsaw, where the successful putting together of just a few pieces may well leave the picture as a whole still in fracture, and uncertain." (xv) In the rest of the book, Fitzduff explains the "pieces of peace" that were necessary to transform the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Fitzduff begins with a brief history of Northern Ireland for readers who are not familiar with the conflict. She moves on to discuss the first piece of the peace, the patterns of inequality in Northern Ireland. Although some still deny it, it is well documented that Northern Ireland was essentially a Protestant state in which the Catholic minority faced systematic discrimination in housing, jobs, and political representation. In 1969, after the tension in the country had erupted into violent skirmishes, the British government conducted an inquiry and concluded that a sense of injustice had contributed greatly to the violence.

The British government attempted to address the inequality almost immediately. A housing commission was established as well as voting and education reforms. Equal employment became a pressing issue when it was established that unemployed young men were significantly more likely to join a violent paramilitary group. Although reforms came slowly, especially in the area of employment, considerable progress was made.

However, the systematic discrimination led to another problem. Although Catholics and Protestants often lived quite close to each other, Northern Ireland was a completely divided society. Fitzduff recalls the strange situation "whereby people often live near to each other, and can learn enough about each other's movements to ensure murder, but their relative physical closeness rarely produces positive relationships?" p. 32 Peace builders were concerned that even if a peace agreement could be reached, that the severe divisions in the society would continue to fuel the conflict. Many groups moved in to address the problem. Fitzduff writes that by 2001, there were over 130 organizations devoted to creating understanding and cooperation between the two parties.

Volunteer groups also instigated the first attempts at peace education for youth. However, volunteer groups did not have the resources to make a lasting impact. In the late 1980's, the school system began to implement peace education. Even though the schools remained largely divided, programs were implemented to teach students about the opposing side's culture and traditions, arrange contact between the two communities, create common history and religious curriculums for both Catholic and Protestant schools, train teachers and develop special peacemaking projects. Furthermore, significant government funding has been secured to develop integrated schools. Although these efforts are fairly new, Fitzduff writes that they succeeded in educating students systematically and on a much broader scale than the volunteer groups were capable of.

The next pieces Fitzduff addresses are cultural traditions. She focuses on the Cultural Traditions Group, established in 1988 and the work it has done to create a multicultural society in Northern Ireland. The CTG has had an uphill battle, but has managed to make some progress. Fitzduff looks at identity building, local history, cultural fairs, music and dance, marching and drama. The evidence of success is anecdotal. Particularly tense cultural traditions, such as the summer marching season, have, in some places, turned more festive. Ultimately, the goal of this work is to replace destructive nationalism with a positive celebration of identity.

In Northern Ireland, the security forces had to realize that they could never contain paramilitary violence solely through force. They were therefore forced to look at the role they had played in escalating the conflict. The security forces were were almost all Protestant and thus reacted to the sectarian violence in a biased and hostile way. Even more hated was the army sent in by the British to contain the violence. Although officially British, this force was largely made up of part-time Northern Irish Protestants who had strong links to paramilitaries, many of whom were convicted of sectarian violence. Secret service agents were also involved who, while they worked to prevent many casualties, were also involved in some very questionable activities. Furthermore, the Unionist government gave themselves the power to introduce internment and other repressive measures in the 1970s. Human rights groups soundly criticized these "emergency" provisions. Slowly, the security forces began to realize that their tactics, instead of ending the conflict and containing violence, were being used by the opposite side to increase violence and prolong the conflict. Security forces attempted to remedy the problem by improving the selection and training of recruits, reviewing complaints, limiting access to computer files on suspected IRA activists, disbanding the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), increasing Catholic participation in the forces and appointing community liaisons.

In her chapter on paramilitaries Fitzduff writes, "The use of illegal force to achieve political leverage has been a consistent factor in politics in the island of Ireland." p.89 One major reason was these men, although violent, were not shunned by their communities, but supported. These men usually came from poor or marginalized communities and had a history of paramilitary involvement in their family. Force was the first tactic used, but even extreme force failed to completely contain the paramilitary violence. More successful measures included decreasing unemployment and social exclusion, limiting the paramilitary's funds, communities beginning to denounce the escalating violence, work with trauma victims, anti-intimidation work and opening dialogues with the paramilitaries.

As for the political pieces, Fitzduff divides them into track one and track two. She writes that the fact that all track one initiatives fell apart before the 1998 agreement does not mean they weren't useful. She describes an organic development from the first track one agreements to the final successful one. Peacemakers had to wait until the conflict was sufficiently ripe. However, track two mediators who worked to make the dialogue between the government and paramilitaries more productive also helped the track one dialogues along. Churches, businesses and foreign powers, especially the United States, also conducted significant initiatives.

The final piece Fitzduff looks at is finding genuinely neutral change agents. In the beginning, international facilitators were flown into Northern Ireland to help mediate disputes. These third parties were sometimes helpful, but sometimes unhelpful to the point of being destructive. Furthermore, there were not enough neutral facilitators to fill the need in Northern Ireland. After a time, indigenous facilitators began to step up. They were not asked to give up political preferences, just suspend them. Indigenous facilitators were in many ways superior to outside facilitators because they were more credible and knowledgeable than outsiders. Using indigenous facilitators is now a commonly-used tactic in conflict situations, where there is sufficient time to train them.

"Conflicts do not end, but they can and do change?" Fitzduff writes. While there are still many problems in Northern Ireland, she reports that she sees a commitment to what John Paul Lederach calls an "ending picture." She describes small changes that have occurred, things such as television shows becoming more representative of the entire population instead of just Protestants, an increase in integrated schools and the establishment of a power sharing government. Together, all of these smaller changes have contained the conflict and brought hope to Northern Ireland. Fitzduff writes, "Some of these initiatives are now compelled by a legislative initiative, which is helping to increasingly develop a region that in many cases has mainstreamed both equality and cooperation between the communities on many hundreds of differing levels. While such interlocking is obviously not an absolute guarantee against further conflict and violence, it is certainly likely to provide a more secure societal infrastructure than those that have preceded it." p. 166

Fitzduff writes that while proponents of one approach are often dismissive of other approaches, these approaches are often complementary. For example some people argue for a "hard" approach to paramilitary violence, while others argue for a "soft" approach. In the end it was the combination of these two approaches that was successful To all these black and white questions, the answers were most often a little of both. It was important for everyone to add his or her own experiences and skills together to create peace. Fitzduff writes that the major lessons she learned during the course of the conflict were to recognize that change is possible and recognize that change is cumulative.