Unique Peacemakers

Mari Fitzduff

Professor and Director of the MA Conflict and Coexistence Programme at Brandeis University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: Too often in a conflict we believe people will never change.

We believe the paramilitaries will never change, the police will never change, the British government will never change, but I think knowing and keeping hope that everyone can become one of Bill Ury's a third-sider is something that you have to keep in front of me, you have to keep in front of us.

This was tough because we had staff that came from both sides as well and for some of them to believe that you could get such a thing as a good policeman or a good army person, or for some of them to believe that IRAs could turn around and do good things eventually was extraordinarily difficult.

Now when I look back and see, a lot of our best facilitators have been paramilitaries, ex-prisoners from both sides. We've done extraordinary work with what we call co-partials, people who are still who they are in terms of their identity, but who positions themselves within a certain process. We ask them to give only a day maybe in the first instance doing this, and then gradually they begin to accustom themselves to feeling comfortable being a third-sider while they're with this group, and then they go back to their communities.

I have seen just the most extraordinary change process facilitated by people who were out bombing, shooting, and murdering just a few years before.

Q: Is it actually an advantage to have those people turn rather than the traditional peacemakers?

A: It absolutely is. I tell this story in my book of taking a taxi home. All the taxi drivers are run by paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, but you're never quite sure which side you're getting. I sat in and there was this guy reading loyalist tracks and I started a conversation and it turns out he was a republican. It turned out he was a republican who'd actually taken one of our training courses, and who was co-facilitating a lot of discussions on identity down on the folds on Shankhill Road. Of course, he said, we have great credibility, much more than you middle class folks. It was just an absolutely brilliant example, and there are dozens of these people now, who, they're the ones who call my book "the bible", because it's a very simple way if you want to structure conversations on justice or whatever.

Q: Why do they have more credibility?

A: They're seen to have suffered for the cause and they're seen to have a stake. They're seen as, in a way I suppose, being those who have, but often they're mostly in working class areas, which are the areas that suffer most. They're not people who people can ever reject as being, you know, they don't count. Because they count. They've been part of the communities.