Peter Osborne: "Join the debate on our future"

There are more peace walls in NI now than before the Good Friday Agreement

There are more peace walls in NI now than before the Good Friday Agreement

Peter Osborne is chair of the Community Relations Council. In an article written for The Legacy he says that peace building and reconciliation must go beyond politics.

The Community Relations Council is delighted to support The Detail initiative to highlight a number of aspects of our troubled history, seeking to spark debate about what happened and how to move forward.

It comes at a time when a process has stalled in efforts to reach political agreement on addressing legacy of the past issues.

Politics helps set the mood but politicians do not exclusively own the peace and peace process. As citizens we own it. While we want to see politics working and see politicians demonstrate that they are genuinely trying to make it work, it is civic society that will make the peace process work.

Political agreement is one thing but the conflict plagued us all as citizens of this region.

That is why peace building and reconciliation is ours to do, beyond politics.

It affects us all, it benefits us all. We voted for it in the knowledge of the hard work that lay ahead. We were willing to push ourselves physically and mentally, taking risks but knowing the rewards not just for us but for future generations including our children and grandchildren.

Civic society needs to rediscover that hope and aspiration. We need reminded again of the goals for which we strive in building peace and reconciliation.

The package brought to this debate by The Detail starkly reminds us of the conflict we all endured with such pain and bitterness and that was so hurtful to so many on all sides of the community.

It engages with victims and the displaced, it highlights commentaries on dealing with the past in other jurisdictions and it comments on newcomers to the region. It looks at social issues like suicide and gangs post-ceasefire, and it explores various models of inquiry. The pieces explore meaningful points in our past and they talk to players in those events whether they are security personnel, ex-combatants, clergy, journalists or others.

There is little of party politics in these stories. They are stories of ordinary citizens affected by conflict and still coming to terms with their lives now. They are stories that involved us all, as participants, observers or people whose lives were impacted by the atmosphere and culture of the time.

They are reminders of why we can’t go back to those days.

But they tell us also of what we can achieve, fuelled by aspiration and empowered by the capacity of so many across all sectors and backgrounds who can contribute to make this place more peaceful.

That means no gatekeeping and no avoidance. It means honest and open engagement with the issues that matter.

We must go through a process of wanting to understand people from other backgrounds and in doing so understand the trauma that people from all sides of the community have suffered and are still suffering from.

These are difficult, challenging and complex issues but it is necessary to examine them – not just to understand the past but to understand, recognise and acknowledge what happened and its impact on others.

Indeed those very acts of listening, recognising and acknowledging are steps forward in themselves.

The Community Relations Council will continue to play its part to stimulate debate and understanding, to work with and facilitate civic society to own and further embed the peace.

Whether people agree or disagree with what is included in this series, we hope there is an active engagement with the breadth of the material and as a result real learning for the future.

We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to our children and grandchildren.

We cannot let their future be defined by our inability to come to terms with our past.