Ending 30 Years of Mayhem: Lessons from Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland, 2001. Photo by Hugh Russell, Irish News.

To all who watch CNN, BBC, Al- Jazeera, or some other news outlet and feel hopeless at the end of many broadcasts, read on.

To those peace workers around the world in the often-dangerous role of advocating non-violent conflict transformation…. often among groups of people certain that their fight is worth trauma and death… who sometimes view people working for peace as simply another enemy to be dispensed with… read on.

To funders of peacebuilding who wonder if results will be seen in their lifetimes, read on.

This is a success story in the making. It is the miracle for which people prayed and worked for 30 years. This is the story of Northern Ireland.

Well, it’s part of the story. In these pages, we are focusing on the role of people linked to Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) and the broader Mennonite community in transforming violent conflict in Northern Ireland. The Mennonites often worked in tandem with kindred spirits such as the Society of Friends (Quakers). This is not to minimize the peacemaking roles of other key actors, from top-level politicians and paramilitary leaders to victims of violence.

Here, however, we wish to explore the way “Mennonites and Quakers punched above their weight in Northern Ireland,” to quote Joe Campbell, an Irish-Presbyterian who worked closely with people of faith (and of no faith) in nurturing peace in his country. Fans of boxing will know what Campbell means: to punch above one’s weight means successfully fighting an opponent much larger than oneself. (Not the usual pacifist metaphor, ha!)

Here we wish to show how a relatively small number of people can indeed make a huge difference. Not by making a huge splash. But through setting in motion a series of small changes, which can ripple into larger waves of transformation.

Our story does not describe a perfect miracle. “The line between good and bad does not separate us, but runs through each of us,” says Campbell. We cannot create perfect societies. We can only work for better ones, starting with our own ways of being and doing. Naturally, then, much remains to be done in Northern Ireland. Much trauma to be healed, many conflicts to be transformed, much anger and hatred to be rechanneled, many inequities and injustices to be addressed.

But much has been done. If we look at the despair that many in Northern Ireland felt from the 1970s to the 1990s…

….when it was neighborhood against neighborhood, one type of Christian against another type, police against those they vowed to protect and vice versa

….at the cost of 3,500 lives over three decades in a population of just 1.7 million — which would be like 500,000 Americans dying in the United States…

Then we must celebrate how far Northern Ireland has come in an amazingly short time, with buds of peace emerging from a handful of seeds sprinkled in a strategic manner.

Northern Ireland's police force in Drumcree, 2000. Photo by Hugh Russell, Irish News

Mennonites Find Supportive Role

When war-level violence was peaking in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Mennonites based in North America were still sorting out whether their faith communities should be content with being “non-resistant” and “quiet” (i.e. not participating in violence anywhere) or with actively intervening in violent situations.

One of the first tentative steps toward intervening was launching Mennonite Conciliation Service in 1977. At that time Lynn Roth was a leader in Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), an international relief organization. Roth spoke in favor of establishing a conciliation service under MCC, explaining that it could address “social disasters,” just as Mennonite Disaster Service addressed the aftermath of natural disasters.

Ron Kraybill, then a Harvard divinity student (later a founder of EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding), was hired to get the conciliation service rolling. Instead of the more typical North American approach of flying “experts” into conflict-ridden regions for short stints, Kraybill advocated long-term day-to-day presence in conflict regions in support of local people.

In 1980, unrelated to the new MCC conciliation service, newlyweds Linda and Joe Liechty happened to land in Dublin, Ireland, 104 miles south of the violence of Belfast in Northern Ireland. Linda and Joe were recent graduates of Goshen, a Mennonite college in Indiana. Full of idealism, they set out to be part of what would now be called a Christian “intentional community” in Dublin.

The couple hoped to do “something big for Jesus,” Joe Liechty recalls somewhat wryly. The intentional community didn’t last, but the Liechtys did. They lived and worked among the Irish until 2003, serving a useful “outsider” role of offering fresh perspectives, encouragement, and bridge-building among native Irish groups. Liechty received support from both MCC and Mennonite Board of Missions for his work in Ireland. In 1987, he
completed a doctoral degree in Irish history, focusing on religious roots of conflict.

“For me and for Mennonite work in Ireland, by far the most important of my new relationships was with Joe Campbell, an evangelical Presbyterian elder then working for the Belfast YMCA,” Liechty says.

Campbell is equally complimentary of Liechty, calling him “a supporter, confidant, and advisor.” In general, “meeting Mennonites was for me an oasis in the dry and barren desert,” adds Campbell. He was intrigued that Mennonites “took Jesus’ call to be peacemakers as a serious call for today,” with justice and peace issues integral to their faith.

Campbell ran programs serving several hundred in the 16 to 25 age range. These teenagers and young adults largely came from impoverished neighborhoods in north and west Belfast. Outside the walls of the YMCA, many were linked to warring Catholic or Protestant paramilitary organizations. “The pathway of school failure, unemployment, social deprivation, and political violence was a well-worn one in Northern Ireland,” says Campbell.

Soon after Campbell and Liechty became acquainted, Liechty returned briefly to the United States where he contacted Ron Kraybill. Liechty had been in Bible study group with Kraybill at Goshen College. “Would you be willing to lead some mediation training seminars in Ireland, if I find Irish organizations interested in hosting you?” Liechty asked.

“Definitely,” said Kraybill. In 1985, Kraybill made his first trip to Ireland, leading two seminars in Northern Ireland as well as two in Dublin. One of these was at the Belfast YMCA among Campbell’s team of youth workers. “In hindsight, the impact of Ron’s seminars went beyond what we could have dreamed at the time,” says Campbell. “Biblically based and practical, the workshop energized me and made me hungry for more.”

Kraybill also ran a session at Corrymeela, now world-famous as a reconciliation and retreat center in Northern Ireland. Kraybill left the nucleus of a “peace library” at Corrymeela, consisting of MCC-recommended reading materials. Some think that Kraybill’s introduction-to-mediation sessions were the first held in Northern Ireland. If not, they were among the first.

In 1986, some who had taken Kraybill’s seminars formed the Northern Ireland Conflict and Mediation Association. They welcomed the arrival of Barry Hart (now a professor at CJP) to continue and deepen Kraybill’s initiatives. Sponsored by Mennonite Board of Missions, Hart spent four months in 1987 running multi-day courses in support of peace and reconciliation workers.

About the time Hart arrived, Campbell left his homeland. “I was close to a breakdown after 11 years of tough, front-line, cross-community youth work in Belfast,” Campbell explains.

With funding from Mennonite organizations, friends and their own savings, Campbell, his wife Janet, and their three children were able to find respite and spiritual nourishment in a 10-month sabbatical at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Indiana.

“I had received scant understanding or support from my [Presbyterian] evangelical community for justice and peace work,” recalls Campbell. He spent much of 1987-88 exploring the theological basis for the Mennonite emphasis on justice and peace. Campbell stresses, however, that “at no time did we feel our own Presbyterian tradition devalued. Nor was there any pressure to become a Mennonite or to start a Mennonite church back home.”

That year Campbell also met Howard Zehr, one of the initiators of the global restorative justice movement, who taught him victim-offender mediation. Campbell returned to Northern Ireland as an energized Presbyterian, eager to spread mediation and restorative justice concepts in his native land.

Police at Apprentice Boys March, where violence has erupted. Photo by Hugh Russell, Irish News.

Impact of the Violence

For Peacebuilder readers unfamiliar with Northern Ireland, the Fitzduff family story offers a glimpse into the pervasive violence in Northern Ireland from the late 1960s to the late 1990s. Mari Fitzduff is a descendant of 17th century Catholics chased from what is now known as Northern Ireland to the southern part of the island, now known as the Republic of Ireland. In the mid-1970s Fitzduff enrolled in University College Dublin. There Mari met Niall, whose family belonged to the Protestant “settler group” that pushed her ancestors out of the north centuries earlier. Over the years Protestants had established themselves as a majority group in the North, but were a minority on the island as a whole. In any case, Mari and Niall married and started raising a family in the late 1970s on land that belonged to Niall’s family in Northern Ireland.

“We set up a furniture and woodturning business so that we would have the flexibility to rear our children together,” Mari recalls. But the war found the young family. “My husband’s family business was blown up, and the post office was robbed so often by the paramilitaries it had to close down.” Even for those who refused to take sides, there was no safety:

We had incredible choices to make, such as: How to deal with bombs that were being set off by the IRA from the family garden so as to blow up soldiers; coping with buses that regularly were set on fire outside our houses; how to keep our children out of the line of fire between the British [soldiers] and IRA?

One morning in the early ‘80s, I looked up from changing nappies to see that the IRA were practicing out in the back field. I noticed that the British army were coming with their guns at the ready, through our house to try and arrest and capture them. And then it struck me…that there has got to be a different way than this. So many of our lives – mostly young lives – on all sides were being lost. Within a few square miles of our house, over 30 Catholics, Protestants, and British security forces had lost, or were to lose, their lives in this war.

In 1987, Fitzduff, Sue Williams and a half-dozen others founded the Northern Ireland Conflict & Mediation Association, predecessor to today’s Mediation Northern Ireland.

Campbell Tills Peace Soil

Campbell arranged for Howard Zehr to make his first trip to Northern Ireland in late 1987. Zehr met with people linked to the judicial system and offered them restorative alternatives. Zehr suggested restorative justice would yield better outcomes than retribution. He also met with some former paramilitary men, helping them to envision replacing vigilante-style violence with restorative justice.

International leaders in restorative justice – such as Zehr, John Baithwaite of Australia and Harry Mika – repeatedly facilitated trainings in Northern Ireland during the late 1980s and 1990s. Zehr came four times. Mika, who has taught at SPI, played a major role in getting paramilitary groups to move away from “summary justice” for youthful offenders.

By the late 1990s Joe Campbell and others trained by Ron Kraybill and Barry Hart were running three-day training courses in mediation for community workers, probation and police officers, church people, school personnel, and others.

Four community leaders in Northern Ireland – Jim Auld (who took a restorative justice class at SPI ’98), Brian Gormally, Kieran McEvoy and Michael Ritchie – issued a “discussion document” in late 1997 entitled “Designing a System of Restorative Community Justice in Northern Ireland.” They urged that their fellow citizens learn to view criminal behavior as a breakdown in relationships, which needed to be repaired. They called for emphasis on offenders’ taking responsibility, on repairing the harms done, on care for victims, rather than harsh punishments that contribute to a cycle
of violence. The authors did not appear to envision quick acceptance of their ideas – “the authors accept that the proposals suggested in this report may be controversial” – but they expressed hope for dialogue on the subject.

Nigel Grimshaw – a 32-year-old who had been in the police force of Northern Ireland since age 18 – came to the 1998 Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI) to take two courses, both co-taught by Howard Zehr: “Restorative Justice & Victim-Offender Conferencing” and “Learning From Indigenous Justice: Sentencing Circles and Family Group Conferencing.” Grimshaw had met Zehr earlier that year at a seminar he led in Belfast. Grimshaw had been a skeptic of restorative justice at the outset, but became impressed enough to want to learn more.

“The big thing I have taken out of restorative justice is respect for the relationship,” said Grimshaw in a February 2009 interview, more than a decade after his first restorative justice course. “You build a relationship with individuals, not with communities, and not with organizations. You work to sustain your individual relationships through good times and bad times, and you hope these relationships spread.”

With the patience of a true-believer in restorative justice, Grimshaw has seen men who spewed hatred at him, who wouldn’t shake hands with him, who wouldn’t look him in the eye – all because he was a police officer – eventually come around to meeting him for coffee just to chat. No matter that this took years of persistent efforts to dialogue. No matter that he had to listen to endless, often unfair, criticisms.

“All the thinking behind restorative justice, it impacts and influences everything I do day-to-day on this job,” says Grimshaw. “I view it as my business – as the business of all of us in the police service – to build relationships with the people we serve. It is messy, it takes time, and there are setbacks. If it was easy, everybody would be doing peacebuilding, wouldn’t they?”

At the headquarters of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Assistant Chief Constable Judith Gillespie shares Grimshaw’s interest in a truly “restorative” form of justice that has nothing to do with vigilante-style punishments sometimes called “restorative justice” in Northern Ireland. “Knee-capping of young offenders (i.e. shooting them in the legs) and horrendous beatings by paramilitary groups have been called restorative justice in this country, but these acts have no place in a civilized society,” says Grimshaw. “We are in our infancy in this, but I see us moving toward a truly restorative approach centered on the needs of the victim. This process takes time, patience and leadership by all involved.”

Gillespie and five other officers are third from the top of the 7,500-strong Police Service of Northern Ireland. She is the highest-ranked female police officer in the history of Northern Ireland. In the late 1990s, Gillespie was among a group of Northern Irish police officers and community leaders who exchanged visits with police departments and community groups in New York City (’97 and ’01), Atlanta (’99), San Diego (’00), Washington D.C. (’01) and Boston (’03).

Known as Policing Our Divided Society (PODS), the exchanges were organized and led by Brendan McAllister and Joe Campbell, the founding leaders of Mediation Northern Ireland. McAllister and Campbell ensured diversity of gender and religion among those selected for PODS. The two men sometimes added a stop for themselves to take courses at one or more SPI sessions.

In each city, the PODS group participated in seminars and workshops designed to encourage reflection on the ethos of the Northern Ireland police service and its relationship to the community it serves. The group also studied how to promote constructive change within their organizations, as well as in larger society. Finally, the group was given ample time to relax and get to know each other in neutral settings.

At each stop, the American and Irish participants sat shoulder-to-shoulder in seminars on topics of common interest, such as the role of restorative justice in reducing crime. Later, the Americans paid exchange visits to Northern Ireland.

Interestingly, however, what sticks most in Gillespie’s mind are remarks made almost off-hand. One woman in New York suggested that citizens’ groups can provide “not just the eyes and ears for policing, but also the muscle and brain.” That remark prompted Gillespie to shift from thinking of policing “done to a community” to a service “done with a community.”

Most of the teachers tapped for the PODS seminars were, or are, linked to EMU: current CJP professors Howard Zehr and David Brubaker, former CJP professor Ron Kraybill, and adjunct CJP teacher Kay Pranis. The professors followed up with trips to Northern Ireland to expand the seminars into the officers’ home workplaces and communities in 1999 and 2000. Collectively, these teachers sought to help the police build relationships with those who distrusted them and to make the reforms necessary for social well-being.

On one level – i.e., among the top political leaders in Northern Ireland – the 1998 Belfast Agreement marked a turning point in the 30-year-old “troubles,” with most combatant groups agreeing to hold their fire and to engage in the political process. Over the next two years, the Agreement-mandated “Patten Commission” developed 175 recommendations to improve police-community relations.

On deeper level, however, these Patten Commission reforms required input and buy-in from the grassroots. This is where the Mennonite-influenced police trainings, initiated and coordinated by McAllister and Campbell, proved to be far-sighted.

Gillespie and the other officers in the first series of trainings liked them so much, they encouraged their colleagues to seize opportunities to learn more about community policing and non-violent change processes. Attitudes among the thousands of officers in the department began to shift, even before the Patten Commission officially presented its recommendations.

British Army in Belfast. Photo by Hugh Russell, Irish News.

Good Groundwork for Rapid Change

It is no accident, then, that in 2002, just five years after the four community leaders wrote “Designing a System of Restorative Community Justice,” Northern Ireland became one of two countries in the world to start down the road toward integrating restorative justice into community policing efforts, especially for juvenile offenders.

It is also no accident that by 2008 almost all of the 175 Patten recommendations had been peacefully implemented, including a sensitive process of decreasing the size of the police force while increasing the percentage of Catholic officers. Today over 25 percent of the force is Catholic. The Police Service of Northern Ireland has progressed to a relatively neutral public-service role – that is, citizens feel free to call about a theft, car accident, or domestic abuse case. As a sign of its evolving role, the service has no trouble finding young men and women from both religious traditions wishing to serve in its ranks.

Today Nigel Grimshaw occupies a key spot in the Police Service of Northern Ireland – he is second in command in North and West Belfast. This is the district that has seen the deadliest, largest and longest conflicts in his country. Some might feel discouraged walking in Grimshaw’s shoes. After all, he and his officers are tasked with policing neighborhoods still bisected by 22 huge walls separating Catholics and Protestant enclaves. Here schools remain segregated and paramilitary squads still sometimes brutalize youthful social deviants to keep them in line. Here unemployment remains high and prospects for a better future low

Yet Grimshaw is optimistic, understanding that change tends to occur non-linearly and that patience, persistence and positive attitudes do yield results … eventually. Besides, he knows the alternatives – anger and cynicism – feed a downward spiral.

The new Police Service of Northern Ireland was sorely tested in September 2005, when rioting broke out after officers tried to re-route an annual Protestant parade away from a Catholic neighborhood in Belfast. In the past, this particular parade has given rise to much fear and some violence. During two nights of mayhem, 50 police officers were hurt. Visiting members of a U.S. police department later asked Grimshaw why the Northern Irish police had restricted themselves to using non-lethal methods of crowd control, such as water hoses. Faced with injury-inflicting rioters, “we would have used live ammunition,” the American officers told their Irish counterparts. “We would have shot without a second thought.”

Grimshaw understood his visitors’ urge to maintain order and to protect fellow officers, but he explained: “We showed restraint because of tomorrow. Tomorrow or the next day the violence will subside. When that day comes, my officers and I will need to get up and go back to these communities, go into the schools, visit shops, attend sports events, and build our relationships again. “Somewhere along the line, we have to pick up the pieces and move forward,” he continued. “We cannot indulge in the luxury of pointing our finger at people and saying, ‘You hurt our feelings, you were very violent towards us, we aren’t going to play with you anymore.’ We have learned to take the long view, to focus on the future we are building.”

The wisdom embodied by Northern Ireland’s police has caused foreign political and civic leaders to seek their advice. Official delegations have come from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and many other countries. In 2008, Grimshaw and 13 other Irish officers took a “best-practices study trip” to Boston, Miami and Providence, Rhode Island. Unlike the visits with U.S. police in the late 1990s, this time Grimshaw felt the Americans were eager to understand the amazing transformation of the Northern Irish police force.

Grimshaw offered them this key word: “relationships.” Built bit by bit, over time. Not being surprised by disappointments and setbacks. Persisting.

“Relationships” is a word that Campbell traces from last century’s tightly knit, farm-rooted Mennonite communities, through the 1960s- and 70s-era Mennonites who wanted to do something to address social violence, to EMU’s teachers of conflict transformation who almost-always start with… relationship-building.

Mediation Group Becomes Key Player

In the late 1980s, Joe Campbell formed a working relationship and eventually a deep friendship with a dynamic Catholic political activist, Brendan McAllister. As well-known men from different sides of the religious divide, they were uniquely qualified to set Mediation Northern Ireland into motion. McAllister was its first director in 1991. Campbell served without pay, becoming assistant director in 1995 after relinquishing his YMCA work.

As one of its first acts, in 1992 Mediation Northern Ireland invited John Paul Lederach, founding director of CJP, to address a gathering of 100 or so peace activists in Belfast. Lederach’s speech electrified the gathering by affirming that they and their communities held the answers to their problems, not outsiders, who should mainly support the locals. Lederach also lent weight to local efforts by meeting with political leaders and government officials. In later visits arranged by Mediation Northern Ireland, Lederach held workshops in Ireland’s top-security prison for inmates who had committed crimes linked to their political aspirations. He thus demonstrated his belief that these men could play a positive role in healing their society.

Lederach’s 1992 visit to Northern Ireland marked the first of what came to be a week-long sojourn in that country every year or so, enabling Lederach to maintain touch and offer support for the peace path. Lederach’s retirement-age parents, Naomi and John Lederach, joined the effort by serving as full-time volunteers from 1994 to 1997 at Mediation Northern Ireland. Bringing experience in Mennonite pastoring, teaching and marriage therapy, the elder Lederachs quietly became invaluable trainers and mentors at the center during a period of growing demand for its services.

Campbell valued the low-key, respectful working style of the Lederachs and other Mennonites he met. They did not need or seek immediate results; they sought to be faithful to the biblical call to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. “A lot of North Americans and South Africans came and gave us simplistic, quick answers – or they just threw up their hands – but the Mennonites didn’t do this,” says Campbell. “They accompanied us through the uncertainty and hopelessness of those years. Their main priority was developing and maintaining relationships across all lines.”

Campbell and McAllister found their conflict transformation principles tested to the utmost in 1995 when they were asked to intervene in a potentially explosive standoff. About 10,000 Protestants wished to parade through a Catholic neighborhood at Drumcree. Using shuttle diplomacy for 16 hours, the two men helped the sides arrive at a negotiated settlement, avoiding violence at that time. As a result of this and other work of “bridging the divide,” Campbell was awarded the Order of the British Empire by the Queen in 1997. He received it with mixed feelings, hoping it would not cause him to be perceived as a British lackey.

Today Campbell does peace work in Nepal and McAllister is a high-level government official, but the 10 full-timers at Mediation Northern Ireland continue to wade into conflict. Staffer Denise Hughes notes that new issues in her country, such as living harmoniously with recent Polish, Slovakian and Roma immigrants – have been layered onto old issues of divided hospitals, sports events, travel routes, and schools. The current economic crisis is not making matters easier – if young people cannot get work or continue their education, joining a gang becomes more attractive.

Hughes and her colleagues at Mediation Northern Ireland spend much of their time immersed in troubled communities, helping members discover “their own ways of dealing with conflict and working for everyone’s betterment.” Patience and persistence are essential. Dramatic breakthroughs? Very few. Hughes was ready for a boost when she came to SPI ’07 to take “Multi- Party Problems: Negotiation, Conflict Resolution & Consensus Building.” She got what she needed.

“You get in a rut,” Hughes says. At SPI, “you get the opportunity to think through who you are and what you are doing. It was quite inspirational to meet individuals doing extraordinary work around the world. I remember the ‘old wisdom’ from a Coptic priest from Egypt and the stories from a minister from Uganda. The people around the table – that was the priceless part of it.”

Quaker-Style Diplomacy

While the Mennonites were “walking with Irish peacebuilders” in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Quakers Sue and Steve Williams were shuttling between political figures on all sides in Northern Ireland, helping them to dialogue indirectly, out of the public spotlight, where posturing tended to occur. Under the auspices of the Society of Friends, the Williams quietly worked at helping the sides to understand each other better, in the hope that this might lead to peace initiatives. It did. Fitzduff notes that “forms of
shuttle and other mediation processes” often worked better than “up-front dialogues” in the culture of Northern Ireland.

Fitzduff said the Mennonites and Quakers “were particularly valuable” in Northern Ireland. They offered a model to other non-government organizations in how to support the work of local people, respecting them and learning from them. “Their [Mennonite and Quaker] values in relation to conflict resolution have long been historically clear, and they were often prepared to travel with us for long periods of time, even residing with us for years,” said Fitzduff, who is now professor-director of the graduate program in coexistence and conflict at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. “They were not working for career gain.”

In contrast, Fitzduff felt some other groups made things worse: “Despite the visits of hundreds of international academic and conflict-related delegations, only a handful will be remembered as having contributed significantly to the goal of ending the conflict – indeed, some external interventions have been nothing short of disastrous.”

Ten SPI students from Northern Ireland skipped classes on May 7, 1998, to visit the While House as guests of Hillary Clinton, who was interested in encouraging the peace process. From left: Sandra Peake, Jean Caldwell, Margaret Cameron, Betty Devlin, Janet McConnell, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, David Clements, Margaret McKinney, Hazel McCready, Moira Kerr, and Maria McShane. Photo courtesy of William J. Clinton Presidential Library.

To SPI They Come!

Refreshed by his 1987-88 sabbatical at the Mennonite seminary in the United States, Joe Campbell saw advantages in removing key players from Northern Ireland for a while and bringing them into neutral spaces where they could relax and be open to hearing new ideas, as well as the “other side.”

Beginning in 1995, Campbell and Brendan McAllister ushered a diverse array of people from Northern Ireland to the United States, where 56 persons over the next 13 years took classes at EMU’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI), while others did professional exchanges in cities around North America. The tours of several U.S. police departments were one of these initiatives.

At SPI ’96, McAllister took “Advanced Conciliation” taught by Ron Kraybill and “Trauma Healing and Reconciliation” taught by Barry Hart. In 1998, McAllister returned and took “Restorative Justice and Victim-Offender Conferencing” taught by Howard Zehr and Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz. This last course, in particular, is pertinent to McAllister’s new job as Victim Commissioner in Northern Ireland.

In 1996, when McAllister first came to EMU, SPI was in its infancy, operating under the name “Summer Peacebuilding Institute” for the first time, though it was the third year peace workers from around the world had gathered at EMU. Mediation Northern Ireland ensured its home country was well represented, accounting for 11 of the 130 SPI ’96 participants.

The Northern Ireland group was diverse, including Catholics and Protestants who worked on housing issues, youth diversion projects, healing for trauma victims, and facilitating indirect dialogue between opposing groups of fighters. There was even a former prison “lifer” – Martin Snoddon had served 16 years in prison as a result of participating in a Protestant paramilitary attack that caused two deaths. Ironically, the participants needed to meet on the neutral soil of SPI to get to know each other. Most who attended SPI ’96 went on to play key roles in Northern Ireland’s peace process. Some, including Snoddon, now travel the world as consultants, responding to requests from conflict zones.

Among that 1996 group was Sandra Peake, now executive director of WAVE Trauma Centre. (Peake returned for SPI ’98, as McAllister did) WAVE was formed in 1991 to support women left bereaved by the violence in Northern Ireland. WAVE has expanded from two Belfast widows, one Catholic and one Protestant, to support “anyone bereaved or traumatized through the violence, irrespective of religious, cultural or political belief.” Given that at least 6,800 people have lost a member of their immediate family to “The
Troubles” in Northern Ireland, WAVE has no shortage of referrals. About 600 new cases come through the doors of WAVE’s five centers each year despite the end of open warfare.

Barry Hart and Nancy Good Sider, co-teachers of the trauma healing and reconciliation class at SPI ’98, recall Peake and the other WAVE people in their class very well indeed. The entire group missed class one day – reducing the class size by half – but returned the next, glowing with news of a visit to the White House, where they were greeted by Bill and Hillary Clinton. The Clintons had been supporting peace talks in Northern Ireland,
and Hillary had a particular interest in the work of WAVE.

In SPI ’08, WAVE volunteer Mark Kelly was pleased to take “Using Media to Promote Peace.” The topic itself interested him, given that WAVE would like to spread their stories without relying entirely on the traditional media. Of even more interest to Kelly, however, were the stories told by classmates from conflict zones, including Darfur, Rwanda and the Baltic region.

“It made me less insular,” he said. “It made me realize that peacebuilding is not an easy task, but nobody is alone. I heard of so many atrocities that people had to overcome. It’s a pick me up. It can bolster you in your endeavors, making you want to redouble your efforts.”

Kelly shared his own story. In the summer of 1977, Kelly was managing a neighborhood center owned by a Catholic church, where youths boxed and otherwise exercised. After work one day, Kelly was relaxing at a pub near his workplace, when a Protestant-planted bomb exploded beside him. He lost both legs. He was 18.

Some 30 years later, Kelly learned that a WAVE center offered therapeutic massage to trauma survivors. After years of using prostheses, Kelly entered the center in the hope of easing the never-ending pain in what remains of his legs. He kept coming back for various activities and now is a mainstay at WAVE, serving on its board of directors and anchoring its Wednesday evening men’s group. He’s also a single father of four, ages 18 to 26. “Three of them are involved with members of other communities,” he says, referring to non-Catholics. This suits Kelly fine: “The fundamentals of all religions is love for your fellow men and women. I raised my children to follow their hearts.”

WAVE has sent more people to EMU’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute – 32 over the last decade – than any other organization outside of the United States. Peake recently checked a listing of WAVE participants in EMU courses over the years and found:

It has been a real microcosm of Northern Ireland society – individuals bereaved/ injured by Loyalists, Republicans and security forces; individuals with family members in the security forces who were killed; people who served in the security forces themselves; and families whose loved ones represent the disappeared – that is, those whose loved ones were abducted and their bodies secretly buried and as yet unlocated. Eight of the group were staff. All the rest were, or became, volunteers. The majority are still involved in the organization.

Of WAVE’s 93 paid and volunteer staffers, about a third have received training here. For obvious reasons, they have almost always enrolled in one of the trauma-transformation courses taught by Good Sider and/or Hart. Yet, like all alumni of CJP’s programs, they have adapted and expanded upon what they learned in these sessions. As a result, “they bring experiences and practices that enrich the class,” says Good Sider. “They are teachers too. We teach each other.”

Ireland-Based Training Programs

In 2003 CJP professor Jayne Docherty and then-staffer Carolyn Yoder accepted invitations to lead workshops on trauma and peacebuilding at two conferences in Northern Ireland – one in Belfast (primarily Protestant) and one in Newcastle (mixed Protestant and Catholic). More than 200 people attended one or more of the workshops led by Docherty and Yoder, who stressed the link between unaddressed trauma and cyclical violence.

Docherty and Yoder used, in part, the training techniques of Seminars in Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR), a relatively new program at EMU directed by Yoder. STAR was developed to help New York City community and religious leaders deal with the collective trauma of 9/11. Since 2003, five people from Northern Ireland have traveled to take STAR at EMU.

Yet this barely begins to meet the need. Consider: 5,000 people suffering from trauma have contacted WAVE in the last 18 years. What more can be done?

One answer is to train STAR facilitators in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the world, supplying them with the field-tested manuals used in the EMU-based trainings.

Another answer comes from Sandra Peake at WAVE: Set up EMU-style trainings at home institutions. “We were very mindful of the value of the trauma programs at EMU – the first formal or specialized trauma program that we had undertaken,” says Peake. “However we realized when we returned home that not everyone could access the EMU program, so we worked to develop a diploma in trauma studies, which we have run in partnership with Queen’s University.”

Three of the four main creators of this program – Peake, Maura Burns, and Margaret Riddels – took SPI courses with Hart and Good Sider. “The EMU trauma programs led us to take the core principles and to apply them to the local situation and build upon international work, with the result that a trauma learning pathway now exists for students here at home,” says Peake. As of 2008, Queens University in Belfast offers sequential possibilities for students to earn a Certificate, Diploma or BSc in Trauma Studies.

Northern Ireland’s schools – which largely remain segregated by religion – have been the focus of numerous efforts to prepare the next generation to live peacefully with each other. Peer mediation was tried as early as 1987, when Barry Hart was used as a consultant on its implementation. In the late 1990s, Reverend Lesley Carroll of Fortwilliam Park Presbyterian Church sought assistance to reduce the culture of violence among schoolchildren in her North Belfast district. Mennonite Board of Missions responded by sending volunteer worker Emily Stanton in January 2001, just after she completed her masters in conflict transformation at EMU. Stanton initiated a school-based pilot program on conflict transformation and restorative discipline, aiming to change the assumption in North Belfast that “violence is the way you solve every problem.” By the time Stanton returned to the United States in 2004, the program was in a half-dozen North Belfast schools.

Responding to an invitation from “Partnership in Community Transformation,” MCC’s Lorraine Stutzman Amstuz spent several days in 2005 giving workshops on restorative discipline to personnel in Catholic, Protestant and integrated schools. That same year, Amstutz co-authored The Little Book of Restorative Discipline (with EMU psychology professor Judy H. Mullet), which is making the rounds in Northern Ireland.

Much Done, But More To Do

The ripple effect of a small group of people persisting over the years becomes apparent if one considers the collective impact of the:

  • 56 people from Northern Ireland, including 32 from WAVE, who have taken classes in EMU’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute
  • 100 police officers and community leaders in Policing Our Divided Society taught (in part) by EMU professors
  • More than 2,000 in Northern Ireland who have attended Mennonite-led sessions on various topics, but most often on trauma, restorative justice, conflict transformation, and organizational change
  • 3 Irish nationals who have earned masters degrees in conflict transformation at EMU, along with 4 U.S. alumni who spent extended periods in Northern Ireland engaged in peace work
  • 1 Mennonite, Joe Liechty, who earned a doctorate in Irish history by focusing on the religious roots of conflict, a study enabled because Liechty had no affiliation to any side of the conflict

In “How Did Northern Ireland Move Toward Peace?” (2007), author-researchers Niall Fitzduff and Sue Williams referenced dozens of interviews with key stakeholders to draw lessons from the process. Fitzduff and Williams concluded that about 50 percent of the shift away from violence came as a result of work at the civil society level (where Mennonites generally situate themselves), with another 25 percent government-initiated. The remaining 25 percent was attributable to other influences, such as initiatives by the Clintons and widespread revulsion to terrorism of any kind after 9/11.

“The Mennonite influence on the situation in Northern Ireland is clear, particularly in the areas of trauma and trauma healing, restorative justice, and work to rebuild relationships,” Williams told Peacebuilder. But she added that a convergence of factors – many having nothing to do with pacifist peace workers per se – led to the 1998 Belfast Agreement and subsequent reforms.

“As policies became fairer and violence diminished, there were fewer people who suffered and wanted revenge,” she explained. “As relationships improved and leaders took difficult – sometimes bold – steps, people slowly began to believe that a solution might be possible. That gave them the strength to work out how to move from violence to peace in many areas of life.”

Williams, who moved from England in 2008 to become director of EMU’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute, says hopelessness is a major obstacle to peace. “It is vital to understand that true peacebuilding means dealing with a variety of problems and injustices in such a way that people do not fall into polarization and despair,” said Williams.

She speaks from experience, having worked in Rwanda, Kenya, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Georgia, Abkhazia, Afghanistan, Côte d’Ivoire, and Myanmar, in addition to Northern Ireland. “People must be able to see that fairness can be achieved, and that their society can be a place where they and their children can flourish,” she said.

The peacebuilders of Northern Ireland obviously cannot rest on their laurels. Much work remains to be done. Fortunately, however, Northern Ireland has something which it didn’t have in 1967. It’s what John Paul Lederach calls “critical yeast” – enough people like Jim Auld, Joe Campbell, Judith Gillespie, Nigel Grimshaw, Denise Hughes, Mark Kelly, Brendan McAllister, Sandra Peake, and Martin Snoddon – sprinkled through all echelons of society to cause the whole to “rise” from hatred and violence.