Ending a year-long series of seminars and workshops, the Promise of Peace team culminated their project with their much anticipated conference hosted at the Ulster Museum in Belfast. Sponsored by the British Academy and Leverhulme Trust, this climatic event brought together speakers from across a wide expanse of locations and disciplines to share their expertise on the topic of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement: its promise of peace, the objectives, the incurring challenges, and the implications of the Agreement for future generations.

The Northern Ireland Conflict: Did Political Violence Work?

Keynote speaker, Prof Richard English, opened the conference with an address on the effectiveness of political violence in the Northern Ireland conflict. English asserted that there is great difficulty and importance in the study of political violence in Northern Ireland; central themes of his address posed the questions: Did political violence work in Northern Ireland? For whom? Will the future involve violence?

English highlighted the commonality in contemporary world politics to consider non-violent politics as most effective. To test this hypothesis, English used the example of the violence exhibited by the IRA during the Northern Ireland conflict. He proposed a four-tiered systematic framework of how the efficaciousness of political violence may be measured, this included: the strategic success of political violence, the partial strategic success, the tactical success and the inherent reward of the struggle itself. English argued that as we move through the phases of this model, we can gather more evidence as to the effectiveness of political violence. English concludes that the political violence of the IRA has had decaffeinated success post-ceasefire, as although they did not achieve their main objective of a united Ireland, they did achieve some of their secondary goals.

English stated that while this framework can be useful; with regard to Northern Ireland, a more intricate approach, spanning over a longer time frame, which encompasses the future and the past, needs to be employed in order to accurately reflect on the peace process; goals and aims may change over time, the end result may not reflect the initial aim, therefore, according to English, 2014 is not the final place to assess the peace process.

Dealing with the Legacies of the Past

Dr Fidelma Ashe opened the first panel session of the day with a presentation on women, post-conflict societies and the future. Ashe gave a critical analysis of the gendered nature of Northern Irish politics, arguing that since the Good Friday Agreement, there has been little progress on this issue, as women continue to be absent from major political negotiations e.g. the Haass proposals. In address to the past Ashe argued, women’s groups, civic groups and social groups must infiltrate into negotiations, so as some recognition may be found in a more neutral arena, otherwise we risk re-enacting the past in the future. Ashe concluded that it is doubtful the Northern Ireland peace process demonstrates an international model for transformation as gender is not substantially or representatively featured in peace negotiations.

Prof Graham Dawson spoke next on the designed futures and cultural dimensions of conflict transformation. He argued that it is not so much the Good Friday Agreement itself that has an impact, but rather the grassroots activity of storytelling, listening, breaking the culture of silence and embedding the culture of human rights, that serves a wider social purpose, has meaning and can generate an understanding of the past. He concluded that there is a suggestion that the forging of a relationship between the past and present will solve something or bring closure, but actually, this is problematic as it may only serve to open issues further.

On dealing with the legacies of the past, Dr Eamonn Hughes emphasised culture and education, and how these have been addressed following the Good Friday Agreement. He pointed to the use of language and imagery, and how they influence our conceptualisations of peace, culture and the city. He argued that the re-imaging of Belfast through media constructs has been economically motivated to boost tourism and capital; it is obscuring the reminders of cultural disparity and conflict e.g. peacewalls and murals. Hughes asserted that “culture is where we turn away from neo-liberal capitalist consumer drones; it is where we can explore ourselves”, in order to do so, he argued, we must have an initial political and social understanding of our own culture that is explained and not simply inherited.

Closing the first panel session, Prof John Brewer presented a sociology of peace processes; he argued that a peace process is fundamentally fragile as it always emerges from ‘messy’ negotiations, but often an ‘imperfect peace’ is preferable to the continuance of conflict. In Northern Ireland, he argued, “the past has become the arbiter of the future”. Brewer stressed the need for a moral recalibration and recommitment to peace, an erosion of the hierarchy of victimhood, and a collective engagement with the past, so as we may create a shared future not by forgetting the cultural disparity of the past, but by remembering the past in a positive light.

Institutional Transformation

Opening the second panel of the day, Dr Eamonn O’Kane provided an assessment on how the Good Friday Agreement led us to being where we are now and why, and gave exploration into the chances of institutional change in Northern Ireland. He argued that while the Good Friday Agreement did bring an end to violence; during negotiations, institutional structure was not thoroughly addressed as each party only brought what they considered to be most important. This, O’Kane argues, explains to some extent how the institutional structures of society have come to take their current form. O’Kane is critical of the potential for institutional reform in Northern Ireland as institutional structures have become entrenched, and in his closing arguments, left us with these questions: Where is the impetus for institutional reform coming from, Britain or Ireland? Is change realistic? Are we in crisis or consensus?

Prof Arthur Aughey gave a critical engagement of peace versus good governance. He argued that the Northern Ireland predicament is largely over simplified; the history, architecture and practice of governance are in fact very complex and unfixed in political reality. The foundation upon which the institutional structures are built is in itself inherently flawed; Aughey argued that the cornerstone of peace in Northern Ireland is built on the notion of a shared future, a ‘new beginning’, but this notion is a myth. So what does that mean for institutional transformation in Northern Ireland? Aughey concluded that no single institutional reform exists to solve all problems.

Dr Sara McDowell gave a presentation on her research into violence, space and memory in Northern Ireland. McDowell argued that the reality of our physical geography, memory and commemoration have implications for our surrounding institutions. McDowell found that the potency and ramifications of post-conflict commemorative violence has a significant spatial, social and institutional impact on Northern Ireland as a society in transition. In her research, McDowell discovered that there is a considerable lack of trust in the capability of the public sphere to adequately mediate past and present issues, and a total lack of cohesion between institutions as to how to deal with these issues; these findings, McDowell suggested, impede institutional progress and restrict the opportunity for reform.

Ending the second panel session, Prof Robert Galavan gave a critical analysis of the business response to strategizing and shaping the future of institutions. He claimed that institutions can work to normalise our lives and shape our interpretations of what our organisational structures are and should be, so that while we may feel we are free-thinking individuals, our decisions are in-fact being moulded by wider social structures. Galavan argued that, in Northern Ireland, while the underlying religious-politico agenda of institutions can limit cross-institutional change; in business, attention must be paid to the foundational structures of society in designing strategy.

Plenary Discussion

To end the conference, the floor was opened to a plenary discussion of the day’s topics. In regard to institutional transformation, Prof Colin Harvey asked how might we invoke institutional change to create a more balanced inclusion of human rights, social mobility and social justice? What features can we take from ‘successfully integrated’ institutions? How can we implicate these features in other institutions? Is it realistic these comparable features are inter-relatable between institutions? Do we need to reconfigure our thinking of the Northern Ireland conflict to consider it in the context of conflict within a global framework?

Attention was given to the importance of the intergenerational implications of the past: the reproduction of fear in ‘safe space’ and ‘unsafe space’ can cause transgenerational trauma; and the absence of youth in political, social and cultural discussion, aids and abets the transmission of ethno-national prejudices. McDowell highlighted the trend for young people to disengage from the peace process as being attributed to the fact that they have no first-hand experience of the Troubles; McDowell argued that intergenerational communication, space and experience, all impact young peoples’ attitude towards the Northern Ireland peace process.

It was argued that how we conceptualise peace comes hand in hand with how we got here and where we are going; what peace looks like, whether that be negative or positive peace, comes down to personal perceptions of peace. It was argued that segregation has been normalised, the result of which meaning that many perceive segregation as peace.

Dawson observed that absences in political, social and even academic debate can be explained by the tendency for heavily reported issues in the news to dominate discussion. He argued that we are struggling with the hegemonic, singular narratives of the past and asked, “How can we overturn this and discover, explore and discuss hidden narratives?” Brewer argued that the diffusion of conflict and the consolidation of peace is a gradual process; the politicisation of the past taints our perspective on what has been achieved and inhibits the potential for a shared future.

The Promise of Peace: Institutional Reform and the (Apparent) Democratic Deficit

Dr Cillian McGrattan (UU)

Dr Laura McAtackney (UCD)



In the latest workshop in the British Academy/Leverhulme Trust sponsored Promise of Peace Programme, Professor Brendan O’Leary (University of Pennsylvania) delivered a robust defence of the devolved institutions and, in particular, the potential of power-sharing to deliver a sustainable peace.


Speaking to the topic of Remarkably Successful Power-Sharing in Northern Ireland: Reflections on Excessive Ingratitude, Especially Among the Astonished’, O’Leary denounced what he saw as reactionary journalism and commentary that sees the institutions as ineffective and doomed. Instead, he argued that the current institutions have ‘plainly made a difference’ to politics in Northern Ireland. Furthermore, he claimed that power-sharing (or, to be more precise the division of power under what is known as a consociational system of government) can effect real change in critical and divisive issues such as parading, commemoration and flags.


O’Leary described how what he called a ‘bourgeois’ peace was the best that Northern Ireland could have expected and that, since Northern Ireland was reformed despite people’s fears and expectations, we should be realistic about the scale and speed of change we should expect.


Northern Ireland is unlikely, he claimed, to remain outside the broad church of liberal democracies. In contrast to voices who implicitly threaten a return to violence unless the changes they wish to see are enacted, O’Leary argued that change is slowly occurring and that it is evident in terms of a greater willingness to identify as Northern Irish and a movement towards desegregation of workplaces. He argued strongly for paying attention to political opportunities: legislation is not enough to effect change unless it is backed by a political appetite and a political recognition.


Were changes to be implemented, including the dismantling of the current structures, then, according to O’Leary, they should take place within the democratic framework established in 1998 – namely, that they would proceed on the basis of cross-community consent.


O’Leary severely criticised the leadership of David Trimble and Seamus Mallon – particularly for their emphasis on a mutual veto over the posts of First Minister and Deputy First Minister. Allowing ‘the other side’ to say who should be your representative, according to O’Leary’s logic, is to call into question the legitimacy of your own leader. He argued that other mistakes were also made at the time of the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, most notably, the lack of provision for a generalised amnesty.


O’Leary argued that the legislative performance of the Northern Ireland Assembly is comparatively good and that the Petition of Consent mechanism that could act as a kind of ethnic veto has been only sparingly used.


The counter-factual of the amnesty logic was, unfortunately, not developed: amnesties can be deleterious to democratic practice in that they offer militants the example that egregious violence and atrocity is permissible; and while the Petition of Concern has not been a regular feature of Assembly business, as the Special Advisor’s legislative passage demonstrated, the mechanism retains the potential to offer political and moral offence.


In the closing sections of his talk Professor O’Leary sketched possible federalist and confederal developments but stressed that his approach was that of a ‘small-c conservative’: namely, that Northern Irish politicians should not rush towards a dismantling of an institutional architecture that has proven to be resilient to dominant party change, dissident violence and a range of scandals and setbacks. He argued that were he to advise the DUP on potential changes he would advocate being ‘relaxed’ about the future – he sees no compelling evidence of potential outbidding in the near future for the DUP and argued that the UUP and SDLP have a long way back in terms of reclaiming votes.


The Promise of Peace team is comprised of Prof Colin Harvey (QUB) with Dr Máire Braniff (UUJ), Dr Stefanie Lehner (QUB), Dr Laura McAtackney (UCD), Dr Cillian McGrattan (UUJ) and Dr Joanne Murphy (QUB); Prof Matthias Beck (QUB)



Posted by: promiseofpeaceni | October 1, 2013

Constitutional Convention

Project PI, Professor Colin Harvey, addressing the Constitutional Convention this weekend

Posted by: promiseofpeaceni | June 10, 2013

Commemoration and Celebration


We have the pleasure of being able to welcome you to the inaugural event of the ‘Promise of Peace in Northern Ireland’ project on 24th of June, in Riddel Hall, Queen’s University, Belfast :


Celebration and Commemoration


With an opening address by Professor Thomas Hennessey, Canterbury Christchurch University followed by a roundtable discussion, we warmly welcome your attendance and participation.


Tea & coffee 9.30am  for 10.am start. The event will be followed by lunch at 12.30pm


The aim of this event is to provide an opportunity to reflect upon how commemoration has been celebrated, policed and responded to since the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement. We also hope to take the opportunity to open-up discussion about contemporary commemoration and deliberate on ways to take the issue forward in light of the Decade of Commemorations.
Further details about the project are attached for your information.


Please R.S.V.P. to Joanne.Murphy@qub.ac.uk



Posted by: promiseofpeaceni | May 24, 2013

The Role of Universities in Times of Crisis and Renewal

What role do Universities have during times of crisis?

Colin Harvey asks: Can Universities have a role in creating a post conflict society that challenges complacency, raises hard questions and is part of building a culture of democratic accountability?

See: The Role of Universities?

Posted by: promiseofpeaceni | May 24, 2013

A United Community?

A United Community?

The new strategy for ‘building a United Community’ is now published.

Posted by: promiseofpeaceni | May 22, 2013

Dates matter on this island

Dates matter on this island. None more than 22nd May 1998. Our shared and collective act of self-determination pointed to a constitutional future where we now rely only on each other. A future where persuasion counts; and people matter more than flags and territory. Readers of Slugger will need no reminding of the Derry person who stood for that version of Irish unity, and also know that others continue to carry this message forward now. On a day when we recall the voices of the people of our island, and as we reflect on how we are going to get on together, two basics need to be repeated.

First, those who still claim to use force to ‘persuade’ the rest of us must end their armed campaign now. Let’s be simple: If you are republicans at all then listen and stop now. The people of this island were never in any doubt about how unity worth having would be achieved. When they got the chance, when they were asked, they made that point well. Cynics still dismiss that 1998 act of self-determination as a ‘vote for peace’ or even a casual option for an easier life. How wrong that is. This week is no better time to call on those who seek to use force still to talk to us. We will listen too; but only around a table where the force of the better argument is given a chance to prevail; and around a table where we treat each other with equality and mutual respect.

Second, all those in public life here – across all communities – need to reaffirm the collective will to give life to agreed values and principles that transcend any one agreement. Maturity in life includes honest reflection on collective and individual failings; complacency can be addressed, imaginative reform can happen. Let us respect each other as people, with all our diverse and multiple political, social and national aspirations, and with all the flaws humanity can never escape from. Can we continue to work together maturely in the world we are in, and the place we are now? A start can be made this week by renewing our constitutional fundamentals.

The Agreement of 1998 reflected many other ambitions and principles. The right of women to full and equal participation in public life, the right to live free from sectarian harassment, the right to seek constitutional change through non-violent means, and the recognition of the right to pursue our diverse national and political aspirations on the basis of equality. These ambitions remain under-enforced, too many individuals and communities have been left behind, we still do not have key safeguards in place 15 years on, and ethical engagement with the past has not happened.

Too many of our current conversations (here or elsewhere) remain relaxed, unchallenging and resolutely comfortable. As difficult as things now appear, the founding principles have never been formally repudiated. They can still offer a grounding for critical insight, challenge and opportunity. This is no time to abandon ideas and principles that we can too easily take for granted. There is work they can still do, the job is not done.

Is the script for our democratic life thus already written? Is the ‘jigsaw now complete’? Is the future carved in stone? No. We need not be condemned to a bland, predictable and monolithic politics for eternity. Mould-breakers often led us precisely to where we now are. They often came from the very ‘city of culture’ rightly celebrated this year. No one owns hard-won political and public spaces; we should learn from the last century that little in politics is necessarily certain. Change can be made to happen, issues can be forced onto agendas; with determination, luck and some skill. But this does not just arrive, it must be worked for.

So, let us not become complacent about the principles that led us here; and let us not fall for lazy critiques of the concepts which cleared the space for safe reflection and dialogue. Why? Because those fundamentals might just offer us secure ladders to a different place. We can get there together; if we want to. The question for us all remains: Do we want to enough?

Colin Harvey is a Professor of Human Rights Law at QUB and the Principal Investigator on this project.

Posted by: promiseofpeaceni | May 22, 2013

Slugger O’Toole on Colin Harvey’s piece

Slugger O’Toole on Colin Harvey’s piece

Slugger O’Toole on Colin Harvey’s piece on GFA +15: Remembering ‘the people’ and renewing fundamentals

Posted by: promiseofpeaceni | May 22, 2013

Press Release – 22 May 2013

Pioneering project looks at impact of Good Friday Agreement 15 years on

The team behind a pioneering research project on the impact of the Good Friday Agreement on life in Northern Ireland 15 years on is appealing for members of the public to get involved.

Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast, in partnership with the University of Ulster, Swansea University and University College Dublin, want to promote widespread discussion on a range of issues including parading, dealing with the past, institutional change, the impact of dissidents, and spoilers and physical and psychological barriers to peace.

Speaking about the project, Dr Joanne Murphy from Queen’s University Management School said: “This project, funded by the British Academy, and launched on the 15th anniversary of the historic North/South Referenda, is the first truly inter-disciplinary attempt to contextualise the legacy of the Good Friday Agreement and to begin to define current challenges facing society here.

“Our team wants to study the progress that has been made on a wide range of issues over the past fifteen years, while considering what obstacles to positive change still remain today, and we want to encourage widespread public discussion around these issues.”

In order to make it easy for people to get involved, the team have launched a Twitter account (@transformpeace), a blog (www.promiseofpeaceni.wordpress.com) with regular audio boos to spread the word about the project and will be encouraging citizen engagement alongside academic research.

The team which includes academic lawyers, sociologists, political scientists, management scholars, literature and culture specialists and contemporary archaeologists, will also be running a series of events, including seminars and workshops. The project will culminate with a major conference at Queens University Belfast next April.

The project leaders are Professor Colin Harvey, Dr Joanne Murphy, Dr Stefanie Lehner and Prof Matthias Beck from Queen’s University Belfast, Dr Cillian McGrattan Swansea University, Dr Maire Braniff University of Ulster and Dr Laura McAtackney University College Dublin. 

Posted by: promiseofpeaceni | May 19, 2013

What is Promise of Peace NI?

A decade and a half on from the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement (1998), what can we say about its promise for ‘a truly historic opportunity for a new beginning’? This project aims to bring together a range of academics and non-academics from across a number of disciplines and vocations to revisit the promise of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. The Agreement was hailed as ending ethno-nationalist violence in Northern Ireland and as marking a new chapter in Anglo-Irish relations. Furthermore, it was heralded as a model from which other deeply divided societies could learn.


We aim to assess what impact it has made in the policy, judicial and institutional areas it specifically targeted: political reform, equality provision, working through legacies of the past (including police reform, prisoner release and victims’ rights) and the building of new relationships within the island of Ireland and between Ireland and Britain. With the emergence of first-time voters who had no direct experience of the violence we will ask what the Agreement offers for future generations