Flag protests show peace a work in progress - Robinson


Recent protests and violence in Belfast over the restricted flying of the union flag at Belfast City Hall underlined how much needed to be done in the peace process, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness told a conference yesterday in Brussels.

Peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland was “very much still a work in progress”, said the First Minister.

“But the lesson today is the same as it has always been – violence obtains nothing except harm to the perpetrators and the communities they claim to represent,” said Mr Robinson.

“Active politics and rational dialogue offer the only way forward. This is the view shared by all of the political parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is only through dialogue in the absence of violence that situations can be worked out.”

He was speaking to about 150 people at a conference, Bringing Divided Communities Together, organised by EU commissioner for regional policy Johannes Hahn, whose department funds the EU Peace Programme.

Since 1995, it has provided €1.3 billion to projects in Northern Ireland and the Border region aimed at cementing the peace process that became the Belfast Agreement in 1998.

Shared view

Mr Robinson’s views on the way forward for the North were echoed by Mr McGuinness.

“We have come too far to lose momentum and the progress that we have made. We are committed to the rule of law and the primacy of the political process.

“We deplore violence on our streets and are determined that communication and reconciliation are central to our shared future,” said Mr McGuinness

Funding for the current phase of the programme, EU Peace III as it is known, runs out at the end of this year.

EU leaders meeting next week hope to agree a new EU budget, a small part of which will be allocated to Peace IV.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said he found the stories “both humbling and heartening”.

Other voices: Tales of the Troubles

The conference was attended by representatives – diplomats, local activists and community leaders – from several of Europe’s other divided communities, notably the Basque region of northern Spain and the Balkans.

They were riveted by stories from people involved in peace projects in Northern Ireland that had benefited from EU funding.

One young woman, Victoria Geelin, who has worked with the Theatre of Witness, a Derry-based EU-funded project run by Teya Sepinuck, told via film what it was like to be the daughter of an RUC officer, and of being told at home of the pride the family took in his work but at the same time being warned against talking about it outside. Of her father’s terror – and her upset – when he thought she had died in the Omagh bombing. “We’ve been carrying the secrets of those who came before us since we were born,” she said in a stage dramatisation, with her father, of what the Troubles meant to her.

Fionnbharr Ó hAgain, whose father, Bernard, was murdered by the UFF in Magherafelt in September 1991, told on film how his life had been shaped by the failure of the RUC to properly investigate the killing and his related descent into anger and alcohol abuse.

James Greer described how he became a loyalist terrorist (his word) but rejected paramilitarism after imprisonment for bombing, and has since found redemption through the Theatre of Witness project.

Other speakers described building cross-community camaraderie through other EU-funded projects.