Irish group hopes to provide peace model for Koreans


A DELEGATION from Ireland will travel to Seoul next week to meet senior Korean officials as hopes grow that Ireland’s experience of resolving cross-border conflicts could provide a model for peace in the bitterly divided Korean peninsula.

The five-person delegation arrives in Seoul this week to meet with senior officials from South Korea’s unification ministry, and they will share lessons on North-South Border co-operation under the project Building Bridges.

“The delegation will not be going to Pyongyang for scheduling reasons,” said Ireland’s Ambassador to Korea, Eamonn McKee. “There is a hope that Pyongyang would facilitate a similar lesson-sharing project in the future.”

Mr McKee, who has dual accreditation in both Koreas, said a key point about the Irish approach was that it did not try to make analogies between other conflict situations. “We just present what we did,” he said.

The delegation follows a visit to Seoul by Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore in October last year, during which he met with the Korean minister for unification Yu Woo-ik and the vice-minister for foreign affairs Min Dong-seok. The possibility of such an Irish delegation was discussed.

The delegation will include representatives from Intertrade Ireland and the Special EU Programmes Body. They will meet several officials and hold broader workshop-style meetings hosted by the Korean Unification Council.

Funding for the Building Bridges project has been provided by the conflict resolution unit of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Relations between North and South Korea have remained on the brink of renewed hostilities since the 1950-53 Korean war ended with an uneasy truce that left the world’s most heavily fortified border, a demilitarised zone, dividing the two countries.

The successful resolution of the Northern Irish conflict in the 1990s has been mooted as a possible blueprint for bringing peace to the Korean peninsula.

The North Koreans are worried about the German unification model, which saw west and east Germany united but the communist east subsequently subsumed into the west German model.

The Irish peace agreement leaves scope for North Korea to continue to exist, which would be a key positive factor in the thinking of the government of Kim Jong-un, the North’s recently installed young leader, who is the third of the Kim family to run the world’s only communist dynasty.

Nearly 30,000 US troops are still stationed in South Korea, while North Korea has developed nuclear capabilities. This week the North issued statements saying its missiles could reach US territory.

Over the years there have been skirmishes between the two neighbours. South Korea is now one of the richest countries in the world, while North Korea’s economy is close to bankruptcy, propped up by its ally China.

Mr McKee recently returned from a fact-finding trip to North Korea,where he found a dire situation following flooding during the summer. He called for humanitarian assistance for the country.