Community leaders from across the traditional political divide are this week celebrating the successful conclusion of Journeys Out, a pioneering EU funded initiative to address the legacy of the Northern Ireland conflict.
Over the past two years, community activists representing all shades of political opinion from across Northern Ireland and the border regions - unionists and nationalists, loyalists and republicans, some of them former combatants - took part in the groundbreaking project.
Spearheaded by INCORE, the International Conflict Research Institute at the University of Ulster’s Magee Campus, in partnership with Intercomm Ireland, Belfast, the Peace and Reconciliation Group, Derry/Londonderry and the Glencree Centre for Reconciliation, Wicklow, Journeys Out engaged 40 community leaders in the debate about dealing with the past, and facilitated an exploration of these issues within their respective communities.
Professor Brandon Hamber, Director from INCORE explains how over the past two years, the community leaders took part in a programme of training, community research and workshops to help them explore the opportunities and challenges which have come with the transition from conflict to peace.
“I am delighted that INCORE was given the opportunity to explore the important issues of dealing with the past with community leaders who have to address the legacy of the past on a daily basis in their own communities.
“A training programme run by the project partners helped skill participants to discuss the issue of dealing with the past in their communities. A series of Project Policy seminars also provided opportunities to initiate dialogue and sharing between community practitioners and policy influencers. Both these activities highlighted the on-going need to address the legacy of the past in society.”
The Journeys Out project also had an international dimension with study visits to Cape Town in South Africa. The visits examined the successes and failures of dealing with the past in the post-apartheid context as a way of informing and widening the debate on dealing with the legacy of the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland.
Michael Doherty from the Peace and Reconciliation Group in Derry, one of the project partners, noted: “The South African trip not only provided valuable information about the types of initiatives attempted in South Africa, but also reminded us all that dealing with the past is a long term process. We cannot be complacent and expect our violent past to simply go away. Fifteen years after the transition, South Africa is still struggling with its past. This highlights the importance of ongoing community work.”
A celebratory event to mark the successful completion of the Journeys Out project was hosted by INCORE and the project partners in Belfast on Friday September 30.
Professor Hamber says the event was to celebrate the achievements of everyone who contributed towards making the Journeys Out Project such a successful and innovative way of dealing with the past.
“The current Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Niall Ã“ Donnghaile, launched a project DVD which examines the impact that the project has made on individuals and communities within Northern Ireland and their Border Regions. The closing event will also marked the launch of the Policy Briefs that came out of the roundtable discussions, which explored the legacies of the conflict that remain unaddressed or undisclosed.”
Conor Maskey of Intercomm, a community initiative based in North Belfast and project partner, said he felt Journeys Out project was an ideal platform to bring together a wide range of community activists.
“It was a pleasure to be involved in such positive and constructive project. Because of their different backgrounds and experiences, each of the participants had their own unique insight and this enabled them to make an invaluable contribution to the ongoing debate about dealing with the past.”
Eamonn Rafter, of the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, also a project partner, added that “Having a cross-border dimension also added to the project, helping us to realise that dealing with the past is a concern for us all. It is an Ireland wide issue and something that the whole society should be concerned with.”
Pat Colgan, Chief Executive of the SEUPB congratulated everyone involved in delivering project for their excellent work.
“The engagement with the community leaders that Journeys Out developed was extremely important to understand how the legacy of the past affects communities in their everyday life, which is in line with the priorities of the PEACE III Programme. This understanding of our shared perception of and relationship with the past is essential if we are to build a more positive future.”