Peacebuilders Perceptions of Peace: Grassroots Peacebuilding in Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland

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Cummer, Ashleigh
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The signing of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) in 1998 was considered the end of the thirty plus year-long conflict in Northern Ireland known colloquially as “the Troubles.” However, issues remain surrounding the continued segregation of Northern Irish society, problems implementing tenets of the GFA, and sporadic violence from dissident splinter groups continue to leave peace in Northern Ireland in a precarious liminal position. This exploratory case study examines peacebuilders perceptions of Northern Ireland being ‘at peace.’ They have lived and experienced everyday events before, during and after the conflict. Seven grassroots peacebuilders from Derry-Londonderry Northern Ireland participated in one-on-one interviews. This research examines their perceptions of peace, successes, and challenges, and their hope for Northern Ireland in the future. This study challenges the idea of the Liberal peace that packages human rights, a capitalist economy, security reform, aid, democracy and elections, and adds an important voice to the grassroots peacebuilding literature. The findings show that the peacebuilders believe that peace as the ‘absence of violence’ (Byrne & Senehi, 2012; Galtung, 1996) is inaccurate, and that Northern Ireland has a long way to go to achieve true peace. Findings also highlight successes and challenges in peacebuilding work. Views of success were varied and showed the heterogeneity amongst the peacebuilders; this trend continued when peacebuilders discussed how they keep hope in their work. The largest barrier seen as an impediment to peace in Northern Ireland is the continued societal segregation, which was viewed by many of the peacebuilders as a result of the GFA ‘institutionalizing’ sectarianism. The reluctance of the politicians to engage and to invest in dealing with the past was also identified as a key barrier to peace. Finally, the peacebuilders felt that until the past has been properly dealt with, Northern Ireland will not be able to move forward. Uncertainty around Brexit and a hard Border in Northern Ireland remain of serious concern and the future of peace in Northern Ireland remains uncertain. Despite this, the peacebuilders remain hopeful that Northern Ireland will continue forward and that we are unlikely to see the levels of violence that dictated life in Northern during the Troubles.
Peacebuilding, Northern Ireland, Grassroots, Post Peace Accord, Post Conflict, Transitional Peacebuliding