Over two decades the Peace Foundation has worked to support victims of terrorism.
It started back in 1993 when, without warning, two bombs exploded in a northern England shopping street. The parents of one of the victims wanted answers. Why had their 12-year-old son, out innocently shopping for replica football shorts, become the target of terrorists?
Their journey took them to meet those who supported and perpetrated violence, it also brought them into contact with many others who had been affected in similar ways as victims and survivors.
The way each victim, survivor acted and how people were affected differed vastly and constantly changed. Some sought truth and justice, others reparation, some even offered forgiveness.
This conflict revolved around Northern Ireland – the north of Ireland; terminology that in of itself starts to describe the opposing views that led to such violence.
In that jurisdiction, as it moved towards a lasting peace and becoming a post conflict society; thousands of people were, and still are, affected by violence. A whole sector of organisations had built up to support victims, in fact the societal infrastructure, including welfare and health and structures of Government are hugely entwined in the legacy of conflict.
One term dominates discourse and that is ‘dealing with the past.’ In other United Kingdom jurisdictions such as Wales, Scotland, and England; the conflict remained at a geographical distance, and such terms are not familiar.
Those affected by the Troubles, as the conflict is often described, remain geographically and demographically dispersed, somewhat disconnected and are often left to deal with the past themselves. The imperative of some to move on or even to use the phrase that hurts most – ‘closure’ – is hard to swallow.
That is why, inspired by our Founders, we learnt from the efforts taking place on the island of Ireland to seek reconciliation and peace; and we set up a project called ‘Legacy.’
We sought to bring victims of terrorism together to share their experiences, tell their stories, to provide relevant health and well-being support and to advocate for their needs. In some cases, we undertook sensitive dialogue processes even with the protagonists of violence; anything that we could do to help people cope with their circumstances and, where possible, recover as they can.
The Peace Foundation peer to peer support service is now offered to anyone affected by terrorism domiciled in the United Kingdom.
In Northern Ireland, the continued peace process is punctuated by initiatives to try and deal with the past. From proposals to establish institutions such as an oral history archive, a historical investigations unit, and an Independent Commission for Information Retrieval; to numerous academic, and practice led dialogue processes; the quest to deal with the past continues.
There is another imperative that is pressing and that is of the present, and the future. The Peace Foundation’s learning has shown a strong desire by victims and survivors to ensure that what happened to them never happens to anybody else. Our practice has unearthed approaches to mediated dialogue that really do work in tackling conflicts, in the most intractable and most risky that can sometimes lead to violence.
Our visioning suggests if we were to enable people affected by terrorism in being able to identify community and neighbourhood conflict, skill them in techniques and skills to undertake dialogue then we could really make a huge step forward in enabling sustainable peaceful societies. Peace being achieved by resolving conflict through dialogue rather than violence.
That is why in April 2021, the Peace Foundation, supported by the Northern Ireland Victims and Survivors Service and funding from the Special EU Programme Body PEACE IV programme, will launch Facing up to the Future a programme to train 200 people affected by terrorism to become skilled in undertaking community dialogue. A ten-week online course (three hours a week) will be offered with an accredited qualification at the end of the course and full materials provided to allow people to facilitate community dialogue to make real change to achieve a lasting peace.
No prior experience is needed, the course is free, and online. Applications for places on the course are now being invited with the first two courses staring 26th April 2021 and a further eight courses to take place between now and March 2022.
If you want to know more or apply, then read here or e-mail your interest to firstname.lastname@example.org
Dealing with the Past remains a focus within the peace process; but our priority is to help continue the process of reconciliation on our islands and in doing so the voice of victims and survivors is a powerful advocate for change. Facing up to the Future work together will help create that lasting peace and we hope that many victims and survivors will learn about dialogue and apply those skills for change.
Nick Taylor | Peace Foundation | April 2021
The €270m PEACE IV Programme is a unique initiative of the European Union which has been designed to support peace and reconciliation. The PEACE Programme was initially created in 1995 as a direct result of the EU’s desire to make a positive response to the paramilitary ceasefires of 1994. Whilst significant progress has been made since then, there remains a need to improve cross-community relations and where possible further integrate divided communities.
In total 85% of the Programme, is provided through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The remaining € 15% is match-funded by the Irish Government and the NI Executive.