few weeks back I was shown a Letter of Offer from
one of the Intermediary Funding Bodies responsible
for the disbursement of European Funding (Peace II).
One of the conditions demanded in the letter was that
programme participants had to meet in a neutral venue
acceptable to the Funding Body.
have been engaged in inter-community and cross-border
projects for some ten years and have never seriously
considered looking for a neutral venue. Indeed I am
not sure that such a place really exists. I believe
that this search for neutrality is rooted in a misguided
belief that good community relations can be fostered
by the development of so-called neutral venues and
programmes where participants are required to divest
themselves of their religious, political and cultural
identities. This is a legacy of the false ecumenism
and psuedo liberalism that seeks to sacrifice personal
belief and individuality in a vain search for corporate
togetherness. It has never worked before and I see
no prospect of it working in the future. Beliefs need
to be expressed and you cannot build genuine community
relations by seeking to ban the public expression
of those beliefs.
demand for neutrality has no place in any genuine
conflict transformation process. On the contrary,
it underpins the failed process of conflict management
and perpetuates the cowardly retreat from reality
engaged in by those who prefer to manage
rather than to transform bad situations.
These are the same conflict managers who
are satisfied with an acceptable level of violence
- so long as it doesnt really affect them.
Liam Maskey and I set about developing the InterComm
initiative, one of the first things that we agreed
upon was that there would be no neutrality. We agreed
that InterComm would seek to create safe space
in which loyalists and nationalists would work together,
but that we would never seek to insult colleagues
from either tradition by demanding neutral space.
We bound ourselves to a position where we would never
ask ourselves, or any one else, to water down our
beliefs in the interests of either friendship or neutrality.
This same policy has been followed by participants
in a number of other projects that I am involved in.
conflict transformation process demands that people
are allowed to be who they are and what
they are. Above all, it demands that people
are allowed the space to express who they are and
what they are. If I cannot accept my republican or
nationalist colleagues for who they are and what they
are without taking offence when they express it, my
sincerity as a peace-maker must be questioned. Likewise,
if my colleagues take offence when I express my Protestant-Unionist
identity a question mark must be placed against their
community relations and conflict transformation is
based on understanding, respect and tolerance. You
dont get that by demanding that people meet
in neutral venues or by insisting that people suppress
their religious, political or cultural beliefs in
the interests of neutrality.
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