Junior Minister McCann, guests,
On behalf of Ashton Community Trust, I’d like to welcome you all here to Crumlin Road Gaol and to the launch of Bridge of Hope’s Transitional Justice Grassroots Engagement report.
I’m not sure if this is the first time some of you have ever been inside this building or heard of it before but if you don’t know already, this prison is steeped in history and especially our history. We thought this place represented an important physical reminder of our past and was the right place to launch a report that discusses what countries and its institutions do when conflict ends and what happens when society begins the long journey of rebuilding.
Transitional Justice is a term that has come about in response to systematic or widespread violations of human rights. It seeks recognition for victims and aims to promote possibilities for peace, reconciliation and democracy. Transitional Justice effectively belongs in the field of human rights – it is a concept or framework that is generally applied when something in society isn’t quite right – or when a society is trying to recover from conflict and make some form of restitution to victims and survivors in the aftermath of war.
During 2010-2012, Bridge of Hope completed its own major piece of work on Transitional Justice that looked at how communities in North Belfast were coping in this post conflict era. This report, the first of its kind to look at Transitional Justice from a community perspective, has been authored by University of Ulster academic Eilish Rooney who also facilitated the sessions with the groups as well as taking part in the steering committee.
The pilot programme worked with individuals, who broadly speaking came from 3 key areas – Mount Vernon, New Lodge and Tigers Bay and we worked with them around the 5 Pillars of Transitional Justice which are: Institutional Reform, Truth, Reparations, Reconciliation and Prosecution & Amnesty.
The groups brought with them to the table a wealth of experience as they came from a wide range of backgrounds such as police, clergy, community and political activists, local residents and ex-prisoners.
We discovered lots of things about how local people feel about justice, the past, issues associated with loss, the Patten reforms, reconciliation processes, truth commissions and issues of commemoration (this is just a flavour of what was discussed).
We believe that as a framework Transitional Justice offers a template for communities, especially those hit hardest by the conflict, to discuss and engage across the divide around hard topics formerly regarded as ‘no go areas’.
In summary the report finds an overwhelming willingness from these individuals to talk about what we do now to redress hurts of the past.
The report doesn’t offer answers but what it does show is that by using the Transitional Justice framework, issues, regarded as thorny and controversial, can be talked about, experiences can be shared and different viewpoints listened to. As a tool for sharing our past and as a tool for building bridges, we found this framework invaluable.
These conversations are especially critical in a place where over 635 people were killed and over 2500 injured during the conflict.
This grassroots pilot programme was an innovative piece of research into how communities are coping/reacting to the current peace/political arrangement.
Bridge of Hope’s bottom up approach examined all of these issues within a single identity and cross community framework.
Furthermore it explored these issues with academics from the University of Ulster’s Transitional Justice Institute as well as Queen’s who are actively researching this field. Academics who kindly gave us their time included Patricia Lundy, Pete Shirlow, Louise Mallinder, Tim Cunningham, Leon Litvack, Mary O’Rawe as well as Reverend Lesley Carroll who was a member of the Consultative Group on the Past.
My thanks also goes to the dedicated steering committee members: John Howcroft, Billy Hutchinson, Leon Litvack, Áine Magee, William Mitchell, Paul O’Neill and Eilish Rooney.
The accompanying ‘toolkit’ is also being launched today. This is a practical guide for people whose lives are profoundly changed by conflict and transition. It is designed to empower, equip and encourage those in resource-limited, post-conflict settings to explore the experience of transition in everyday life and to assess what does and doesn’t work in practice.
We are a programme of Ashton Community Trust and for 11 years we have been working with individuals, families and communities across North Belfast and beyond who have been affected by the conflict. Ashton itself has spearheaded major cross community good relations programmes throughout its history. Over the past 20 years it has both publicly and privately been at the heart of substantial peace building initiatives in North Belfast. As an award winning charity Ashton is a model of best practice in terms of social generation considering that it today employs over 140 people mostly from the local area.
Bridge of Hope received funding from the Strategic Support Fund, which is administered by the Community Relations Council on behalf of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, to carry out this pilot.
We feel that as a tool Transitional Justice is an extremely valuable mechanism for exploring the past, and what ways people can affect change in the future.
It is about rebuilding.
It is a powerful educational resource when the international context is applied because we are not the only country to have suffered.
Countries across the globe are employing mechanisms in order to deal with past hurt and trauma and this includes countries coming out of conflict as well as settled countries.
The way we apply that in a local context is obviously up for debate, but the conversations that arise when we explore truth, justice and reconciliation are very current, very honest and very revealing, especially when it comes to less sensational headline issues, like the hidden harms that people suffered – issues that fall below the radar but are just as important as any truth recovery process, such as loss of life opportunities, educational attainment, job status, quality of life and trust in statutory agencies responsible for dealing and administering justice. These issues are extremely important for the women we are engaging with this year through Falls Women’s Centre and Shankill Women’s Centre.
Transitional Justice is a framework that can’t be easily pigeonholed or defined, it isn’t static, it changes all the time and constantly evolves as a country tries to deal with its citizens in peacetimes. We view it as a critical tool that has the potential to affect progress and change. We see it as an important vehicle for victims and survivors to have their say.