Education and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland

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Abstract

This chapter identifies new challenges for reconciliation that have emerged in Northern Ireland since the signing of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in 1998. It is more than a decade since the agreement, so there are few children with direct experience or memory of the conflict. Nonetheless, there is a current debate about the role that education might have in helping new generations understand what happened in the past and recognise legacies of the conflict. A significant amount of the work on reconciliation has been funded by the European Union (EU) Programme for Peace and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland which has provided more than €2 billion since 1995. As this chapter shows, there are some lessons to be learned from having a reliable and sustained flow of international funding, particularly in terms of being able to adapt priorities and funding mechanisms to changing circumstances. Although this approach also carries some dangers such as the development of a peacebuilding economy that cannot be sustained into the post-conflict phase. The current phase, PEACE III (2007-13), has adopted a working definition of reconciliation developed by Hamber and Kelly (2004) with €225 million being provided for a range of initiatives with particular emphasis on ‘reconciling communities’ and ‘contributing to a shared society’ – these imply a role for education in reconciliation in Northern Ireland. In addition, whilst there is no formal truth and reconciliation commission in Northern Ireland, the government established an independent Consultative Group on the Past that published a report in 2009 with 31 recommendations on acknowledging and dealing with the past. Such initiatives, which call on education to accomplish a number of ambitious goals, pose significant challenges for educators within post-conflict societies. Education is often identified as a means toward future reconciliation, but usually with little definition about what this means conceptually or in practice.However, the case of Northern Ireland also provides examples of efforts by local actors such as parents, teachers, NGOs and community activists that emerged in th emidst of conflict, that are now providing a basis for peacebuilding in the post-conflict period. The chapter identifies some of these various initiatives and draws conclusionsabout the challenges still to be addressed.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEducation and Reconciliation. Exploring Conflict and Post-conflict Situations.
EditorsJulia Paulson
PublisherContinuum International Publishing Group
Pages55-80
ISBN (Print)978-1-4411-5325-8
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2011

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Keywords

  • education
  • conflict
  • war
  • peace
  • reconciliation
  • Northern Ireland
  • European Union

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