Platforms for a restorative society in Northern Ireland
Dec 10, 2009
Reconciliation has been an important concept in building relationships and structures in Northern Ireland that lessen the harm done to people in the midst of conflict. It is also an important concept in the language of Track One, Two and Three conflict transformation strategies.
Central to reconciliation is the promotion of right relationships and the securing of agreements and structural arrangements that build a new acknowledgement and respect between those seen as ‘different others’. Such work seeks to right previous imbalances and wrongs. Important elements of that agenda in Northern Ireland include the drive for legal remedies and new laws on equality, good relations, human rights, harassment and hate crime, and the exploration of how the past is acknowledged and how victims are respected and remembered.
As a transcending idea, reconciliation continually challenges current ways of living with different and previously estranged others. However, it is a concept that many men and women have difficulty applying to their own actions. There is a tendency to see it as an activity for others in important positions, rather than as something all citizens must contribute to as part of their daily endeavours.
This text argues that promoting restorative practices – through actions that remedy wrongs, actions that bring people who have been estranged into relationships, new ways of working and new structural arrangements – is a practical way of building platforms of reconciliation practice and a restorative culture in daily life in Northern Ireland.
Restorative practice is applicable across the spectrum of voluntary involvements, faith and trade union organisations, political, civic and public life as well as with those working within the legally compliant worlds of the criminal justice system. It has relational, structural, policy and legally driven dimensions; each of which needs to be promoted to ensure this theme becomes a central societal task.
A restorative society could integrate many previously distinct and important activities across ages and sectors. Common cause can be made between actions that enable children and young people to resolve their difficulties and those that see responsible adults promoting and securing cultures that stand against bullying and scapegoating in family and care settings, learning institutions, voluntary organisations and workplaces.
The relevance of existing and developing practice that restores relationships and gives different people their equal and valued place also has importance for public and civic life in Great Britain, the Republic of Ireland and elsewhere.
This text invites people to locate their own practice as one contributory element in a wider landscape of restorative practices, in the hope that a new restorative culture develops to underpin the task of reconciliation. This requires a society that is committed to learning from its long history of enmity and its most recent history of violence to develop better uses for the talents and energies of all its people.