Northern Ireland was for a long period seen as one the world’s ‘intractable conflicts’, with little hope of a political solution to the violence between Catholic and Protestant communities. From the late 1960s until 1998, fierce and violent clashes involving paramilitaries and security forces, dominated the conflict, leaving more than 3500 people killed – among them nearly 2000 civilians.
Happily, the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 brought together political enemies in an agreement that offers hope for a sustainable, peaceful future for Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement has often been taken as the end point of ‘The Troubles’, as the conflict in Northern Ireland is known. However three recent bomb attacks, targeting a bank, and a Catholic police officer’s father, and killing Ronan Kerr, a young Catholic police recruit – all attacks linked to dissident Republicans – indicate that peace in Northern Ireland is not as secure as widely perceived.
Regardless of these incidents, Northern Ireland offers a hopeful example of the impact that local peacebuilding can have on violent conflicts. Local NGOs were vital in creating spaces for the dialogue and the constituency for political agreement that eventually brought about the Good Friday Agreement, and continue to work in their communities, striving for a sustainable restoration of peaceful relations.