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, and numerous terrorist attacks dominated life in Northern Ireland. In total, over 3500 people were killed, among them nearly 2000 civilians, out of a population of just over 1.5 million during this period.
Happily, the Good Friday Agreement (also known as the Belfast 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, since 1998 there have been a series of events, such as the killing of Ronan Kerr, a young Catholic police recruit and the ‘flag protests’ in 2012 and 2013, that indicate that serious divisions remain in society, including the presence of groups who oppose the peace process.
Without ignoring the seriousness of the challenges that remain, Northern Ireland offers a hopeful example of the impact that local peacebuilding can have on violent conflicts. Civil society groups 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.