A new research report produced by the joint expert group supported by International Alert outlines the findings of the group’s comparative study of peacebuilding mechanisms of public participation and multi-track diplomacy in the Northern Irish conflict context. Taking their collective reflection on 20 years of civil peacebuilding in the Nagorny Karabakh conflict context as a starting-point, the group embarked on the study of the Northern Irish case as the first in a series of joint research initiatives into specific peacebuilding mechanisms in other conflict contexts.
Last summer, the group travelled to Belfast, Dublin and London to meet with a wide range of interlocutors, including current and former politicians directly involved in the Northern Irish peace negotiations, leading journalists, academic experts, community leaders, and prominent civil society activists from both Catholic and Protestant communities.
Drawing on insights from the meetings and extensive research, the report presents findings on five key topics that formed the focus of the group’s study, namely the roles of political institutions, official diplomacy and external actors, the diaspora, the media, and civil society in building conditions for a lasting peace settlement.
The report has been launched in Russian and English and will now form the basis of wider discussion in the region. A series of events planned for April in Azerbaijan, Armenia and Nagorny Karabakh will encourage people in different sectors to consider and debate the authors’ conclusions and the potential implications for peacebuilding in the Nagorny Karabakh conflict context. International Alert is also engaging additional independent experts across the region to produce written reviews of the report. Their input will inform the development of further CLU activities and help to maximise the reach of the research and widen the debate in the societies.
In the report, the authors discuss lessons from the Northern Irish peace process with relevance to the Nagorny Karabakh context. Below are some key findings from the report.
On the role of institutions, the report concludes that institutional reform plays a vital role in enabling conflict to shift from political violence to democratic party politics and accountability. Another lesson highlighted is the importance of extending inclusivity in the peace process beyond official parties and developing flexible negotiation formats that engage all groups with diverging interests. The Northern Irish experience also shows that compromise involves significant political risk on the part of negotiating parties and therefore the support of wider society is essential. On official diplomacy and external actors, the authors note the significance of the governments’ strong political will and consistent commitment to finding mutually acceptable solutions. In addition, EU integration processes provided a platform of relationship-building between the British and the Irish governments and levelled their positions within the EU framework. The diaspora emerged as a powerful player in transforming the Northern Irish conflict but, crucially, it is noted that the conflicting societies have to be ready for change before diaspora groups can positively engage. The media has a key role to play as a platform for dialogue on different levels and to ensure public awareness of the peace negotiations. However, for this role to be fulfilled, political and economic conditions must ensure journalists’ independence and security. The research shows that civil society can be a strong force in advancing the peace process. In Northern Ireland, a civil society campaign to support the referendum on the Belfast Agreement was fundamental to its success. Local legitimacy meant community and religious leaders were able to help build trust, and academic institutions explored alternatives and provided space for public debate, building support for a peaceful resolution. The impact of civil society peace and reconciliation work in Northern Ireland was made possible by strong international investment, including EU contributions of EUR 15 million per year.
The International Fund for Ireland partly funded by the EU totalled EUR 890 million and supported more than 5800 peacebuilding projects.
The report can be downloaded in Russian and English from the EPNK website here.