Northern Ireland peace pays dividends in Bogota, Bougainville and Beirut

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

A boy observes photos of some leaders and ex-combatants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) during a commemorative act at the village of Llano Grande, in the municipality of Dabeiba, Colombia, 21 September 2018. [Luis Eduardo Noriega A. EPA/EFE]

At a time when the Brexit divorce deal hangs on a magic formula not to harm the Good Friday Agreement, Julian Oliver reminds that Northern Ireland peace served as a model in other parts of the world.

Julian Oliver is a member of the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA Brussels)*.

When the Good Friday Agreement was finally signed in 1998 few would have imagined that it could be used as a template for post-conflict situations in places as diverse as Colombia, Lebanon and Papua New Guinea.

In Columbia the drug trade had riven communities across the country and made Medellin and Cartagena by-words for smugglers and terrorists for decades. But post 1998, Pat Colgan, a former Irish official, described how the EU Trust Fund for Colombia and the UN Multi-donor Fund for Colombia enabled citizens from both parts of Ireland to use the 35 page Belfast Agreement to broker a 350 page agreement, agreed by FARC and the Colombian government.

While the subsequent 2016 plebiscite was lost by some 40,000 votes out of a turnout of many millions (shades of the Brexit referendum) the governing authorities and rebel groups eventually persuaded the ‘No’ leaders to accept the bulk of the multi-page agreement. Multiple two-way visits between Belfast and Bogotá have enabled both widely separated communities to learn from each other and ensure a more sustainable post-conflict environment.

The Bougainville Civil War was an armed conflict fought from 1988 to 2001 in the North Solomons Province of Papua New Guinea (PNG) between PNG defence forces and the secessionist forces of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA), and between the BRA and other armed groups.

From 2001 Bougainville was no longer a province of Papua New Guinea but an ‘autonomous political entity’. The adoption in December 2004 of a new constitution led to it becoming an ‘autonomous region’ within PNG. Ciarán O’Toole, born in Ireland, close to the border, later lived and worked in Derry and Belfast, has been working with Melanisian communities in the province in recent years.

Community leaders have travelled to London and Northern Ireland to meet former IRA and other representatives from local trouble spots. Visits by reconciliation experts to PNG have also contributed to mutual trust. Decision-making in the region is based on a widespread need of consensus building at village community level, rather than a simple majority vote system.

As a priority of the Northern Ireland Peace process, Chris Patten (EU Commissioner 1999 – 2004) a catholic, led a report on the need to transform the predominantly protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) into the current Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). Alan McCrum, who served for 30 years in both the RUC and PSNI, rising to Chief Superintendent, has for the past 4 years been advising the Lebanese police service on similar reforms.

While the Patten Report contained some 175 recommendations the process in the Lebanon has been accomplished with only 78 recommendations. However, McCrum described the transition in governance from Belfast to Beruit as “De Hondt on steroids”. N. Irish elections are held on the Belgian De Hondt system but this is further complicated by the fact of 18 different community representations in Lebanon, which regularly change between elections.

* The Institute for International and European Affairs hosted an event in Brussels recently when these three representatives presented their reports and answered questions from IIEA members and friends with the full support of the Northern Ireland Executive Office and the Irish Permanent Representation to the European Union.

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