|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
This editorial includes:
- Poetry from Luken from Below Go...
- Peter Emerson on Majoritarianism and the
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So it may come to pass over the autumn and winter
that Toby Blair and Bertie Ahern will meet and effectively
pronounce the Assembly part of the Good Friday Agreement a
dead duck, a sinking or sunk ship, and no longer the found
Holy Grail of Norn Iron politics. Fortunately or unfortunately
that point has been coming slowly for years. As stated before,
it is not that we have been particularly attached to the details
of the Belfast Agreement of 1998 but that we felt it offered
a breathing space while 'normal' politics could be developed
and past hurts dealt with in circumstances which did not keep
adding many more hurts simultaneously. But other parts of
the Agreement will live on.
One problem for any new agreement would be to
deal with the problems of tribalism and sectarianism without
constricting the future to it. Guarantees of fair play are
one thing but a system has to be capable of growth and moves
towards consensus. That is not to imagine peace and love are
about to break out in Northern Ireland but in those instances
where progress is made that all the shackles of sectarianism
can be thrown off - including those expressly designed to
limit excesses and give fair play. It is a difficult one.
But the spectacle of one party (the sometimes brave, often
ignored, and rarely voted for, Alliance Party) having to do
somersaults to keep the boat afloat regarding their definition
as nationalist, unionist or other, is crazy. And the 'everyone
in' system of allocating ministers under the Good Friday Agreement
meant opposition to official policies was slack - though this
did not prevent the DUP/Democratic Unionist Party playing
a very clever (and successful) game of being in and out at
the same time. But the people of Northern Ireland deserve
something better as a system.
And since paramilitarism has not gone away,
there are the thorny issues of who has what guns and what
they are or are not doing with them, plus their unfriendly
use of baseball bats and other weapons of massive destruction
to the individual deemed to be the recipient of punishment.
The question of whether republican and loyalist paramilitaries
and parties should be judged equally, and what this entails,
is a deeply difficult issue. Republicans, because of their
size, warrant possible involvement in government in a way
that the smaller loyalist parties do not in the same way;
does that therefore necessitate 'total cleanliness' regarding
paramilitarism prior to such participation? The DUP and the
Official Unionists both now say 'yes' to this and there is
therefore no prospect of a return to devolved government in
the immediate future.
But as we have discovered in Northern Ireland,
often to our cost, carrots sometimes work and sticks usually
do not. Penalising those judged to have been associated in
any way with paramilitaries is often counter-productive. There
is the risk that the Independent Monitoring Commission's judgement
in this matter could bring us back to vetting with a vengeance.
Northern Ireland continues to be a society in
transition. How long that transition will continue for we
cannot say, but it is safe to say it will be for a very considerable
period yet. Violence has thrived in the past when we were
in periods of uncertainty and in the lead up to possible agreements;
in these situations too many people wished to affect political
decision making and mark out their policy with a gun or bomb.
Let us hope that that era is passing and that decision making
will not be held to ransom by those who try to use violent
But there are all sorts of ways forward. At
a community level many of these are being explored and adapted
every day as activists deal with a whole variety of problems,
at local council level, at interface level, and at the level
of community and voluntary groups. But at a societal level
there are also decision making mechanisms via voting which
reinforce collaboration and consensus and do not reward playing
the sectarian or militant card (and which the Good Friday
Agreement did little or nothing to challenge). Consensus voting
mechanisms are not a solution in themselves but they can be
part of an answer. Northern Ireland politics has almost always
rewarded the politics of the out-manoeuvre (as it has done
at the last Assembly and European elections); it is time to
reward the politics of inclusion through voting systems (both
at the level of the popular vote and within any Assembly)
which encourage people to get it together rather than take
it apart. The adoption of such voting mechanisms might render
much of the cumbersome guarantees, as utilised under the Good
Friday Agreement system, unnecessary.
The circumstances may not yet be right to move
on yet but they will come. You might say tiocfadh ar lá
This month's poem from Lothar Lüken (and apologies to
fans and to Lothar that this was inadvertently omitted from
the last issue -Ed) -
Fertile Fringe (for Mark Minard)
And another lost immigrant:
not yet fitting in here -
no more fitting in there;
A multiple misfit.
Roots still clinging to that old earth,
branches reaching out to that new sky,
and growing crooked.
He left a soil that barely nourished
his ravenous roots,
and a sky firmly beyond
And it's no different here.
It's us who're so different.
And this planet, these people
that's what's so hard to live with.
Down here, we're all lost souls,
half awake, half evolved,
no more at home in heaven
and always strangers on Earth.
That's where we've landed.
And we're skirting the borders,
feeling along fringes,
living on edge.
We're caught in the turmoil of mudflats,
those ever-changing tidal zones,
where ancient oceans freeze and thaw,
where all things mesh and meld,
and time throws up from mighty depths
new things and old and alien,
and now and then the wrecks of ships,
and startled, shivering strangers.
"Asking yes-or-no questions is very
Dr. Ephraim Kanyarukiga, Rwanda, speaking at a conference
on the 'gacacas' in Kigali, 5.3. 2003.
Most would agree that the Battle of Mengo, 1892,
when African Catholics fought African Protestants, (just outside
Entebbe), was a war prompted, in its entirety, by a European
mindset. In like fashion, the 1994 genocide in Rwanda was
to a large extent provoked by the (unAfrican and) very European
concept of majoritarianism. This was clearly demonstrated
by the fact that the slogan of the Interahamwe was "Rubanda
nyamwinshi", "the majority people", (The Rwanda
Crisis, Gérard Prunier). A democracy based, not on
a western majoritarian system, but on their traditional, consensual
'gacacas', might have prevented the emergence of the Hutu
versus Tutsi conflict. So too in Kenya, rather than impose
a 'Westminster-ish' two-party system, it would have been wiser
to base a form of governance on the traditional methodology
of the 'baraza'. In a word, to quote Nelson Mandela, "majority
rule [is] a foreign notion" (Long Walk to Freedom, p
25). It is, indeed, unAfrican.
Maybe it is also unAsian. Kashmir, for example,
cannot be resolved peacefully by a Moslem versus Hindu, Pakistan
versus India, win-or-lose, two-option majority vote, despite
the 1947 UN Resolution to this effect. While in Indonesia,
the very prospect of various regional two-option referenda
has prompted many to resort to violence. Maybe, too, it should
be unEuropean. In the Balkans, reconciliation could not be
achieved by a closed question, a for-or-against vote in which,
as in war, one is 'forced' to take sides; and in fact, "all
the wars in the former Yugoslavia started with a [two-option]
referendum", (Oslobodjenje, 7.2.1999). While in Northern
Ireland, the Peace Process offers no compromise, but only,
via another two-option poll, the same stark choice - "Are
you British or Irish?" - which was the very cause of
the conflict. This is crazy!
Finally, Sudan. Is this a repetition of history?
Is this not another tragic story where the prospect of a referendum
on an as yet undefined border is actually an incentive to
rape and murder and ethnic cleansing in Darfur? I cannot know
for sure, but the chronology is frightening. July 2002 - the
Machakos Protocol lays down the right of self-determination
for South Sudan, a right to be established by a two-option,
either/or, unity or secession, referendum. Well, if for them,
why not for others? And in any case, is Darfur (which straddles
the mid-point) in North or South Sudan? Jan 2003 - civil war
May I point out that this Institute has done
a lot of conflict resolution work in the Balkans, the Caucasus
and most recently in East Africa, as well as here in Northern
Ireland, of course. And may I add that our own choice of decision-making,
the modified Borda count, (for which we have programmed a
CD-ROM), is actually a votal form of gacaca or baraza. Democracy,
after all, should not be a means by which one lot then dominates
the rest. And not least because the will of the people, or
the will of their representatives in parliament, is not necessarily
the will of only a majority based on a closed question, for-or-against.
Rather, the democratic process should be an accommodation,
the collective best compromise based on an open question,
i.e., the highest average preference from a multi-option vote.
A majority, after all, involves only some; but an average,
by definition, involves everybody! And that is democracy!
Accordingly, may I suggest there should not be a two-option
referendum in Sudan. A more consensual methodology is needed.
Director, The de Borda Institute
36 Ballysillan Road
Belfast BT14 7QQ
Tel +44 (0)28 9071 1795
Ed - Comments and replies to this welcome,
as to anything which appears in Nonviolent News.
"There is no single solution for
dealing with the past"
The first step in any truth recovery process
must be acknowledgement. Everyone who has engaged in the conflict
- including Governments - should acknowledge responsibility
for their actions. Only when all organisations and institutions
acknowledge responsibility can Northern Ireland move towards
a sustainable peace This call has been made by Professor Roy
McClelland, Chairman of Healing Through Remembering, a diverse
group of individuals who for three years have been investigating
ways of dealing with the past.
Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Sunday Sequence
Professor McClelland said: "We are heartened by the
growing debate in this area but feel that a lot of work needs
to be done and we are adamant that Acknowledgment - particularly
by the governments - should be the starting point for any
process of Truth recovery. Given the current Government initiatives
to find a solution for dealing with the past it is important
that the opinions of those affected by the conflict are taken
And as the current debate becomes focussed on
story-telling and truth commissions, Healing Though Remembering
points to the need for a number of parallel but separate methods
for dealing with the past - as outlined in their report of
Healing Through Remembering said that there is no single treatment
for the healing process in Northern Ireland - processes of
remembering, reflecting, informing and educating must be sustained
for another generation at least. Practical recommendations
from Healing Through Remembering include:
- A storytelling process
- Establishing a day of reflection
- Permanent Living Memorial Museum
- A network of commemoration and remembering
Professor McClelland explained the current work
of the organisation: "Healing Through Remembering
is now expanding its membership in order to arrange a number
of events in the autumn which will address the recommendations
in more detail. These will include conferences and seminars
drawing on local and international experiences. The aim of
these events will be to draw together the people working on
each issue in order to define the most appropriate methods
of implementation - including timescale, scope, and who should
- or should not - be managing each process."
Healing Through Remembering feel that these
events are the best way to progress the issue of dealing with
the past - through considered and informed discussion open
Speaking from his experience in South Africa,
Brandon Hamber, consultant to the project explained: "Each
country needs to create a solution that is appropriate in
that place and at that time. What I find so exciting about
Healing Through Remembering is that it gives the opportunity
to find the resolution to all of the people involved and affected
by the conflict, rather than one being imposed from above."
"In particular the unique aspects in this report are
the holistic nature of the package of recommendations and
the request for acknowledgement as a first step in the truth
recovery process. In my view this approach would be breaking
new international ground."
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