Each month we bring you a nonviolence training workshop
based on the experience of the Nonviolent Action Training
project and INNATE.
a short exercise
here to view print version]
Reducing complicated situations to their essential elements
without making things simplistic can be a difficult task.
For example, explaining the Northern Ireland situation and
conflict through 800 years of history is necessary at a certain
stage of learning but can reduce an audience who are not yet
ready to grapple with it to a situation of information overload.
One simple way to introduce the conflict in
Northern Ireland to people not familiar with it is to do it
as a role play. The following is for a simple ‘fighting
pairs’ role play where one person takes the identity
of a ‘Catholic’ and one the identity of a ‘Protestant’.
This exercise can also be used with people from
Ireland or Northern Ireland but in this case it is essential
that both individuals in a pair play both roles, and participants
are more likely to be able to easily add additional ‘facts’
as weapons in their ‘discussion’. Otherwise, just
to play the role of ‘my’ side may simply reinforce
prejudices and feelings which ‘I’ already have.
1. Copy the following description of both roles for each participant
(or adapt it as you feel appropriate). One way of doing this
is to copy them onto A4 paper and cut to A5 so that the ‘Protestant’
description is on one side, the ‘Catholic’ description
on the other (this requires having one description on the
top of one side, and the other on the top of the reverse as
you photocopy). You can alter the description for both if
you feel it is appropriate. When you give each person in the
group a copy, emphasise that the roles given are archetypes
– real people may have a different and more complex
set of beliefs. Allow people time to read the two descriptions
and/or read them out.
2. You can, if you like, have a short non-verbal
or ‘one-verbal’ stage where the pair engage with
each other but only using the one word, ‘no’ with
each other (with only changes in inflection and volume, as
well as body language). This is more a short exercise in negative,
non-verbal communication and need only run for a minute or
so. Get the pair to change roles and do it again. You can
hold analysis of this exercise until after the next.
3. The pair engage verbally with each other
on the issues of importance to each other in the roles. There
may be inequality in the role play if one person is rather
better informed about Northern Ireland than the other but
emphasise that they should primarily stick to the role they
are given; they can express how they feel, why they are dissatisfied
with ‘the other party’, what their dream is for
the future, and so on. Let this run for 5 or more minutes
or until it seems to be running out of steam. Run it a second
time, probably for a shorter length, with the roles reversed
– the ‘Protestant’ has become the ‘Catholic’,
and the ‘Catholic’ has become the ‘Protestant’.
It is important to allow participants to experience both roles.
4. Allow participants to do initial sharing
in their pair; how did it feel being one or the other, and
did they identify with one party more than the other? If they
did the ‘no’ part of the exercise, what did they
feel they were saying ‘no’ to? What were the awkward,
difficult questions or comments they had to deal with in either
role? You could allow 5 – 8 minutes analysing in pairs
(you can also judge when people are running out of steam)
before coming back into plenary and take people’s most
5. A useful way of ending analysis is to brainstorm
a list of ‘unanswered questions’ which may point
the way for further sessions and discussion, as well as indicating
the level of information and interest in particular areas
among the participants.
6. You can also brainstorm a list of ‘What
people in the situation need to move beyond conflict’.
Who would provide for these needs, how would they be provided?
7. While actually doing the role play, including
introductions, can be done in under half an hour, the following
discussion and analysis (including 5 and 6 above) can take
much longer, e.g. half a day or even longer, but the basic
exercise and analysis might take an hour and a half.
8. The way of exploring ‘two sides’
in this exercise is particularly effective in looking at a
complex, long-running conflict such as that in Northern Ireland
but can be used on other divisive issues as well.
9. Further resources which may be of use in
the above context include ones from Community Dialogue ( at
www.communitydialogue.org ) which has produced a series reducing
divisive issues in Northern Ireland to their essential elements.
You’re a Protestant born and living in Northern
Ireland. You see your way of life and, indeed, life itself,
as being under threat from republicans. You feel Protestants
and Loyalists have made all the sacrifices in the Troubles
and you feel your community has gained nothing in any agreements
made (e.g. Anglo-Irish Agreement 1985, Good Friday Agreement
1998) but has rather lost further ground – it’s
always the Prods who lose out. Catholic communities usually
get a better deal from the state and more funding, and fair
employment legislation is biased against Protestants –
just look at the ridiculous 50:50 recruitment for the PSNI/Police
Service of Northern Ireland.
The British government, who should be looking
after your concerns, is untrustworthy and does not live up
to its word or its commitments, it seems more interested in
placating republicans than protecting and involving your community.
You feel you’ve no one to rely on except your own efforts
and you feel that to prepare for the future is an uphill task
because you have your ‘back to the wall’. This
is your home, it has been for centuries, where else can you
go? You feel your British, Ulster culture is under threat
as shown by Catholic protests against Orange marches –
it just goes to show how much republicans hate your culture.
You live in an area which is all-Protestant
and you have little contact with Catholics, many of whom you
regard as being out for what they can get – they take
everything they can from the state but give no loyalty in
return. You’re sick and tired of Catholics bellyaching
and moaning about their rights and you wish they would just
go away and be quiet. The fact that Sinn Féin, the
political wing of the murderous IRA (which even under the
terms of the Good Friday Agreement should have got out of
existence half a dozen years ago), has been in government
in Northern Ireland – and is likely to be again if the
British and Irish governments get their way – causes
you more than unease, it makes you feel sick.
You are a Catholic living in the Six Counties of the north
of Ireland. Your ancestors have been here for millennia and
yet you feel treated as if you have had no rights; things
which Protestants take for granted have been denied to you,
you feel – Catholic unemployment is still much higher
than Protestant unemployment, for example. Despite the end
of the Stormont ‘Protestant Parliament for a Protestant
People’ in 1972, and direct rule from Britain, you feel
the forces of the state still treat you in a fundamentally
different way to Protestants. Whether things will be different
in the long term following the Good Friday Agreement of 1998
– which itself has run into rocky ground through unionist
intransigence – remains to be seen.
There have been some changes over the years
but you feel the fundamental nature of the state has not changed;
it remains a British state where an Irish identity has to
struggle to make itself heard or maintain itself. When it
comes to the crunch the state backs down before loyalists
if it has the chance, as has happened so often with Orange
marches. And yet Catholics were prepared to compromise on
their historical goals to participate in the Good Friday Agreement.
You live in an area which is all-Catholic
and you have very little contact with Protestants, many of
whom you see as triumphalist, anti-Catholic, and intolerant
of other people’s rights. You’re sick and tired
of Protestant loyalists who attack or kill Catholics, refuse
to consider Catholic grievances seriously, and are unwilling
to share their power. You wish most Protestants would realise
you’re no longer willing to be treated as second class
citizens. They (the Prods) keep raising the bar for an Assembly
at Stormont – any excuse to deny real equality and power