This week PPI-NI’s Managing Director Gareth Harper travelled to Dublin to attend the Republic of Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Reconciliation Networking Forum in Dublin Castle.
The annual Forum for community groups and other individuals who are active in reconciliation work provides an opportunity to share experiences and discuss the challenges facing civil society in working to further peace and reconciliation.
Hosted by Dearbhail McDonald (Associate Editor and Legal Editor with the Irish Independent) the Forum focused on civil society’s vision for Northern Ireland in 25 years time. As delegates we were challenged to think about and come up with the concrete steps that civil society can take in the next five years to help bring about that vision. In his opening address Adrian O Neill (Second Secretary General, Anglo Irish Division) spoke of our “Duty of Hope”. This in particular struck a chord with me. Too often we forget to think about how great Northern Ireland could be and rather as Adrian put it, “have a tendency to admire the problems”.
To set the tone for the conversations that would follow the day kicked of with a forward looking panel discussion on civil society’s vision for Northern Ireland. The panelists; Earl Storey, Catherine Pollock, Dawn Purvis, Susan McKay and Jim Roddy shared their visions for the future based upon their experience, knowledge and expertise in community relations and reconciliation on the island of Ireland. In small groups, delegates were tasked with analyzing and reacting to the challenges posed by the speakers, as well as to reflect on the steps civil society can take in the next five years to help realise their vision of the future.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, the focus of my contribution was on civil society’s role in helping to create the next generation of leaders – leaders who free from the baggage of previous generations will be able to dream about how great this place can be. As one contributor put it, our role in that should be creating the opportunity for our young people to grow up in an environment that not only breeds familiarity but also provides the safe space where they are learning about and with each other on a daily basis. PPI-NI creates such places – on the court and field of play and through our facilitated community relations conversations and capacity building programmes. All involved with this wonderful organisation should be very proud of the contribution they make every day to creating this vision and supporting the next generation in realising the potential of this place.