A Restorative Challenge: Can Citizenship Trump Identity in Northern Ireland?

Derick Wilson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Abstract: Northern Ireland was a space where it was impossible to experience anything that metropolitan societies called peace. The restorative task of nurturing new energy and vitality in relationships and structures has to acknowledge, but not be overwhelmed by, the potential of fear to invade, and even destroy, every potential meeting across lines of difference.The normal rituals of more secure societies that allow past and hurtful events to be both acknowledged and placed at a distance over time from day to day life do not work. As the society seeks to move on, through new political agreements and mutually owned institutions, it takes time and deep commitment to build new institutions and rituals that propel people forward and build mutual ownership and cohesion.A vortex of asymmetries of experience makes mutual understanding difficult. Some asymmetries are: historically there was asymmetrical access to the state internally and with the aligned cosmopolitan neighbours: there was a differential impact of the conflict on discrete groups of people in areas of need, some specific geographical areas and some specific types of employment; between those who want their hurt acknowledged and those who refuse to remember; and different groups demanding that the ‘others’ acknowledge their violence without them acknowledging their own. A restorative task is to promote spaces and relationships where people experience being at ease with different others. Such relational work is made much easier when supported by wider institutional structures promoting trust as a societal imperative and equal citizenship as a foundation.In ethnic frontier societies each does not often see the other as an equal citizen. Promoting liberating restorative experiences and knowledge is to: ‘to promote an ease with different others’; offer space to morally re-evaluate each tradition’s actions; promoting active experiences that carry the message that ‘change is possible’; acknowledging that dealing with the past is a task for more than the dispersed community of victims and survivors; and an understanding that truth telling, justice and empathy between diverse people can assist healing.Identities can become too localised, often limiting opportunity and imagination for adults and children alike. Local essentialism closes people to difference. Ethnocentric Irishness or Britishness has been easily tenable on the fringes of those historic cultures yet reflect little of the growing diversity at their centres. At this time, some secure states are now experiencing the growth of ethnocentric groups in their midst, with people unwilling to share with different others. Here equal citizenship is challenged and the ethnic frontier and the metropolitan centres have an opportunity to learn together. As citizens within an expanded Europe, there is a restorative historical healing necessary around Islamic, Christian and Jewish relations and more modern expressions of distrust and violence that links restorative reconciliation practice in Northern Ireland with central European ‘silences’ . Promoting good relations between people of different religious beliefs, political opinion, racial groups, sexual orientation, diverse abilities and social backgrounds are modern challenge for citizens in all societies, if they accept it. The challenge now is to promote a restorative civic and public culture that moves people beyond the important compliance base established in law to promote a commitment to treating all fairly and build a new culture of ease with different others. Building a more restorative culture in society is to work on a number of axes. These include: empowering voice, promoting new norms, discerning values at work and envisioning a shared society; and a restorative practice that supports people as they transgress limiting cultural boundaries and weave relationships between diverse people; supporting structural change, engaging politically and challenging civil society cultures to be more open and inclusive.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRestorative Approaches to Conflict in Schools. Interdisciplinary perspectives on whole school approaches to managing relationships.
EditorsGillean McCluskey, Ed Sellman, Hilary Cremin
Place of PublicationAbingdon, Oxon & New York
ISBN (Print)978-0-415-65611-5
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Sept 2013

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  • Restorative practices
  • Citizenship
  • Identity
  • Ethnic frontier


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