"Promoting Previously Unthinkable Ways-Some Restorative Learning Tasks in Northern Ireland"

Derick A Wilson

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Promoting Previously Unthinkable Ways-Some Restorative Learning Tasks in Northern Ireland The restorative task in Northern Ireland is deeply entwined with civic, public and political life and the extent to which we can acknowledge our violent past, permit ourselves to take risks, meet in a human manner and discount apparently rational reasons we have been given to distrust others. It is to transgress the historical boundaries of asymmetric relationships with state authority and the more recent conflicted history of deep mutual antagonism in our midst and let the reconciling part in each of us fly more freely, without being smothered by the politics of reason, important though politics is (See Wright, 1987, xi-xv).In Northern Ireland so many of one’s friends and significant others are members of one’s own cultural, political or religious traditions and the pressure on more newly arrived citizens is to follow this pattern also. These patterns, aligned with an historical ambivalence to violence that has excused ‘my violence as provoked’ but has rejected ‘your violence as ‘unacceptable’, now means that the restorative task is about opening people up to trust those they have previously seen as ‘the enemy’ and about establishing agreed public institutions that serve all equitably and new and agreed law and order structures that effectively criminalise violence and end any ambivalence about it.Restoring an openness to those previously seen as my enemy in an ethnic frontier area as well as an openness to those who are new citizens, demands that: citizenship, not group identity, is established as the primary point of identification; people find relationships and civic and political structures that enable all to deal more openly with the legacy of the past; core values are established at the heart of public and civic life about treating one another equitably, appreciating the diversity each brings and promoting our mutual interdependence (Eyben et al, 1997);and that public, civic and political society spaces empower people to create a more civil society.The restorative task is to empower the voices and actions of people of all ages who wish to take risks, equipping them with the knowledge that virulent circles of pessimism, avoidance, communal deterrence and local essentialism can be dissolved through building ease with different others, supporting people in making change a lasting reality and in promoting commitments between people and groups that establish and sustain ‘process-structures’ within the society that address “both the symptoms and causes of historic polarisation…support constructive change…and bring together strategic, often improbable, alliances’ (Lederach,2007)” The restorative task is not just one for children and young people but for all ages and institutions. The need for citizenship education for children and young people needs couched within a wider inter- generational commitment to see one another as equal citizens of one place and not primarily as members of opposed identity groups.Building a more restorative culture in society is to: build a new practice that works critically and reflectively within existing traditions and institutions; enable people to transgress traditional boundaries and meet; support existing organisations re-envision their role in the light of a new and agreed political dispensation; and set free initiatives that are transformative because of their inclusive structures or the focus of their work.There is a Madagascan image that eggs, once hatched, soar (Atran, 2010). Reconciliation practice over many years has been incubating relationships between unexpected people so that they, with others, can soar above distrust and fear. It is important that these relationships are now used in the practical task of restoring equity, promoting trust and securing agreed, commonly owned and non-partisan civic, public and political structures within which people of all ages can move more freely and at ease with different others. Derick Wilson June 2010
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Jun 2010

Bibliographical note

This text is part of a wider body of texts being developed by the School of Education and the School of Sociology and Applied Social Studies through the Restorative Practices programme at University of Ulster.
Reference text: Texts written by Bew, P., Connolly, S., Foster, R., Leichty, J. & Clegg, C. Falconer, A., to name a few.
Wright, F. Northern Ireland, A Comparative Analysis, Gill & Macmillan, Dublin: 1987
To the chagrin of Irish-America, Wilson abandoned previous congressional support for Irish national self-determination to focus his attention on the defeated powers of Europe. But the politics of Ireland was very much part of the maelstrom that was Europe in 1919. The general election of 1918 had radicalised the debates about Home Rule unresolved since before the outbreak of war. The irresistible force of Sinn Fein’s insistence on Irish self-determination met the immovable object of Unionist determination to resist most forcefully in the north-east. Partition in many ways represents the balance of forces that prevailed in Ireland at that time, and the line of least resistance for the decisive power, which in this case was the United Kingdom, in contrast to Germany where the victorious powers could dictate terms. (Morrow, D., Nobody's aspiration, everybody's predicament. British-Irish Association, Oriel College,2004)

The asymmetrical experiences of the state were to a major extent initially dealt with through the responses to the demands of the Civil Rights Movement (1967). The full programme of rights, agreed representation, law and public institutions and safeguards were agreed in the peace building agenda and the establishment of a devolved Assembly anchored in the Belfast Agreement (1998) and an Ireland wide plebiscite vote, the St Andrews Agreement (2006) and the Hillsborough Agreement (2010). The asymmetries in experiences of the law, whilst critically examined still by many human rights activists, have been mainly attended to with the devolution of Criminal Justice to the NI Assembly In May 2010.
Consultative group on acknowledging the past, 2009
Healing through remembering, www.healingthroughremembering.info/,;, WAVE,
From this, other working principles flowed: Dealing with the past is a process and not an event.
n Sensitivity towards victims and survivors is essential. Recommendations should be human rights compliant
n Relationships matter and are the foundation for reconciliation. Consensual agreement is the ideal.” (Consultative Group on Acknowledging the Past, 2009, p13).
The Consultative Group on the Past (pp 60-82, 2009) lists a body of themes that need to be mutually examined.
These are “The Facts and Figures; Defining the Impact on Society; Understanding Perspectives; The On Going Conflict; Victims Issues; Ulsterisation of the Blame; Extent of Collusive Activities; Victimisation of Communities; The Impact on Young People; Sectarianism; Socio-Economic Issues; Exiles and Conflict Related Convictions (pp 60-82, 2009).
This latter theme has been an area of deep silence within all parties to the conflict and relates diversely to depression, suicide, domestic violence and rape being submerged within organizations and institutions in order that ‘the greater cause is served’, not being acknowledged and given priority attention (Women into Politics).
Cota,D,; Gangadeen,T.G,2010, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
The weight of the past on the way to the future Duncan Morrow, NICRC 29 October 2007

Dialogues Project, Healing through Understanding, NICRAS, NICIE, Ballynafeigh Community House,,
Edwards,, M., Civil Society, Polity Press, 2004.
Wilson, DA, 1994
Girard,R. 1978. To Double Business Bound: Essays on Literature, Mimesis, and Anthropology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0801836558. This book contains essays from Critique dans un souterrain but not those on Dostoyevski. 1978. Des choses cachées depuis la fondation du monde. Paris: Grasset. ISBN 224661841X. (English translation: Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World: Research undertaken in collaboration with J.-M. Oughourlian and G. Lefort. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987); 1982. Le Bouc émissaire. Paris: Grasset. ISBN 2246267811. (English translation: The Scapegoat. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986) 1988. Violent Origins: Walter Burkert, Rene Girard, and Jonathan Z. Smith on Ritual Killing and Cultural Formation. Ed. by Robert Hamerton-Kelly. Palo Alto, California: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0804715181. 1991. A Theatre of Envy: William Shakespeare. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195053397. The French translation, Shakespeare : les feux de l'envie, was published before the original English text.
Kaptein,R., On the Way of Freedom,Veritas,1992
The Future Ways Programme was established by a grant from J Rowntree Charitable Trust, the Lawlor Foundation and other anonymous trusts
Way Out of Conflict, Corrymeela Press, 1994 & http://www.socsci.ulster.ac.uk/research/education/futureways/woc.pdf ; www.bbcnieyewitness for group learning materials
Police Service for NI 2009-10/Race related crime http://www.psni.police.uk/3._hate_incidents_and_crimes_final.pdf.
Shriver, D., Honest Patriots, OUP, 2005,
Tyrell, G. & Wilson, D.A., Institutions for Conciliation and Mediation in Facets of the Conflict in Northern Ireland, ed.Dunn,S., Macmillan Press, 1995.
I. Forensic truth-What happened, when and where and with whom.
II. Personal or narrative truth: When victims speak-The truth that does not bring back the dead but releases people from their silence.
III. Dialogical truth-When personal stories are heard as part of a socio-political change process.
IV. Truth that heals and is subtle, complex, comprehensive and ambiguous. Such an approach is a means of: clearing the air; exposing the facts; digesting then in dialogue; clearing the public air; getting rid of the malignancy of evil.
The Northern Ireland Juvenile Courts now has a mandatory restorative conferencing structure for all juveniles who plead guilty.
The Pilot Victims and Survivors Forum, 2009-10, CVSNI.
“FIT FOR PURPOSE?” Wilson & Eyben, Future Ways Programme, University of Ulster, June 2006, p44,
In recent (2008) survey returns 59% of people surveyed by NI Life and Times are looking forward to better relations between people in Northern Ireland and it is this almost 40% that do not see any difference or it even being worse that evidences an ambivalence. Another ambivalence is highlighted in the actual choices exercised by most people that reinforce segregated education provision even though the stated preference for shared education is consistently high. The reluctance of the devolved administration, the Catholic Church and diverse Protestant Churches (xxxx) to formally support integrated education are further aspects (xxxx). The acknowledgement of prejudice being high is an additional impediment to securing a more open and shared society (NILT,2008, xxxx).The continuing reality of sectarian and racist incidents (xxxx) continue to demand time and attention.
Wright, F, Northern Ireland, A Comparative Analysis, pp112-163.
A practical aid is currently being developed for people, groups and organisations on these themes of ‘humanising, transgressing, envisioning and transforming practices, D A Wilson’
Lederach, J.P. From Truce to Transformation, NICRC, 2007.
Eyben, K., Morrow, D., & Wilson, D A., A Worthwhile Venture-Practically Investing in Equity, Diversity and Interdependence in Northern Ireland? University of Ulster,1997
A Shared Future, OFMDFM, 2005, para 1, px
Pavlich, George. ‘Restorative Justice’s Community: Promise and Peril’, in Barb Toews and Howard Zehr (eds) Critical Issues in Restorative Justice, Criminal Justice Press, 2004.
Ranjit Sondhi CBE explores ethnicity in a variety of ways. See for example his talk to the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, 2008.
An Interface is a space where different traditions live separated by physical walls or ‘no go’ areas, See Belfast Interface Project, http://www.belfastinterfaceproject.org/
Platforms for a Restorative Culture in Northern Ireland, Wilson, D A., www.restorativejustice.org, 2009
Equality and Good Relations Legislation, Section 75 (i) (ii), Northern Ireland Act, 1998.
This practice has been part of track two and three strands alongside the track one political reconciliation processes that led to the political agreement of 1998. Montville, Joseph. 1990. Conflict and Peacemaking In Multiethnic Societies. Lexington, MA and Toronto: Lexington Books. Montville, Joseph. 1993. "The Healing Function in Political Conflict Resolution." In Conflict Resolution Theory and Practice: Integration and Application, edited by Dennis J. D. Sandole and Hugo van der Merwe. New York: Manchester University Press.
JLederach, John Paul (2003). The little book of conflict transformation. Intercourse, PA: Good Books
Lederach, J. P. ‘Truce or Transformation, Belfast, 2007
Towards Understanding and healing, www.thejunction-ni.org/towardsunderstandingandhealing.htm
Fitzduff,M., From Ritual to Consciousness, 1987;
Wilson, D. A., Coming of Age at Last, Irish Youthwork Journal, xxxx
Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health
Policing Our Divided Society, Mediation Northern Ireland & Future Ways Report to Patten Commission,1998,, Changing Police Culture, A Critical Dialogue Project, Morrow, Wilson, Mc Allister & Campbell,, Unpublished, 2004
Civic Leadership- A Western Routes Programme Report, University of Ulster, 2002;
“A New Shape For One Of The Oldest Professions?” Politics and Civil Society, The Good Relations Task, Belfast City Council, Eyben, Keys & Wilson,2006
Magill C.; Smith A. and B. Hamber The Role of Education in Reconciliation. Report for EU Peace and Reconciliation Fund. Coleraine, Ulster, 2009 . Paper for Principals of Integrated Schools, NICIE,Wilson,D.A.,2006
CCETSW(NI) (1999) Getting Off the Fence: Challenging Sectarianism in. Personal Social Services, London: Belfast.
Wilson, D. A., (2007) Coming of age at last? Youth Work, the Good Relations Legislation and the Shared Future Policy in Northern Ireland, Irish Youthwork Journal.
Wilson, D.A., (2007) Probation Practice and Citizenship, Good Relations and the Emerging European Intercultural Agenda, Irish Probation Journal
Marie Therese Fay, Mike Morrissey, Marie Smyth and Tracy Wong (1999, April) The Cost of the Troubles Study. Report on the Northern Ireland Survey: the experience and impact of the Troubles Derry Londonderry: INCORE. ISBN 0-9533305-5-9 Paperback 161pp
Mc Donagh, Falconer, Smith, Leichty, Clegg, Mc Master & Higgins, Hurley, Davey, Barkley are some examples.
See Nature 465, 292-293 (20 May 2010), "Decentralize, adapt and cooperate," R. Sagarin, C. Alcorta, S. Atran, et al.
Eyben, K. Wilson, D.A. & Morrow, D. J. (2003), Investing in Trust Building and Good Relations in a Public Sector Organisation. Coleraine, University of Ulster. (Reprinted May 2004) ISBN:1 85923 167 5
Morrissey, M; Dunford,S.
Connell,W.F., A History of Education in the 20th Century World, Teachers College Press, 1981.
Some recent work by the Integrated Education Fund and the Integrating Schools Project at Queens University Belfast suggests such movements (Discussion with Author, June 2010).
Zeldin,R., ournal of Community Psychology Volume 33 Issue 1, Pages 121 – 135 Special Issue: Youth-Adult Relationships in Community Programs: Diverse Perspectives on Good Practices, Wiley Periodicals, 2004.
scott Altan spoke of this in a seminar on ‘For Friends and Heros, John Jay College, June 2010.


  • Restorative Justice
  • Victims
  • Healing
  • Reconciliation
  • Ethnic frontier
  • Conflict
  • Peace Building
  • Process-structures.


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