At the 2017 Spirit of Humanity Forum in Iceland, Jim Paymar sat down with Lord John Alderdice to discuss conflict, bridging divides and the Forum itself…..
JP: You’re no stranger to conflict, Northern Ireland had conflict for many decades, how were people able to come together and finally put the conflict behind them and decide that peace was going to be the new road?
JA: The first thing was that people who were involved in the violence itself came to the conclusion that they couldn’t win. I did some work with Martin McGuinness in Iraq and I remember him saying to me they they came to the conclusion we couldn’t beat the Brits, albeit they couldn’t beat us, and he had an ethical problem. He was sending young friends out to be injured, possibly killed, knowing there wasn’t going to be a successful outcome and therefore needed to find another way and that was a political way. Physical force was not going to bring a result. The external stakeholders then came to a new set of relationships, they engaged in a friendly constructive way. A whole process developed – internal exhaustion and recognising the limits of the force, and external coming together of the stakeholders, assisted by the EU and the USA. The peace is holding. The peace process is about finding ways to disagree with each other without killing each other.
The Spirit Of Humanity Forum– what do you see as the essence of this forum to promote peace globally?
One of the things I detect is an appreciation that it is about building better relationships with groups of people. This was one of the key lessons of the Irish peace process. In fact the whole process was built on addressing three key sets of relations, between Protestants and Catholics of the north, between north and south and between Britain and Ireland. The second thing is I hear from people a wish to find a new way of thinking about and understanding of our problems in order to change our paradigm. We need to understand things in a different way, if we are going to get a better outcome. That is not as smooth a road as some of the people here would think. 500 years ago we had the reformation, these were really important steps in human understanding but they were also very violent. One of the messages I have for the people here is I am with you in finding a new way, but even if we do so, it won’t be a smooth ride. Thirdly in political life, almost exclusively in the west, there has been a wish to believe that you can separate off what you could broadly call the spiritual element of humanity and put that in a private space. I don’t think that is possible, I think that what is moving you at every level of being an individual, impacts and effects how you conduct yourself.
Resetting the compass…is it possible to do so, so more people can be at peace?
If you are talking about violent conflict, yes we can do things. But all of us have conflicts inside ourselves. At one and the same time you love your children but you are furious at them for doing this and this. As a parent, you find a way of containing your anger and transforming it into a strong relationship that can cope with it. It is not for me about getting rid of conflict, that will always exist, but we don’t need the violence, we don’t need to be killing each other, in violent relationships. But getting to a place where it is all light, harmony and sweetness, it is dangerous to think about that as an ambition as you block out some crucial aspects of the human spirit.
What do you bring back to Ireland from this event?
Having had a few days space with other people devoted to finding a better way, and in my world in politics, you don’t get that many spaces. There are people here who have experiences who are really good to engage with and learn from. Hopefully one brings some things that one has learnt from their own experiences.
And one positive experience can grow into a multitude of positive experiences?
I would add to that, if we want to make change in the world and make it a better place, the management advice would be to set up structures and plans and mission statements. If you want to change how communities think, you need to inspire them, and have the vision and the passion in order to get it out there. We are edging towards a new set of understandings. I hear a lot of politicians despairing where we are at in liberal democracy and suggesting we need to think about how we take the next step in our progress as a race and how we govern it ourselves. I hear a lot of people wondering if the economy can be run in a better way. It is not all going to happen like that, and it is about the steps forward. That is what will fire us up in the next generation or so.