World Security Report2019-02-20 17:31:07
Former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern reflects on lessons learned from conflict resolution at OSCE meeting in Vienna
Bertie Ahern, former Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland, reflected on his experience in achieving peace in Northern Ireland through “inclusive dialogue” and highlight the conditions that made progress in the peace process possible during a joint meeting of the OSCE Forum for Security Co-operation and the Permanent Council in Vienna today on “Lessons learned from conflict resolution”.
Ahern began with a short history of the conflict through to the almost 30 years of “the Troubles” from 1969. He said that the British and Irish Governments started to work more closely together in the 1980s.
“Thanks to tireless work by successive Governments and officials on both sides, and political leaders, some of the core principles which were to underlie the eventual settlement had been hammered out,” he said. “That was the situation I essentially obtained when I became Taoiseach in the summer of 1997.”
He said it was fortunate that Tony Blair became Prime Minister of Britain at the same time.
“We met early on and hit it off immediately. We both agreed that addressing the Northern Ireland situation was a top priority for both of us. We were both conscious how difficult the task was going to be… But neither Tony Blair nor I gave up hope,” said Ahern.
“A broad acceptance by the parties involved in the conflict that the status quo is untenable and that some form of agreement is better in terms of everybody’s interests,” is his first lesson learnt from conflict resolution, the former Taoiseach said.
Ahern cautioned that “no two conflict situations are the same and each has its own unique character and features.”
He said that he and Blair opted for an inclusive approach that had the majority of the parties, including those associated with non-active paramilitary groups, around the negotiating table.
“It was complex, it was difficult, but in our context and situation, it proved the right decision,” he said. “I feel it is a key decision but one that can only be taken by those closely involved in terms of each negotiation situation.”
Another requirement for conflict resolution, “a personal one,” he added, is to put oneself in the shoes of the other person in the negotiations.
“In other words, it is important that participants in negotiations treat each other as human beings. That may sound simplistic but it is profoundly important. That is how some degree of trust is built and without a modicum, at least, of trust, success is impossible,” he said.
Recalling the efforts of former United States President Bill Clinton and the talks’ chairperson Senator George Mitchell in the peace process, the former Taoiseach noted that external players can bring a positive dynamic to the negotiations.
“I can see that the outside players broke up the energy of those directly involved – brought a slightly distanced perspective – and, of course, could say things to all sides that we could not say to each other.”
Other key lessons elaborated by Ahern were the need for comprehensiveness in terms of issues incorporated in the negotiations; the ability of the parties involved to rise beyond historical issues and grievances in a sensitive manner; and securing the validation of the people for the outcome negotiated.
Ahern concluded by remembering the victims of the violence.
“My deepest hope is that it will be a consolation to all of them that hopefully no family will have to go through in the future what they endured in the past.”
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