This article explores the role of churches in Northern Ireland since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, focusing on their efforts to promote reconciliation and address the legacy of intercommunal violence. The first part analyses initiatives that took place between 1998 and 2015, including the Methodist Church’s Edgehill Reconciliation Programme, the Church of Ireland’s Hard Gospel project, the Presbyterian Church’s Peacebuilding Programme, and the Irish Churches Peace Project. It argues that their effectiveness was limited by a lack of financial investment by the churches themselves and by insufficient communication with their own grassroots. The second part analyses two post-2015 initiatives that attempt to address the limitations of previous projects: The Church Leaders’ civil society dialogue initiative and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s ‘Considering Grace’ project. The Church Leaders’ initiative is potentially strengthening the churches’ collective voice on key issues, as it moves beyond joint statements to facilitating public dialogues. Considering Grace is attempting to address the communications failures of prior projects through a grassroots-level, facilitated dialogue on the legacy of intercommunal violence, framed around the concept of ‘gracious remembering’. It is too soon to evaluate the long-term impact of these initiatives. But it is significant that both have prioritised facilitated dialogue as a means to promoting reconciliation and addressing the legacy of intercommunal violence.
This essay was written for ‘Dealing with the Legacy of Conflict in Northern Ireland through engagement and Dialogue’, a Journal by Glencree in conjunction with the Irish Centre for Human Rights at NUI Galway and Ulster University. The Journal forms part of Glencree’s Peace IV ‘Addressing the Legacy of Violence through Facilitated Dialogue’ project which focuses on creating meaningful, purposeful and sustained contact between victims/survivors groups, and representatives of groups and individuals with differing interpretations of what happened in Northern Ireland’s past. It also aims to create forums to share learnings from these dialogues on a national and International basis.
Featuring contributions from 19 authors, including academics and practitioners in the fields of peace studies and conflict resolution, the Glencree Journal brings a keen focus to many of the issues that are intrinsic to the Peace IV Project. It will also help to inform practitioners in a wide variety of fields of future pathways to sustaining a just and equitable society in a post-conflict situation. The Journal essays were peer reviewed by the Editorial Team led by Professor Ray Murphy of the Irish Human Rights Centre at NUI Galway, Professor Patricia Lundy, Dr Niall Gilmartin and Dr Philip McDermott of Ulster University, and Dr Rory Finegan, Maynooth University and formerly Assistant Manager (2020) at Glencree of the Peace IV ‘Addressing the Legacy of Violence through Facilitated Dialogue’ Project.
A project supported by the European Union’s PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB).