Connecting commemorative communities: Transforming memory-work after conflict in Northern Ireland

Lead Research Organisation: University of Ulster
Department Name: Sch of Environmental Sciences

Abstract

As Northern Ireland works through its Decade of Commemorations (leading up to the centenary of its contested creation in 2021) the challenges facing public bodies to mediate partisan narratives of the past and diffuse associated tension and violence has perhaps never been greater. Commemorative-related violence, the subject of our exploratory award, remains a potent symbol of continuing divisions and has important ramifications for a society in transition. Yet an integral part of transforming this type of violence is engaging with and learning from remembrance practices that do not tend to instigate violence or those places where we found commemorative-related violence to have dissipated throughout the 'post-conflict' years. The city of Derry/Londonderry offers one such example. An outpouring of violence leading up to or following commemorative parades was commonplace throughout the peace process and in the immediate aftermath of the signing of the Belfast Agreement in 1998, but subsided as the years progressed. Unpacking this transformation is key to formulating policies towards shared and ethical remembrance. How might the practices and processes that have occurred in spaces such as this be replicated or managed elsewhere?

This follow-on proposal emerged from the outcomes of our exploratory project, 'Place or Past?' and works from the premise that there are examples of good practice within how the past is remembered and commemorated in specific places throughout Northern Ireland. The project found that these are 'exemplary spaces' where commemorative-related violence has disappeared throughout the post-agreement years. With a view to enhance present and future practice and approaches to commemoration, our focus is not on what instigates conflict (the subject of our original project), but rather to engage with, evaluate and share the 'good' practice that has occasioned improved inter-communal relations and non-violence around commemorative activities. The overarching aim of this follow-on proposal therefore is to 'connect' commemorative communities through establishing and profiling an advocacy network of practice that is working in the 'new' Northern Ireland (through the exploitation of our existing research findings) and promote knowledge exchange between those who are involved in commemoration and remembrance and the public bodies who are tasked with responding to and managing commemoration in a post-conflict context working alongside four partners: The Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, the Northern Ireland Community Council and The Junction.

The project is led by a team of interdisciplinary academics based in Northern Ireland, at the University of Ulster and Queen's University, Belfast. A series of activities including residential training courses, public engagement events, exhibits and showcases are planned for the 12 month project duration. The primary focus of these activities is to strengthen opportunities for knowledge exchange and network building beyond the academy with the ultimate purpose of transforming negative attitudes, behaviour and relationships around commemoration. A key outcome of the project is to design, establish and disseminate a toolkit for use by public bodies and community organisations. This toolkit will provide a detailed approach of how remembrance and commemoration can be both shared and ethical in its practice.

The project is designed to create dialogue with the past, the present and the future. In developing mechanisms for network-building and knowledge exchange in the present, focused on how the past is understood and approached, this project traces a path towards less contentious, less violent and less costly commemorative activities now and in the future. In this way, the Connecting Commemorative Communities team are centrally concerned with caring for the future, through caring for the past.

Planned Impact

We expect this follow-on project to benefit the following groups and users:
1)Public Sector Bodies who are partners including the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council and the Police Service of Northern Ireland and those who are collaborators and participants in the engagement activities including the Heritage Lottery Fund, Office of the First and Deputy First Minister and Good Relations Officers across Northern Ireland;
2)Elected representatives and political parties who are responsible for policy making and impacting public discourse about commemorative-related activities;
3)Residents and community organisations, including The Junction, affected by commemoration of local, regional and national historical events across Northern Ireland;
4)Victims and Survivors organisations active in and affected by remembrance and commemoration processes in Northern Ireland;
5)Practitioners involved in remembrance and commemoration including members of loyal orders, cultural and religious and sporting organisations and historical societies;
6)Professionals involved in remembrance and commemoration activities from the artistic community including artists and muralists, curators of museums, civic and public spaces and galleries;
7)Media organisations including print, digital and visual media sources at a local, regional and national level;
8)Broader civil society and individuals affected by commemoration and remembrance activities.

Designed and prepared in partnership with public bodies and community organisations, this project ensures that there are significant and robust opportunities for short, medium and long-term impacts to emerge for the beneficiaries. We understand that impact is measured firstly by enhancing cultural enrichment, quality of life and well-being. Our project specifically works with partners to this end through public engagement activities that are designed to drive forward knowledge, skills and expertise about good practice in commemoration. Secondly, we understand that impact is measured by contributing towards evidence based policy-making and influencing public policies and legislation at a local, regional, national and international level. Through our public engagement activities and outreach at the local through to the international level, the focus is on sharing practice and developing a toolkit for public bodies. International knowledge-exchange and impact is integrated in the Brussels-based seminar at the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office, directly engaging with representatives from member state and institutions as well as peacebuilding organisations.

Thirdly, we understand that impact can be measured by shaping and enhancing the effectiveness of public services which is at the heart of our project. Fourthly, we understand impact to be measured by transforming evidence based policy in practice and influencing and informing practitioners and professional practice. Given the three project partners from public services in Northern Ireland, the milestones of activities arranged facilitate reflection, review and integration of the specially designed toolkit.

The benefit of the activities allow for the advocacy network to be established and nurtured over the period of one year, facilitating relationship building and networking so that professionals and practitioners can share good practice in a safe environment, free from the constraints of auditing and budgeting concerns when reporting to funders. At present this forum is not available in Northern Ireland. Finally, this project is designed to encourage reflective practice within public bodies and community organisations thus has a beneficial impact on changing organisational culture and practices. Through the Certificate for Professional Development, there is a long-term skills and knowledge enhancement for 80 people engaged in commemoration and celebration of the past in the contemporary.

Publications

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Braniff M (2016) Editorial Introduction in Irish Political Studies

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Gilmore TD E (2016) Foreward in Irish Political Studies

 
Title In Place/Out of Place 
Description This exhibit was created using artwork produced by residential workshop participants. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2015 
Impact This exhibit was launched in the MAC Theatre in Belfast on December 8th alongside our project partners. It was taken to Brussels in January and is currently being exhibited in the Office of the Northern Ireland Executive. In April it will return to Northern Ireland and will be exhibited in Northern Ireland Libraries (on tour). 
 
Description Our key objective with this project was to reflect upon what might constitute 'good practice' in the contested field of commemoration in post-conflict Northern Ireland. Our previous project had identified specific areas that had witnessed a decrease in the number of violent incidents associated with commemoration indicating a change in the dynamics of memory-work. We wanted to build an advocacy network of good practice and encourage individuals and organisations working in this field to reflect upon and share their experiences. We aspired to connect commemorative communities and promote knowledge exchange through creating opportunities for dialogue and networking between those involved in memory-work within communities and those responsible for responding to or managing it in public spaces. We did this working with our project partners (the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Department of Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council and the Junction) through an extensive series of engagement activities including residential workshops, public debates, seminars, exhibits and educational visits.

We also wanted this project to inform policy and practice. We achieved this by producing a toolkit which has been employed by the Police Service of Northern Ireland. This toolkit consists of a series of digital stories about contentious commemorative events which will be shown to recruits who are tasked with policing and managing these events. We have through the life of the project engaged with policymakers and practitioners through a number of initiatives including providing training on the principles of shared and ethical remembering through our partner The Junction and workshops aimed at managing VUCA environments with public bodies. We have showcased our methodologies and findings in Brussels to a number of different policy audiences. This was well received.
Exploitation Route This work resonates with the challenges that many other societies face in relation to dealing with the past and this is an issue which emerged very clearly in Brussels. The methodological approaches adopted for example in our residential workshops could be easily transferred and used to promote intercultural dialogue in different contexts. Equally the methodologies used to create a toolkit for the Police Service of Northern Ireland could also be useful within challenging environments.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Security and Diplomacy

 
Description Our research findings have been used by a number of new user groups. Our toolkit on key commemorative events has been employed by the Police Service of Northern Ireland. We developed a module on Evaluating Commemorative Practice which has been accredited by Ulster University and was open to participants in our residential workshops. Our exhibit In Place/Out of Place has been showcased to a policy audience in Brussels (to members of the European Commission and representatives of the Directorate General) and at the MAC Theatre in Belfast. Northern Ireland Libraries will also showcase the exhibit in a number of their libraries throughout 2016. Through an extensive range of engagement activities we provided opportunities for knowledge exchange between individuals and organisations responsible for producing, performing and orchestrating commemoration and public bodies who are tasked with managing or responding to it. We brought commemorative communities together from across Northern Ireland to share their experiences of dealing with the past and we anticipate that this advocacy network will continue to develop and strengthen. More recently (2017-18) our work is intersecting with communities across Northern Ireland who are attempting to navigate their experiences and narratives of conflict and peace for external audiences. We have been working alongside the Northern Ireland Strategic Investment Board to harness peace tourism in segregated/interface communities.
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Societal

 
Description Commemoration and Conflict in Northern Ireland: The Public Sector, Risk and Resilience
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact This was a workshop aimed at public bodies in Northern Ireland ahead of the 2016 commemorations. It gave participants an opportunity to discuss specific challenges and how they might be addressed. Participants included members of the PSNI, DCAL and representatives from Belfast City Council.
 
Description Evaluating Commemorative Practice Module
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact This Continuing Professional Development Programme was designed to encourage people involved in orchestrating, responding to or managing commemoration in public places to reflect an evaluate their practice. This is an accredited course by the University and responds not only to a specific societal pressure but also to the University's commitment to widening access.
 
Description Toolkits for Police Service of Northern Ireland Recruits
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact We created a series of digital stories on high profile often controversial aspects of the past in Northern Ireland for PSNI recruits. These short storyboards are shown to recruits as a way of communicating narratives of the past which are often contested. Often new members of the Police Service are tasked with responding to and policing volatile commemorative events with little knowledge of the event that is being commemorated or the sensitivities or emotion surrounding it. It is anticipated that these stories will help recruits better navigate these high pressurised political and social environments.
 
Description Training on the principles of shared and ethical remembering for public bodies with our project partner The Junction
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Community-Led Tourism in Societies Affected by Conflict
Amount £35,000 (GBP)
Organisation Government of Northern Ireland 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2018 
End 04/2019
 
Description Northern Ireland: memory, commemoration and public symbolism - dealing with the past
Amount £30,033 (GBP)
Funding ID ES/M001741/1 
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2015 
End 10/2018
 
Description Peace Tourism in Urban Villages in Northern Ireland
Amount £15,000 (GBP)
Organisation Strategic Investment Board 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 06/2018
 
Description Small grants scheme
Amount £7,848 (GBP)
Funding ID SG160123 
Organisation The British Academy 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2016 
End 05/2018
 
Description Urban Villages Peace Tourism (Northern Ireland)
Amount £15,000 (GBP)
Organisation Strategic Investment Board 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2016 
End 11/2017
 
Description Belfast Imagine Politics Festival Talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We held a debate on the importance of commemoration in Northern Ireland as part of the Belfast Imagine Festival in March 2015. It engaged with a wide range of non-academic users.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://imaginebelfast.com/events/conversations-on-commemorations/
 
Description Connecting Commemorative Communities Brussels Showcase 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact We presented the findings of our impact project to members of the European Commission, the Directorate General for Regional and Urban Policy, the UK Research Office and representatives of the Directorate General for Justice.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Evaluating Commemorative Practice Residential Workshop-Belfast 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact We held a residential workshop in Belfast to share good practice within commemoration. The workshops consisted of debate and discussion, photomapping exercises and analysis of cultural responses to memory.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Evaluating Commemorative Practice Residential Workshop-Derry 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact This residential workshop brought together key individuals working in the area of commemoration/dealing with the past to reflect on what might constitute 'good' practice'. Participants reported that the methodologies employed helped them rethink their own approaches to dealing the past.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Evaluating Commemorative Practice Workshop-Portadown 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact This workshop brought together people working on commemoration/dealing with the past. Participants reported a change in the way they thought about commemorative practice.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Invited to contribute to the Newton-Caldas Workshop on post-conflict transition in Colombia 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The Newton-Caldas Fund aims to foster networks between UK and Colombian academics with the objective of producing research that can effect policy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Presentation by former Tanaiste and minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, TD Eammon Gilmore 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Former Tanaiste TD Eammon Gilmore gave a talk on the contemporary significance of the centenary commemorations in Ireland and launched the team's edited collection of papers for a special edition of Irish Political Studies in 2016. Gilmore is currently an E.U special advisor to the Colombian peace process. His talk was widely attended by a range of diverse stakeholders interested in the challenges of dealing with contested pasts in divided societies.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Speaker at Heritage as Reconciliation Winter School, Corrymeela 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presented research at the Corrymeela Winter School in Ballycastle on the theme of Heritage as Reconciliation. It was attended by 50-60 participants engaged in peacebuilding.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.corrymeela.org/events/119/heritage-as-reconciliation-corrymeela-ballycastle
 
Description Student visit to Crumlin Road Gaol-former site of 'difficult heritage' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact We brought students studying the dynamics of conflict to a site which was once a former prison and played a formidable role in the Northern Irish conflict. This visit encouraged students to think about the challenges of representing contested narratives of the past in a space earmarked for societal transformation. Students reported a change of attitudes.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Together: Building a United Community Engagement Forum 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact 180 policy makers, statutory organisations, community representatives and professional practitioners which sparked a series of questions from a wide range of participants. The report was circulated by the Northern Ireland Executive Office to a wide range of participating organisations from a range of sectors.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.cypsp.hscni.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/DSC-Stakeholder-update-June-2016.pdf
 
Description Working with the past in transitional societies: Communities, Commemoration and Conflict-European PeaceBuilding Liasion Office, Brussels 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact We presented our work on transitional societies in Brussels to policymakers. Approximately 25 people attended and there was a productive debate on the challenges of dealing with the past. Participants requested further information and we anticipate that this will lead to future research activity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016
URL http://eplo.org/event/eplo-brown-bag-lunch-event-working-with-the-past-in-transitional-societies-com...