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Community Action in a Contested Society

The Story of Northern Ireland

Avila Kilmurray

Much has been written about the history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, but one story remains untold: that of the grassroots activism that maintained local communities in the face of violence. This book speaks through the voices of the activists themselves, drawn from both sides of a divided society. It records their memories of community organising and work on social issues, as well as their insights into surviving the politics of the period and contributing to peacebuilding. Providing a vivid account of how politics touched people’s lives, the book celebrates the energy, imagination and determination of community activism. It also examines the challenges faced by policymakers struggling to make sense of conflicting community narratives and official government positions.

There are vital lessons here for organisers, activists and policymakers working in any contested society, particularly those operating at the interface between social need and peacebuilding. Informed by an oral history approach, this book argues that conflict transformation is possible and that community activism has a major contribution to make in creating alternatives to violence.


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Chapter 9: Peace, Imperfect Peace …


Chapter 9 Peace, Imperfect Peace … The school holidays were ending on 31 August 1994 just as P. O’Neill issued an IRA statement declaring the complete cessation of military activities in recognition of ‘the potential of the current situation and in order to enhance the democratic process’. It was not the most rous- ing prose penned by the nom de plume IRA spokesperson, but it was in clear response to Gerry Adams’s analysis that conditions were in place for moving the peace process forward. The Belfast Telegraph headline trumpeted: ‘It’s Over’. above a photograph of weeping women. A cav- alcade of cars, draped in Irish tricolours, drove triumphantly through West Belfast with horns blaring. DUP leader, Rev. Ian Paisley, warned of impending Civil War and the Ulster Unionist Party leader described the situation as ‘de-stabilising’. As the British Government agonised over the lack of the word ‘permanent’ in the ceasefire statement, staff in a West Belfast Community College were less conditional in celebrating: ‘We were enrolling students and the ceasefire is announced, and I mean, Oh my God this is just absolutely amazing. So I sent someone off to the Off-Licence to buy a few bottles of champagne so we can really celebrate. So we were in the common room, I got the glasses and the champagne, and this guy comes up to me and he says – this is a teacher from the central organisation – “Do you always do this at enrolment?” I said “A ceasefire has just been announced!” “Oh...

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