Summer Lyceum: Northern Ireland’s 20 years of peace

  • Dr. James Waller of Keene State University spoke on lingering tensions contemporary Northern Ireland at the Monadnock Lyceum on Sunday, following traditional Irish music by Matt Harris and Scott Lemire. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • Dr. James Waller of Keene State University spoke on lingering tensions contemporary Northern Ireland at the Monadnock Lyceum on Sunday, following traditional Irish music by Matt Harris and Scott Lemire. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 7/22/2019 2:18:03 PM

Professor James Waller delivered the state of contemporary Northern Ireland in the context of its history for this week’s Monadnock Summer Lyceum lecture. He stressed that, although peace has sustained for 20 years in Northern Ireland, “There’s nothing post-conflict about this society. The conflict is just different. It’s political now.”

Northern Ireland is frequently contextualized by “The Troubles”, a period of political and societal unrest that officially lasted thirty years, from 1968 to 1998, when it ended with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Waller established the widely-held understanding of “Catholic versus Protestant” as a superficial representation of the conflict. He cited the real conflict as between factions that desire reunification of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland, versus preserving the country as part of the United Kingdom.

Waller framed the roots of the conflict in Northern Ireland as a civil rights campaign by the Catholic minority. Violence broke out on Bloody Sunday in 1972. Over the following 30 years, the conflict killed 3,532 people and injured 40,000. Waller said those statistics are wrongfully used to describe the conflict as “low-intensity.” He reminded the audience that, if the same proportion of people had been affected in the United States, the death toll would have been 500,000.

A full 40 percent of Northern Ireland citizens experienced a traumatic event during “The Troubles.” Most fatalities were people who “were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Waller observed that every citizen understood their own potential for becoming a victim, and described the lasting individual and societal effects of that insecurity.

Waller guided attendees through Northern Ireland’s history and his impressions of the contemporary country, and discussed triggers that could disrupt what former U.S. Senator George Mitchell once described as “the fragility of the peace”.

Specifically, Waller referenced the high potential of Brexit for destabilizing Northern Ireland.

“It’s already devastating the economy,” Waller said, and is immensely unpopular among both factions in the country.

He saw especially volatile potential in discussions over a hard border between the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Waller also identified further threats to the peace in the removal of “peace walls” that physically divide neighborhoods, the ongoing talks about reparation payments for “The Troubles,” the 2021 centenary of Northern Ireland’s establishment, and enduring nationalist, or Catholic, perceptions of an illegitimate state.

Ultimately, Waller identified a place for hope in the ongoing conflict.

“Most peace treaties fail within five years,” Waller said, referencing the 20 years of relative peace since the 1998 agreement. “That needs to be credited.”

The Monadnock Lyceum is a series of summer lectures, held every Sunday at 11 a.m. at the Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church. A half-hour of live music precedes each lecture.

Lyceum talks are available as podcasts on the Monadnock Lyceum website at www.monadnocklyceum.org.

The next speaker, scheduled for July 28 at 11 a.m. in the Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church is Richard Van Wickler, Superintendent of the Cheshire County Department of Corrections, with the topic, “The American Correctional System – Or is it?”




Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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