The Origins of Community Dialogue
In the summer of 1997, an IRA cease-fire led to multi-party negotiations after years of conflict. Northern Ireland’s future was being negotiated behind closed doors while tensions permeated the community. In this context, 30 people of diverse backgrounds but sharing common purpose formed Community Dialogue to encourage deeper understanding of our diverse positions on the critical issues affecting our future and to build an agreed peaceful society shared by our divided peoples.
Development of Dialogue Practice
1997-1998 – Agreeing Peace
30 years of politico-sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland led to paramilitary cease-fires, political negotiations and a time of hope and tension as our future was negotiated behind closed doors.
A meeting of community activists considered how to respond. Agreement was reached that the future was too important to leave solely in the hands of politicians, that in order to secure lasting peace, the people must own the process. As the people were excluded; Community Dialogue was formed to:
• BROADEN ownership of the process of resolving our differences and agreeing our future.
• ENCOURAGE the people’s engagement in deliberative, consensus building dialogue on the critical issues affecting our future.
• BUILD a ladder of communication between civic society and the political negotiations, passing recommendations on to those negotiations.
1999-2009 – Embedding the Peace
Following referenda approving the Belfast Agreement, Community Dialogue refocused on managing the post conflict transition with those constituencies struggling to come to terms with the new dispensation; loyalists, republicans, victims and survivors and ex-combatants.
2010-2014 – Embracing Diversity
As society normalised, becoming more diverse; racism and other forms of intolerance were becoming more prominent while marginalised communities, excluded from the benefits of peace, remained hotbeds of sectarian tension and paramilitary criminality. We responded by broadening engagement to include ethnic and other minorities, challenging all forms of intolerance and increasing emphasis on empowering community capacity building training.
2015 – Galvanising the Peace
The Galvanising the Peace Working Group was established in early 2015 to explore current and future initiatives and outstanding issues affecting community relations and peace building work in Northern Ireland. In 2017, Community Dialogue produced the Galvanising the Peace Report which can be found in our resources section.
2016-Present – Increasing Participation in Future Building
The Agreement’s promise remained unfulfilled, Northern Ireland settled for peace through separation, institutionalised sectarian government was failing to respond to societal needs, power-sharing collapse and Brexit were increasing division, intolerance, exclusion and uncertainty.
Extensive consultation found that growing dissatisfaction with political failure to address shared social needs and with the imperative to vote on sectarian lines was mirrored by a growing hunger for alternative ways of resolving shared social issues. We responded by nurturing a non-party political civic society movement of participative democracy, articulating an agreed vision for the future and proposing practical responses to ongoing issues causing division, intolerance and exclusion.