Northern Ireland Hosts Second Annual Forum for Cities in Transition
May 20, 2011
Office of Communications
The Northern Ireland Peace Process will take center stage as leaders from 12 cities from across the globe converge in Derry/Londonderry next week for the second annual conference of the Forum for Cities in Transition (FCT). The conference runs from May 23-26.
Senior negotiators from all sides of the Northern Ireland conflict will share with their international audience decisions on ending the violence, the steps to creating a negotiating structure, the process of negotiations, and how differences were dealt with and compromises agreed on.
“Northern Ireland is in many ways more advanced in our peace process than many of the countries participating in the conference,” chairperson Angela Askin said. “We have developed a conference program to showcase the achievements of our city and illustrate how we have brought our two communities together.”
The Forum for Cities in Transition, established by University of Massachusetts Boston professor and Ireland native Padraig O’Malley, is an international network of mayors, councilors, municipal officials, business people, and representatives of the voluntary and community sector. The forum works on the principle that cities that are in conflict or have emerged from conflict are in the best position to help other cities in the same situation.
The 12 cities participating in the conference include: Belfast, Beirut, Kirkuk, Kaduna, Nicosia, Jerusalem, Haifa, Mitte, Mitrovicë/Kosovska Mitrovica, Mostar, Nicosia, and Ramallah.
Participating cities will get the opportunity to interact with these negotiators with a view to finding ways of adapting features of the peace process to their own situations. It will create a network of communication and a cadre of seasoned negotiators the attending cities can draw on for advice.
The forum was established in April 2009.
The inaugural conference of the FCT took place in Mitrovicë/Kosovska Mitrovica in May 2010 with delegations from nine cities (75 people) participating. At the conference’s end each city made a commitment to undertake a project to enhance reconciliation among its own communities, or to assist Mitrovicë/Kosovska Mitrovica move forward in its difficult path to transition. The Northern Ireland cities’ commitments were clear in this regard.
The forum asks for a commitment from each city to carry out a project that will further transition, reconciliation, or development in its own city or to help one of its sister cities where its expertise in a particular area, like police reform, can be of significant benefit. Commitments are designed so that cities on the higher rungs of transition assist those on the lower rungs, with the premise that divided cities collectively can do what they cannot do individually.
The process is reciprocal because in serving their sister cities, those further along in transition are sharply reminded of where they once were, where they are now, and where they hope to go in continuing their own processes of transition and reconciliation.
One of the most successful outcomes pledged last year in Mitrovica included a training seminar hosted by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) for members of Kosovo’s Police Service (KPS), which took place May 2-7 in Belfast and Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
As part of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which brought peace to Northern Ireland after 35 years of conflict, the old police service –-the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), which was 90 percent Protestant, loathed by the Catholic community, and a frequent target of the IRA – had to be completely rebuilt. The RUC was disbanded and replaced with a police service representative of both communities and acceptable to both sides. This process took ten years to complete and resulted in full decommissioning of arms by the IRA in 2007 and the acknowledgement that the conflict was over.
The task the KPS faces is similar: it has to build a police force acceptable to both Albanian and Serbian communities in Mitrovicë/Kosovska Mitrovica.
A senior PSNI official speaking anonymously at the conclusion of the training remarked that for them, the KPS visit couldn’t have happened at a better time, due to many incidents and difficulties they have faced including the recent killing of a young officer in Omagh.
He was surprised at how powerful the exchange was and the effect it had on his own officers that were involved with the visit, in telling their own stories to their KPS counterparts. This was an opportunity for the PSNI to showcase their transition and pause to look for themselves at what they have actually achieved within the force and their communities. The exchange was deemed a success and future seminars are expected between the Northern Ireland and Kosovo officers.