BELFAST, April 23 (RIA Novosti), Mark Hirst – Two starkly opposed organizations in Belfast have joined forces to support an online course developed by Belfast University’s Institute of Irish Studies on the role of public spaces in reflecting diverse political and cultural identities.
Coiste na nIarchimí, a Belfast-based group of Irish Republican Army ex-prisoners and the loyalist Orange Order have both contributed to the initiative, which is hoped to have a positive impact not just in Ireland but in other conflict zones around the world.
Over 3,000 people have signed up for the course developed by Dr. Dominic Bryan. Bryan told RIA Novosti that while paramilitary violence had largely become a thing of the past, great tension still existed over the rights of the two communities to protest and organize parades.
“Our interest in this area clearly arises from the role played by parades and protests in Northern Ireland,” Bryan said.
“We arranged the involvement of Séanna Breathnach of Coiste na nIarchimí and the Reverend Mervyn Gibson of the Orange Order so that those taking the course could appreciate the importance of public space to people in the nationalist and unionist communities,” Bryan added.
Séanna Breathnach is a former IRA prisoner and a senior Irish republican figure, who in 2005 appeared on television to formally announce the end of the IRA’s “armed campaign.” The Reverend Mervyn Gibson is a prominent spokesman for Loyalism and the pro-UK Democratic Unionist Party.
Bryan added that despite bringing together opposing representatives in the conflict, the initiative was not claiming to have found a permanent solution to the ongoing contentious issues around carnivals, parades and protests.
“In no way are we suggesting that we have found resolutions to these difficult issues in Northern Ireland but rather than people appreciate the respective views,” he told RIA Novosti adding “in some ways I would argue that conflict over parades and protests is an indicator of the success of the peace process.”
“So whilst we have not resolved all of the difficult issues in Northern Ireland, and policing public space remains a difficult task, parades and protests are better than paramilitary violence,” Bryan said.