In November Michael Donnelly and Hanneke Verhoeven led a workshop in Belfast, Northern Ireland to consider the issue of sectarianism and its impact on society. It has been 17 years since Northern Ireland politicians signed a peace treaty promising a new era of harmony. While the violence largely subsided the institutions put in place only served to cement in place the divisions that existed in society. This is still a place where 95% of people live in communities of the same background religion and culture, where there are two segregated schooling systems, and where participative sports are chosen depending on your religion.
The workshop aimed to bring the effects of this invisible but pervasive segregation out into the public and to acknowledge the damage it causes to social, economic, and health outcomes.
A mix of academics, peace workers, community activists, local authority officers, business people, and social activists attended the workshop where they were challenged to come out of their comfort zones. They participated in exercises, conversations, presentations. A standout experience was the introduction of the Dutch Day of Dialogue process. Hanne Verhoeven presented the approach that has been used in the Netherlands since 2003 and which is now present in seven Countries. Participants enjoyed undertaking a dialogue circle and as a result of the session five participants are now working on formally establishing a “Day of Dialogue” in Northern Ireland.
(picture: Participants were asked to write down on boxes the blockages stopping Northern Ireland from progressing out of sectarianism. Here participants show their box.)