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Peacebuilding Post 2006
The need for a more expansive view of peacebuilding in Ireland

Brandon Hamber

Keynote address to the Peacebuilding Post 2006 Workshop, Fairways Hotel, Dundalk,
Co. Louth, Republic of Ireland, 4 February 2003

Peacebuilding as a concept has become increasingly popular over the 1990s. However, there are few common understandings of the term. Definitions seem to be context bound and vary between voluntary groups, communities at large, policy-makers, politicians and funders. This picture is complicated further when the concept of reconciliation is introduced into the mix. That said, I will not dwell on different definitions of peacebuilding, but at the outset would like to make one very basic distinction. I would like to differentiate between ‘peacemaking’ and ‘peacebuilding’. Norbert Ropers provides a broad definition of these when he writes: Peacemaking is understood to mean the attempt to tackle some concrete problem in a process that generally begins with a difference of interests, proceeds in the form of negotiations, and in the end—if successfully dealt with—leads to an agreement concerning the conduct of both sides. Peacebuilding, on the other hand, covers a wider area and, in most cases, a longer time-scale. Its aim is a change in the social structures underlying the conflict, and a change in the attitudes of the parties to the conflict (1).

It is the “wider area” of peacebuilding and “longer term time-scale” that I am concerned with in this talk. I am primarily interested in the ideas of building cultures of peace, reconciliation, attitudinal change, and altering the general political and social climate of the society over time. This is very different to thinking about peacebuilding as something akin simply to reconstruction, demobilisation and securing political agreement. Needless to say, using this broad approach makes reflecting on where peacebuilding may go in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland post-2006, challenging. To this end, I would like to draw out some broad points that will hopefully help frame the discussion. The first of these—as alluded to above—is that if we are talking about building peace in societies coming out of conflict we need to recognise, as obvious as it sounds, that it is a long-term, complex and non-linear process. As John Paul Lederach notes, what is needed for genuine peacebuilding is to: Explore peacebuilding as processes of change within a more expansive view of context and time relevant to but not limited by the discrete chronology entertained with the term post-agreement (2).

What this means is that we cannot tie peacebuilding—and in the context of today’s event, funding strategies for it—simply to the development of the so-called concrete markers of peace such as the signing of agreements, or the cessation of hostility. There is a marked difference between making peace and building peace as noted above. Building peace needs to be “expansive” in its horizon, operations and strategy, and operationalised tactically over time. Strategies for peacebuilding also need to reflect social complexity, rather than trying to manipulate and define it too rigidly. To this end, I was struck by the definition of reconciliation developed by ADM/CPA in their Programme for Peace and Reconciliation. This definition begins to tease out some of this complexity. The ADM/CPA define reconciliation as follows: "Reconciliation is a process whereby past trauma, injury and suffering is acknowledged and healing/restorative action is pursued; it is a process whereby relationship breakdown is addressed and sustainable relationships created; it is a process whereby the culture and structure which gives rise to conflict and estrangement are transformed or reconstructed with a view to creating an equitable, diverse and interdependent community"(3).

The programme goes on to produce a helpful matrix of reconciliation that stresses the different depths of reconciliation work (e.g. contact awareness understanding, joint projects, raising conflictual issues, and changing culture and structure). It also talks about the range of work needed including healing work, relationship building activities and reconstruction. I cannot do justice here to the complexity of their analysis in the input. However, I draw your attention to it as the matrix—and the above definition—are helpful on a number of levels. First, the definition notes that reconciliation is a process and not an outcome, or an event, or series of events and activities. The same can be said for peacebuilding. Second, it talks about the transformation of “culture” and “structure”. This encompasses the broad parameters of most useful definitions of peacebuilding and reconciliation, which generally involve structural change, but also attitudinal and social transformation. Transformation as a concept is also helpful, as it entails extensive, all-embracing and irreversible change. This, like the definition, implies an “expansive” view of peacebuilding and reconciliation. Taking all this into account, it leaves me with little doubt that much peacebuilding work will need to continue post-2006 in Ireland. However, a critical question remains. That is, does the current understanding and future vision of funding for peacebuilding in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland accommodate the complexity implied in the definition and matrix I mentioned?

In light of this question I would like to make three points concerning specific issues. Before doing that, however, I would like to note that I make these points within a context of appreciating the historical opportunity afforded by funding agencies, donors and the EU in the peace process in and about Northern Ireland. My comments will hopefully help refine and improve this process, rather than be used as a way of dismissing these valuable contributions. That said, my first point is that I am not convinced that implicit within current funding strategies is a genuine appreciation of what “a long-term” commitment to peacebuilding and reconciliation process is, and what this involves.

For example, at times, it appears that the funding environment is overly determined by technical language that favours outcomes over supporting process and long-term engagement. Often the method of evaluation and verification of funded work inadvertently drives the agenda, rather than the other way around. Although our deliberations today are broader than PEACE II, I use the example of the concept of “employability” implicit in much of its funding criteria as it provides for a good example. Of course, the concept of “employability” is helpful from some programmes where unemployment is critical—however, where it is used as a measure of success in other areas, I am less sure of its utility. For example, demanding that many victim groups orientate their work to ensure their members are employed, or trained with a specific skill, often misses the valuable work such groups are doing such as advocacy, commemoration, day-to-day support, giving people a voice, building cross-community relationships, and providing a listening ear. Concepts like “employability” often find their way into funding programmes because ‘levels of employment’ or ‘number of training sessions’ is quantifiable. They may not be the best measure available, or an accurate descriptor of what work is being undertaken, but they are easy to measure. The result is that the qualitative aspects of voluntary work—which is more difficult to measure in terms of impact—falls by the wayside, or is redefined with a whole new set of jargon. This can be problematic for peacebuilding, which by definition demands an “expansive” view of social reality not a limiting one.

Secondly—for the sake of debate—I would like to raise the issue of ‘target groups’. The funding process generally requires that proposals for peacebuilding highlight with whom the work is specifically taking place. Of course, this is necessary on some levels as certain groups such as women are marginalised and require specific attention. However, in deeply divided societies we need to be careful that such ‘targeting’ does not start to create more factions, and in so doing limit our view of social complexity. A “target group” is essentially a descriptive concept, a form of social short hand. “Target groups” generally bear little resemblance to actual social reality, which is always changing. Individuals generally fall into more than one category simultaneously. As such, we need to be careful not to use loose descriptive concepts like “targets groups” as if they are explanations of how our society is structured. If we do this it is easy to start to believe our own rhetoric of what a divided society looks like. This can confuse cause and effect. Being overly wedded to “target groups” can result in the funding of pockets of work in “high impact” areas or to specific groups. This can continue to perpetuate the idea that conflict has its roots specific areas, or is caused by difference between specific individuals and groups. As such large-scale political conflict stops being a society-wide phenomenon and we treat the symptom as if it was a cause.

Recently, I wrote: "…injecting funds and developing evidence-based economic programmes and training in “target areas” in a specific timeframe…is meant to create stability and increase opportunities for peace and reconciliation over time. At the same time, other communities do not require the same level of attention as they are already developed economically. This creates the first problem. This reasoning implies that the conflict in Northern Ireland was only about these so-called discrete communities that show high disadvantage. It sustains the myth that conflict in society can erupt in certain areas and sustain itself in isolation. This further erroneously implies that genuine reconciliation is not about dealing with difference between social groupings and classes across society, but about moving those from ‘troubled’ areas on to the same footing as everyone else and this will solve the problem. This may well help, but it is doubtful if it is that simple in a deeply divided society (4)".

I am not completely against ‘targeting’, but all too often I have seen how it limits the horizons of peacebuilding, rather than expanding them. We need to consider the issue more seriously. This leads me to my third point, namely that I am of the opinion that the best vehicle for safeguarding democracy in the future and embedding peace in any society is through ensuring a healthy, vibrant and active civil society. Voluntary and community groups being forced to only offer clear “project work” often means that groups get caught up with their deliverables and how much funding they get from donors, rather than understanding their role as being first and foremost about ensuring long-term interaction with local and national governments. In my opinion, many in the peacebuilding field in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are failing to fully comprehend this point, and the extent of what is needed in a post-settlement phase.

Independent civil society, or what Goulding calls “non-aligned local institutions” (6) need to be built, protected and given sufficient resources to evolve into critical peacemaking partners. To build peace over time we need to be maintain structures in society that can continue to enhance citizenship, ensure public access to political institutions, and guarantee an ongoing public shaping of government and government policy. This view of the need to build civil institutions is not always compatible with funding strategies that demand a short-term and project-driven focus. Ensuring organisations can be maintained requires a more “expansive” view of why and how civil society orientated work should be supported. Peacebuilding is not only about conflict resolution and management, or supporting those victimised by violence. What is needed is a move away from an obsession with project-deadlines and targets with more attention being given to how do we deliver a sustainable independent, active and cross-community civil society in the years to come. This is the task of funding agencies, government and organisations. Much work will need to be done with voluntary groups and funding agencies alike so they can recognise the imperative of this, and address their own internal challenges and limits to their vision of long-term peacebuilding. Of course, monitoring and evaluation needs to be part of this. However, the building of organisational capacity and enhancing public participation long into the future needs to become a respected goal of peacebuilding work in its own right.

What I have said, is naturally open to challenge. I know the response to my comments only too well. That is, political and economic reality cannot always guarantee long-term funding. It is easier to justify short-term, results orientated and delivery orientated programmes, especially ones that fit with government funding cycles. My response to this is simple. Although peacemaking is a pragmatic task, peacebuilding is a vision orientated task. If fiscal and political pragmatism is allowed to determine an agenda for peace, peacebuilding is doomed from the outset. We have a long way to go in developing this vision. One of the funding agencies’ tasks in this should be to assist in creating an enabling environment in which an appropriate vision can be realised. To this end—and in conclusion—I think some specific practical issues may need to be considered as we look to post-2006 in Ireland.

These points are extracted from international experience and my work with the Office of Psychosocial Issues at the Free University in Berlin (7). They are:

1. Core costs need to be recognised as instrumental to building organisations over time. This building of non-aligned and active organisations is the best way to protect peace in the long-run. As I noted above, building civil society in itself needs to become a respected goal of peacebuilding work in its own right.;

2. We need to constantly remind ourselves that community development is not a linear process. To put it glibly, programmes in peacebuilding are often structured on a “health to wealth to nothing” model. The logic of this is that following conflict we need to first mend people’s physical and mental health, then we need to move to job-creation and get them employed ensuring they will become self-sustainable, and funding can be withdrawn. The process of peacebuilding is unfortunately more enigmatic than that and is never linear—investments must be long-term and funding structures capable of adaptation and change;

3. We need to analyse our use and reliance on the concept of sustainability. Do we really know what sustainability means? We need to accept that most voluntary agencies see the word ‘sustainability’ as a code for ‘the money is running out, find a way to support yourself’. This is aggravated by the fact that funding agencies do not seem to have a unified view of what sustainability is and how it can be practically achieved;

4. Money and funding is very helpful in financing peacebuilding programmes, but peace in itself cannot be bought. Although the colloquial phrase often heard in Northern Ireland “peace by prosperity” may hold some truth, employment and social reconstruction will not in themselves ameliorate sectarian attitudes, or ensure a culture of peace and tolerance. We need to focus on the ‘software’ of peacebuilding through programmes for peace that aim to transform attitude and culture;

5. In terms of outcomes for projects, we need to break ‘the culture of lies’. Funders often know that when voluntary groups fill in evaluation forms and tick outcome and indicator boxes they are not accurately reflecting what they do. Funded organisations also know when they write proposals they are merely trying to squeeze their work into predetermined guidelines losing the full complexity of their work. It is a shared and tolerated “lie”. Let us acknowledge this. To this end, more sophisticated models of evaluating the impact of social interventions are needed from funders. In turn, voluntary groups need to learn to describe what they do more accurately. In addition, they need to extensively document what they do so that qualitative evaluation can replace a quantitative approach, which will never adequately represent social reality.

6. Finally, we need to continue to interrogate what we mean by a long-term and strategic approach to peacebuilding. In this paper, I have chosen to call this—borrowing from John-Paul Lederach—an “expansive” view of peacebuilding. We need to refine this message so that politicians and the public at large can champion the cause in a way that is appreciative of the long-term project ahead. To this end, developing a vision that is truly expansive—yet underpinned with pragmatism—needs to remain the ultimate goal.


(1) Ropers, N. (1995). Peaceful Intervention: Structures, Processes and Strategies for the Constructive Resolution of Ethnopolitical Conflicts. Berghof Report No. 1., p.37. See

(2) John Paul Lederach (2002). The Horizon of Peacebuilding: The Strategic Challenges of Post Agreement Change. RIREC Conference, September 26, 2002

(3) ADM/CPA Programme for Peace and Reconciliation (2000). Reconciliation Report: Southern Border Counties in Ireland. Monaghan: ADM/CPA Programme for Peace and Reconciliation,

(4) Hamber, B. (2002). Maximising our contributions to building peace and reconciliation. Paper presented at the Standing Community Convention 16 December 2002, Armagh City Hotel, Northern Ireland. See

(5) Catherine Barnes (Ed), (2002), Owning the process: Public participation in peacemaking, Accord: an International review of peace initiatives. London: Conciliation Resources. See

(6) These points have largely been developed in a broad international frame with some reference to Northern Ireland, but also elsewhere. They were developed in conjunction with the Office of Psychosocial Issues at the Free University in Berlin with whom I collaborate. I am specifically appreciative to Dr David Becker, as some these points have developed directly from his international experience in Bosnia and elsewhere, and discussions between with him.

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