Renewed violence on Northern Ireland’s streets must not undermine the success of the EU-backed peace process, Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson insisted on Thursday.
Speaking at a Brussels conference showcasing the province as an example of how divided communities can be reunited, he said: “Recent events have shown that reconciliation and peace are very much still work in progress. But the lesson today is the same as it has always been - violence obtains nothing except harm to the perpetrators and the communities they claim to represent.
Active politics and rational dialogue offer the only way forward. This is the view shared by all of the political parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is only through dialogue in the absence of violence that situations can be worked out. “
He went on: “The difficulties of recent weeks must not be allowed to take the shine from the success of the tens of thousands of projects which have brought communities together in Northern Ireland in a spirit of reconciliation, hope and confidence in our future.”
Many of those projects have been funded partly by EU “PEACE” programmes launched in 1995 after pressure from Northern Ireland MEPs at the time John Hume, Jim Nicholson and former First Minister Ian Paisley.
Mr Robinson, addressing an audience including delegates from other trouble spots looking for answers, including the Balkans, Libya, the Basque region and Cyprus, praised the EU’s commitment to Northern Ireland over 18 years.
Pointing out that the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the EU last year in recognition of six decades of efforts towards peace, reconciliation and democracy in Europe, Mr Robinson added: “The PEACE programmes are a tangible example of this contribution, with almost two billion euro being committed through three successive programmes from 1995 to the end of 2013.”
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness told the conference that the PEACE programmes had played a substantial part in what had been achieved in Northern Ireland, and recent efforts to destabilise the peace process would not work because the vast majority of people wanted peace to succeed.;
“Recent events at home signal there is still work to be done. We have come too far to lose momentum and the progress that we have made. We are committed to the rule of law and the primacy of the political process. We deplore violence on our streets and are determined that communication and reconciliation are central to our shared future.”
The conference was shown three examples of schemes designed to bring communities together, including the “Theatre of Witness project which was shown to EU Regional Development Commissioner Johannes Hahn when he was in Derry in June 2011 for the opening of the EU-funded Peace Bridge. The theatre stages the true-life stories of those caught up in the conflict, As victims or activists - performances of suffering and redemption often acted out by the people themselves.
Mr Hahn told today’s conference: “I was overwhelmed by the people I met on that trip, people from both communities who bear the physical scars of the troubles. People who a few years back wished each other only harm are now working hand in hand to build a new shared future. Their passionate commitment and sheer determination are truly laudable.
“This is why I wanted to bring their experience to Brussels. I want the widest possible audience for their achievements because I believe other parts of the world may be able to learn from their work”.