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The Important Peacebuilding Work of North Ireland’s Religious Leaders

The Important Peacebuilding Work of North Ireland’s Religious Leaders


April 10th “marked the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, the deal that brought an end to a 30-year bloody conflict in Northern Ireland…The agreement created a power-sharing assembly, hoping that would stabilize a divided society.”

In The News:

“The conflict in Northern Ireland was mainly ethno-nationalist, with significant religious overtones…Could religious leaders have done more to help bring peace and reconcile the two sides? I have met many scholars and policymakers who feel that they should have. Perhaps. And yet they did a great deal more than is generally understood. Last year I published a book based on interviews and archival research, showing that the leaders of the four main churches involved — the Presbyterian Church, Church of Ireland (Anglican), Methodist Church and Roman Catholic Church — did indeed work hard to bring peace to Northern Ireland, even when their institutions didn’t fully support those efforts.”

Five ways religious leaders helped peacebuilding efforts:
(1) advised political leaders; (2) offered practical recommendations; (3) encouraged a common identity; (4) denounced violence; (5) kept communication lines open.

Support From Peace Science:

  • Religious actors can draw on their respected positions in society and assert their neutrality in order to build personal relationships with and influence multiple conflict parties during war and during peace negotiations.
  • Religious actors can also mobilize tools/resources particular to their religioustraditions—prayer, sacred texts, religious values, etc.—to persuade conflict parties and the broader public to abstain from violence and/or to participate in peacemaking and reconciliation efforts.


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