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Growing peace throughout the island

by Joan Fiesta
Civil Rights mural in the bog side.  Eamonn Deane's image is in the mural.Gerard Deane grew up near the Catholic neighborhoods of the Bogside and Creggan in Derry, Northern Ireland.  Growing up as the son of one of only two paid community workers in Derry, Gerard had a different experience towards understanding peace and reconciliation than most in the area.  Eamonn Deane, Gerard’s father, is a teacher and activist who fought for equal rights for all people in Northern Ireland.  Eamonn was witness to the 1972 Bloody Sunday Massacre, which occurred before Gerard was born in 1973. 
Gerard received his degree in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of Ulster, Magee Campus.  He was struck by the learning experience there in contrast to what he grew up with and knew.  The program materials covered the conflict in Ireland up until 1968 and then stopped at that point in time, despite the wide breadth of peace and conflict that could be researched in the immediate area surrounding the University. 
Ulster University Magee Campus Strand Road EntranceDuring Gerard’s last year at university, a group of 20 community activists traveled to Israel to learn about the peace process.  The majority of the group who attended the program in Israel used the information from that trip to continue to move towards peace and coexistence in Ireland.  Gerard was impressed by that example.  Though he wasn’t able to go to Israel in that first trip, Gerard was able to participate in organizing the subsequent 1994 exchange trip for Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews to come to Ireland.  After that, he continued to build his resume in working with the Journeys of Coexistence Project and the North-West Community Network

Gerard Deane in the temporary office home.
His work in peace and reconciliation sprung Holywell Consultancy.  The Consultancy has a different business model than most other organizations active in community building.  Many of the community building and activist network programs are non-profit and run off of grant funding.  Holywell Consultancy, however, is a for-profit social firm that contracts with various community agencies and their partners to provide them with program facilitation, policy-making assistance, and program evaluation.  While it is a “for-profit” business model, Gerard is clear that the profits are, in turn, used to run more work towards the peace process.  By consulting directly with community groups, the Holywell Consultancy helps plant the seeds for others to develop their own capacity for community building.
In working with the community groups who request the Consultancy’s service, Gerard cannot imagine success without dialogue being a basis for the process.  For example, if an agency employs the Consultancy to help create some sort of policy that will help in the governance of a project, it is important that he and his staff listen to those who will be affected by the policy.  For him to come in and say that a policy that worked for one group in Armagh will also work for the affected group in Sligo would not be appropriate or ethical to that group.  

Gerard recognized that there are a millions of stories that are part of the history of this island and that the eyes of the world tend to look back on Ireland as an example.  Though many may feel that they are on a small isolated island (an island, off of another island, off of a continent), the diaspora of Irish to other parts of the world puts the eyes of the world back on the island.  So the work that communities throughout Ireland complete is important to many in the world. 
The Diamond War Memorial

Gerard pointed out that community building is not related solely to The Troubles.  Some of the border counties, including Donegal and Sligo, do not necessarily have the same tangible effects from The Troubles that Derry and Belfast have.  There, however, are other hurts from history that communities may be working to reconcile.  County Sligo, which sits 30 miles beyond Northern Ireland’s border with the Republic, suffered a great human loss in World War I.  Sligo never had the chance to reconcile with both the human and economic tolls caused by approximately 1000 men from Sligo town and an additional 500 from the countryside marching off to war.  Over 400 of the men died in the war, but silence existed around the long-lasting effects of the loss.   Sligo, therefore, did not have healing opportunities.  Gerard’s group is consulting with local programs where remembrances around World War I and World War II lead to understanding about the processes of peace and reconciliation. 

Community reconciliation such as those around the Great World Wars are effective for people in the cross-border counties to understand reconciliation and healing.  They also help people in these locations to prepare for issues of future reconciliation needs, such as those involving non-traditional Irish, i.e. immigrants from different European countries and other continents.  Where the Irish are historically used to emigrating, membership in the European Union and a short-lived economic boom made both Northern Ireland and Ireland open to immigration.  Gerard is working to prepare people to positively deal with intercultural conflict as it arises.

Locally, Gerard actively collaborates with members of the DiverCity Community Partnership to transform the area around the Diamond into a place where people from all identities and backgrounds can safely meet.  He shares vision for The Diamond:  it will be an area that celebrates diversity, be a change from sectarianism and prejudice, and be a symbol of professional partnerships that promote working better and stronger together.
Part of this vision includes the new building that the DiverCity Community Partnership will work out of:  10-14 Bishop Street, right off of The Diamond.  This building will provide a shared space for public discussions, story-telling, and a garden.  It will have a youth area in the basement and office spaces at the top.  The offices will have community partnership entities that serve the various needs of the community, so that people can easily access different services.

The ground floor of the building is designed to be the place for storytelling and dialogue.  There is a large public meeting room in the front.  The back part of the ground floor will house a story-telling and collection area where two members of a family can come and record their stories.  Each family member will receive a copy of the recorded story and one will be housed in the building. 

Though initial plans for the building started in 2005, the project has taken some time, as well as a lot of collaboration and effort, just like the peace process.  Currently, a battleship grey-painted plywood wall and structural scaffolding along the facade mark the front of the building site.  Many of the community partners, including Gerard’s Holywell Consultancy, are wedged into a small temporary office off of The Diamond.  But when it is completed, the partners will take their places in a new building, built through collaborative effort.  It will help provide a space for people to discuss and reconcile with the experiences before and after 1968 and not ignore them…and Gerard’s been a part of it.

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