William (Bill) Peters, co founder of Jubilee 2000 and joint recipient of the Gandhi Foundation Peace Award in 2000

It is with sadness that the Gandhi Foundation has heard of the death of Bill Peters recently. He received the Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award in 2000 along with Martin Dent, co-founder of Jubilee 2000. He received the Cross of St Michael and St George (awarded for non military service in a foreign country) and the Lieutenant of the Victorian Order (awarded for service to the Queen and is a personal award by her). He was a former diplomat who devoted his life to public service and was the co-founder of the Jubilee 2000 Drop the Debt campaign.

Bill Peters

Bill Peters

Bill Peters who died peacefully in the early hours of Saturday March 29th was born at Morpeth, Northumberland, on September 28th 1923. The son of a cabinet maker and a light opera singer, he followed a distinguished career in the Foreign Office with a very active retirement devoted to public service. The highlight of his career after retirement was his co-founding, with Martin Dent of Keele University, of the hugely influential Jubilee 2000 Drop the Debt coalition, which went on to become the Make Poverty History movement with Jubilee 2000 itself then becoming the Jubilee Debt campaign.

Bill proved himself a formidable scholar in his time at King Edward IV Grammar School and secured a place at Oxford to study Greats at the age of 17, but as with so many young men at the time, his studies were interrupted by World War II. At this time of uncertainty, he married his first wife, Catherine Bailey, known as Kit, in 1944 before deployment to Burma where he saw active service with the 9th Ghurkha rifles. His time with his regiment, which on his arrival in Burma turned out to include a number of Tibetans, made a deep impression on Bill and saw the beginning of a lifelong association both with the Ghurkhas and with the Tibet Foundation, to which he was passionately committed for the rest of his life, meeting with the Dalai Lama several times on the latter’s visits to London.

After the war, Bill returned to the UK to take up his place at Balliol College Oxford, completing his studies in 1948, and going on to do an M.Lit. at the LSE and languages at SOAS. Bill then joined the Colonial Service with a posting in 1950 to what was then the Gold Coast where he worked to prepare for the transition to independence and was asked by the head of state for the new Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, to remain in an advisory capacity. After some thought, Bill decided his career must continue to lie with the Diplomatic service and the Foreign Office and went on to postings in Cyprus, Bangladesh, Australia, India, Zambia and Malawi as well as other appointments further detailed in Who’s Who. During his time in Ghana, Bill was invited to speak to local school children and gave a speech stressing that they could achieve anything they set out to do. In the audience was a young Kofi Annan, who went on to become Secretary General of the United Nations. When they met many years later, Annan told Bill that he still remembered Bill’s inspiring speech.

In 1977, Bill was offered the post of British Ambassador to Uruguay, an exciting role but a dangerous posting, as a recent former incumbent had been kidnapped and held to ransom for several months. After some deliberation, Bill accepted and his time in Uruguay passed without serious incident. Notably Bill made a point of asking to visit political prisoners, a request which was surprisingly granted. During a prison visit Bill met a concert pianist desperate to practice in the hope of eventual release and was subsequently allowed to deliver a silent keyboard to enable him to do so. Afterwards, Bill was informed that his life might be in danger as a result of his actions and took the step of making it clear to anyone who might be interested that he carried a pistol with him at all times.

Bill went on to work as High Commissioner in Malawi before retiring from the Foreign Office in 1983. On retirement, Bill and Kit moved to Deal in Kent. There they took an active part in community life, with Bill spending 18 years as a Governor of Walmer school as well as twice becoming president of the local Rotary Club and being an active member of the Royal British Legion as well as numerous national organisations and charities including U.S.P.G., the Churches Refugee Network and the Tibet Foundation.

A few years after retirement Bill met Martin Dent of Keele University and realised that Martin shared Bill’s long-held concern at what they both considered to be unsustainable levels of third world debt. This shared concern crystallised into a campaign, which Bill and Martin co-founded, to write off third-world debt in time for the Millennium. They called the campaign Jubilee 2000 in reference to the Old Testament Jubilee requirement to cancel debts every seven years. Bill’s diplomatic skills were invaluable in launching Jubilee 2000 and helping steer it through early hurdles as it gathered momentum. It was supported by the Anglican Church, with Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, addressing a rally in Trafalgar Square with Bill and Martin and making Jubilee 2000 the subject of his New Year’s Day Millennium address on BBC 1. Gordon Brown, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, also spoke at a rally in St Paul’s Cathedral, strongly supporting the campaign and confirming the cancellation of debts to the UK.

During this time, Bill’s wife Kit, who was several years older than Bill, passed away in 1998 after a brief illness. Bill continued to play an active role in the Drop the Debt campaign in the lead up to the Millennium, seeing it grow into a series of large- scale demonstrations and twice enter the Guinness book of records, once for the largest petition and once for the most international petition. The campaign launched major demonstrations at every G8 summit from 1998 in Birmingham to Cologne and Genoa with a few people even travelling to Okinawa in Japan, where Bill was able to speak with the Japanese Prime Minister.

Bill received the Gandhi International Peace Award from the Gandhi Foundation in recognition of his efforts and of the success of the Jubilee 2000 campaign, which ‘made possible the provision of basic education and health-care to thousands of people.’

In his later years, Bill retained his keen interest in politics and continued to be an active supporter of the now Jubilee Debt Campaign and of other charities. In 2004 he married his second wife, Gillian Casebourne, whom he met through his charity work. Bill is survived by Gill and her two daughters, as well as by his nieces and nephews.

William Peters, born September 28 1923, died March 29 2014

The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award 2013

Jeremy Corbyn with The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award 2013

Jeremy Corbyn with The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award 2013

The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award for 2013 was awarded to Jeremy Corbyn, MP Islington North on 26th November 2013 at Portcullis House.

Thank you to all who attended

You can read Jeremy Corbyn’s speech by clicking here
You can also view photographs of the event by scrolling down the right hand column of our homepage to reach the Photo Gallery

The Trustees of The Gandhi Foundation agreed to offer him our International Peace Award in recognition of his consistent efforts over a 30 year Parliamentary career to uphold the Gandhian values of social justice and non‐violence. Besides being a popular and hard‐working constituency MP he has made time to speak and write extensively in support of human rights at home and world‐wide. His committed opposition to neocolonial wars and to nuclear weapons has repeatedly shown the lack of truth in the arguments of those who have opposed him.

http://www.jeremycorbyn.org.uk/

http://www.stopwar.org.uk/

Father Alec Reid – 2008 Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award recipient

Father Alec Reid

Father Alec Reid

Sadly Father Alec Reid, who received The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award in 2008 along with Rev. Harold Good, died on 22nd November 2013 aged 82 years. His role in the disarmament process in Northern Ireland, the victory of non-violence over violence, and the bringing together of the Catholic and Protestant communities with Rev. Harold Good were significant milestones on the road to peace. You can read an account of the 2008 award and speeches by clicking:

http://gandhifoundation.org/2008/10/30/2008-peace-award-annual-lecture-harold-good-alec-reid/

The Daily Telegraph obituary can be read here:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/10468267/Father-Alec-Reid-Obituary.html

The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award 2012

The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award 2012

has been awarded to

The St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital Group

For their humanitarian work in very difficult circumstances and for bringing people together through that work for the betterment of all.

The St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital team receiving the 2012 Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award award from the President of the Gandhi Foundation, Lord Bhikhu Parekh

In a letter to Philip Hardaker, Peace Award Committee Convenor Omar Hayat wrote that, “The Trustees felt that the Eye Hospital has been guided by one of the highest forms of humanitarian ideals, that of bringing medical care to an impoverished and politically unstable area.”

After acknowledging the cost of preventable blindness to the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and the poverty-relieving nature of the work that they do, Omar Hayat continued, “The charity in performing this work has engaged all communities in that area and in doing so, we believe, is helping to find common ground between the different people of that region.”

The Joint Teaching Programmes with the Hadassah and Shaare Zedek Medical Centres in Israeli West Jerusalem have not only permitted the local Palestinian Residents to benefit from outstanding educational opportunities, but have brought them into direct and intimate contact with their Israeli neighbours for over ten years now.

In response to news of the award, Mr Hardaker said, “We have always hoped that – in some small way – this project was helping to facilitate trust and understanding.  The Hospital Group is both delighted and humbled to have been awarded this symbolic honour.”

http://www.stjohneyehospital.org/

The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award 2011

India in Chronic Famine, Funded From London

By John Rowley

Presentation of The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award for 2011 jointly to Dr Binayak Sen (left) and Bulu Imam (right) and presented by Lord Bhikhu Parekh (centre).

 

The Gandhi International Peace Award was established by Lord Richard Attenborough, Surur Hoda, Diana Schumacher and Martin Polden in 1998 “to honour unsung heroes and heroines for their advocacy and practise of Non-Violence”. The Gandhi Foundation’s Vice-President, Lord Bhikhu Parekh presented the much delayed 2011 Award jointly to Dr Binayak Sen and Bulu Imam, the cultural activist, ‘for their humanitarian work’ amongst the tribal peoples of India, the Adivasis, on 12th June in The House of Lords.

Dr Binayak Sen is a highly respected expert on children’s health and has become a very effective human rights campaigner. He was made an Amnesty Prisoner of Conscience in 2007 and is still on bail despite being released twice by the Indian Supreme Court. He is currently under charge for Sedition. One reason for his oppression by the Chhattisgarh State is his criticism of their health care system. In his speech, he argued from his Government’s own statistics that India has been, and remains, in a state of chronic famine and that the hardest hit are, yet again, the impoverished and the dispossessed. He showed how the Indian Government has enacted increasingly draconian laws designed to eliminate dissent and implemented them through the Courts, the police and the Army. He said that all of this is being done in collusion with multi-national corporations under the banner of neo-liberal capitalism and so they are jointly responsible for both the famine and the widespread abuses of human rights.  Dr Felix Padel told us that global mining strategy and much of the funding for its implementation is decided in the City of London and that, therefore, the Coalition must demand the same transparency in the mining and construction industries as they are now demanding of the banks.  Bulu Imam, joint Recipient of the Award, said that only a ‘New Consciousness’ would allow humankind to survive. This meant greater understanding and insight into what is really happening around us, learning from peoples like the Adivasis, who are directly in touch with the elements of life, and for us to behave less selfishly and more for the benefit of others.

                                                                    —————

Dr Sen’s speech was entitled “Hunger, Dispossession and the Legitimacy of Dissent”. He produced figures from The National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau whose latest survey show that between 45% to 47% of children under 5,  37% of the whole adult population and an astonishing 60% of Minorities and Scheduled Castes are malnourished by weight-for-age criteria, that is, Body Mass Index. The World Health Organisation declares a famine when more than 40% of a nation’s peoples have a BMI less than 18.5.

The Adivasis, with whom he has worked for 30 years, have been able to survive the famine only because their traditions dictate that all have equal access to their common property – land, water, shelter and crops. Since Rajiv Gandhi opened India to foreign investment, the State has increasingly “acted as the Guarantor to the expropriation of common property resources, handing them over to corporate interests under the doctrine of Eminent Domain, through which the State is the ultimate owner of all the resources in the country”.  And so, for decades, the vast resources of minerals, from bauxite to coal, under Adivasi land – never paid for at anything like the true ‘capitalist market rate’ – has been mined at an increasing rate, their valleys dammed for power, factories built and top flight transport systems to serve them. PM Manmohan Singh is celebrated as a key figure in India’s spectacular economic development but he and his Government brook no opposition.  He called the Naxalite insurgency in the so-called Red Corridor [from Jharkand to Andra Pradesh] ‘the greatest threat to India’s security’ and in 2009 launched Operation Greenhunt deploying a huge array of the armed service to target the so-called Naxalites – actually The Communist Party of India [Maoist]. As usual, this is having its most devastating impact on the people caught in between – the Adivasis.

As more and more mines, factories, dams and roads are built on their land, 70 million Adivasis and many other Minorities have been purposively starved, dispossessed, impoverished, physically violated with impunity, falsely imprisoned and barred from fair judicial process or suffered all six.  Dr Sen pointed out that, quite obviously, resistance had to be organised if they were to survive these onslaughts. “But they and others right across India are now faced with a panoply of laws, old and new, that severely restrict free speech and any form of protest. However peaceful and non-violent these protests are, they are branded as ‘sedition’, ‘rebelliousness’ or  ‘insurgency’. Too often protests are met with violence by police, army and corporate goondas. There are thousands of people in jail right now, just like me, who have been convicted under false charges. I am one of the very few lucky ones. I have been granted bail twice by The Supreme Court who stated ‘that no evidence had been produced by the Chhattisgarh Government’, but I still await a final judgement.”

How can peace be achieved when both sides resort to violence? Dr Felix Padel suggested that India needs its own model of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The UK Coalition and The City would have to appear. The Foreign Office and the Departments for Business and International Development all share a current duty of care to show us the effects of their actions with our money and also to demand that all corporate communications and financial transactions in the UK are made transparent. For here in The City, Dr Padel pointed out, is: “The global centre for coordinating corporate investment in mining and now hosts the vast majority of the corporate headquarters, their Banks and their financiers.  It is imperative that we can all see the link between  decisions made here and the actual impact they have on real people and environments.  There should be an Independent Commission into the Mining Industry, stronger even than the Vickers Commission on Banking, as equivalent scandals wait to be revealed there too”.

Dr Padel said that there is colossal ignorance here in the UK about what many call India’s Civil or Hidden War.  Too often this can be labelled ‘wilful ignorance’, that is, not knowing what you should know.  One professor in statistics at the prestigious Indian Institute of Statistics in Kolkata estimated that the professionals involved in designing, building and managing an Aluminium factory or dam were aware of only 2% of the effects their projects have on local communities and ecosystems.  But there is what could be called ‘purposeful ignorance’ – hiding facts intentionally, not telling the Whole Truth, lying by omission. There has also been a noticeable lack of press coverage in the UK of the War and its causes.  This has ensured that few people have any understanding of the violence and corruption which we, as a people, are indirectly causing – ‘innocent ignorance’? “Many, including Arundhati Roy, have unpicked and exposed the links between the elites of corporate elites, politicians, armed services, bankers, big philanthropists and media owners and are not surprised at our collective ignorance. She and many others contradicting the image of India as a model of democracy and economic success have been vilified, spied upon, attacked and falsely accused. ”

Joint Recipient Bulu Imam called for “A New Consciousness”. We need Satyagrahas for the 21st Century, in other words, Citizens who take responsibility for understanding their society, act solely for the welfare of others and who are prepared to offer their lives in the pursuit of justice. He said that “industrial civilization is an aberrant civilization. It has strayed from the path of Nature. It has made war, brutality and profit a path without compassion or hope. It heralds planetary catastrophe from causing global warming. India with its older order of ancient spiritual values, non-violence toward man and nature, tolerance and psychological fulfillment still stands ready, even now, to show the way. The culture of the Adivasis, developed centuries before we arrived, offers us that very model. From them we can all learn, we can each learn how to become non-violent within, towards each other and to the planet.  All of us here must act now to stop all these self-centred forces destroying these fragile and exemplary communities and their priceless eco-systems. Once you see the links between your life and theirs, you will understand that their struggle is our struggle and you will foresee that only profound mutual aid between all the planet’s communities can save some of us from the apocalypse rushing towards us.”

An hour’s lively debate ensued. From the 90 distinguished guests packed into Committee Room 4a, the Panel could respond to only a few of the comments and questions clamouring to be heard. Those chosen were Martin Horwood MP [LibDem & Chair, The All Party Parliamentary Group on Tribal Peoples], Bianca Jagger, Aruna Roy, Professors John Gilbert and Narinder Kapur, C B Patel, Colin Bex, Antony Copley, Martin Polden and Jennifer Wallace. Whilst all admired our two Recipients, there was little consensus on the way forward. The Gandhi Foundation would like to facilitate discussion and so will shortly publish here on our website, an edited transcription of the key points raised.

The question now facing The Gandhi Foundation is “What are we going to do about this?”

If you are still unconvinced that Non-violent Direct Action against the violence being perpetrated by the Indian Government is required urgently, read Cathy Scott-Clark’s article about Kashmir. She heads it with a quote “We Need Protection” [www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jul/09/mass-graves-of-kashmir]. She reveals the atrocities – extra-judicial murder, torture and other illegal human rights abuses – that the Indian Army has committed in Kashmir. We now know that they behave no differently under “Operation Greenhunt”.

If you would like to see one example of how The Gandhi Foundation can be effective, albeit indirectly and in a very small way, then read Decca Aitkenhead’s article on Clive Stafford Smith which she also heads with a quote: “The jury system in this country is utter insanity” [www.guardian.co.uk/law/2012/jul/08/clive-stafford-smith-jury-system-insanity].  You will notice that Clive has included “The Gandhi International Peace Award 2005” as the only other point worth mentioning in his CV.

Finally, why don’t you compare the laws against Terrorism and other forms of Dissent in India with our own?

John Rowley is a Trustee of The Gandhi Foundation and Project Manager for The Gandhi International Peace Award 2011.

To view Bulu Imam’s speech: The Need For A New Consciousness by Bulu Imam

To view Dr Binayak Sen’s speech: Click Here

To view the photographs from the event click on the photo gallery in the right hand column of the homepage

The Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture and Peace Award – 2010

 

 

Ali Abu Awwad and Robi Damelin of the Parents Circle Families Forum holding The Gandhi Foundation Peace Award for 2010

 

This year the Gandhi Foundation’s Annual Lecture and Peace Award took place on the 3rd November in the House of Lords, in a session chaired by Lord Bhikhu Parekh, Vice President of The Gandhi Foundation.  Lord Parekh welcomed the guests and introduced Omar Hayat, a Trustee of The Gandhi Foundation who then explained why the Parents Circle Family Forum (PCFF) had been chosen as recipients of the 2010 International Peace Award. Omar described how when researching the PCFF after they had been nominated he began to feel both hope and sorrow: hope in that such initiatives were taking place, and sorrow that there is need for such an organisation.

The PCFF is a grassroots organization of bereaved Palestinians and Israelis, families who have lost loved ones to violence in the conflict. It promotes reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge. Each year they arrange hundreds of dialogue encounters between Israelis and Palestinians, to promote mutual understanding.

In 2009 the Peace Award had been received by the Children’s Legal Centre (CLC)  in recognition of their work representing young and vulnerable children worldwide. In that ceremony Denis Halliday had presented the award to Professor Carolyn Regan, the Director of the CLC. Professor Regan gave an outline of some of the work that the CLC does: providing individual legal advice, telephone helplines and upholding children’s rights in many countries across the world, including some of the poorest. Then Professor Carolyn presented this year’s award jointly to Robi Damelin and Ali Abu Awwad, who are Public Relations officer and Programme manager of PCFF respectively.

Both Robi and Ali each gave a short acceptance speech. Robi mentioned that she had a family connection to Gandhi in that one of her relatives was Hermann Kallenbach who gave Gandhi the land for the ashram known as Tolstoy Farm in South Africa and was one of Gandhi’s closest friends. Robi said that for her joining the PCFF was a way of making a difference by understanding the shared pain that Israelis and Palestinians both experience, and that she chooses to prevent other families from experiencing this pain.

Ali talked about some of his history as a prisoner of the Israelis, and reading about Gandhi on hunger strike. He said that the next generation will be the evidence for our movement today. Ali said he hoped that our vision will be shared and joined in a structure of making peace in the Middle East and everywhere.

Following on from the Peace Award, the Annual Lecture took the form of a panel discussion, looking at the Middle East conflict from the point of view of non-violence. The members of the panel were: Robi Damelin, Israeli representative from the PCFF; Ali Abu Awwad, Palestinian representative from the PCFF; Denis Halliday, former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, Humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, and Patron of the Gandhi Foundation; Huw Irranca-Davies, MP and Patron of the PCFF. Lord Parekh asked the members of the panel to each speak for a few minutes before the session would be opened to speakers from the floor.

Robi started by stating that the long-term goal of the PCFF was to create a framework for a reconciliation process to be in place for when political agreements are signed. She outlined various initiatives that the PCFF is currently engaged in, including lobbying of politicians.

Ali posed the question – what could lead to freedom as a nation. His answer was that there were two ways: one to work on themselves, to create this structure, the other is reconciliation. To leave the occupation and the memories of the occupation behind. Ali expressed his belief that they would one day be free. Perhaps not in his lifetime, but it would happen.

Denis Halliday started by saying he was concerned firstly by the violations of human rights in respect of the Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem, on the West Bank, and in Gaza. His second concern is with the people of Israel itself: while Israel persists in aggressive military occupation, sets aside the human rights of the Palestinians, and until she shows respect for her neighbours and all of her own people and understands the importance of living together in dignity without humiliation then the future of Israeli wellbeing is in doubt.

Denis Halliday (r) previous recipient of the Peace Award and patron of The Gandhi Foundation with Huw Irranca-Davies (c) MP and Patron of the PCFF

Denis cast doubt on the role of the United States as a broker of peace in the region, and called for the other nations of the region such as Turkey and Egypt to become more involved in finding solutions to the conflict.  He referred to the US and Israel as rogue states. Having mentioned that the United States channels billions of dollars annually to Israel, which is mostly used for military purposes, Denis called for a massive injection of cash to help the Palestinians. He also said he wanted to encourage the Palestinians and the Israelis to imbue in their children love and understanding for peace.

Huw Irranca-Davies spoke next, referring to himself as a hopeless naïve. Huw said he had first come across the PCFF in Palestine when he was visiting there with the Labour Friends of Israel and the Labour Middle East Council. In the back room of a bar they listened to stories where individuals were faced with tragedy and bereavement but chose not to hurtle towards anger but to go in the other direction, and indeed to encourage others to go along with them. Huw said he is a Patron of the PCFF because there is something transformative about the idea that summer camps, telephone lines between the different sides, and working in schools can make a difference.

Lord Parekh then invited contributions from the floor. The first speaker expressed the view that peace and security are two sides of the same coin: there can be no peace without security and there can be no security without peace. The second said that he felt that ‘the Irish gentleman’ (Denis Halliday) made a diatribe against Israel and that it was unhelpful in the situation, and it made it difficult to move forward.

Following the next two speakers from the floor, Robi spoke and said that they all had made statements, not questions. She asked that if you care about the Israelis and the Palestinians, then help us to find a way to reconcile, do not create another conflict by making people be on the defensive – it doesn’t help. Robi said that she would appreciate questions that have to do with the human side, not politics.

Lord Bhikhu Parekh (r) Vice-President of The Gandhi Foundation

Ali appealed for people not to be part of the problem, but to be part of the solution. He also said that the Palestinians cannot live like they do forever – something has to change.

There were some further contributions from the floor, commented upon by the panellists, before Lord Parekh summed up by referring back to the conflicts that Gandhi was concerned with: between Muslims and Hindus; the British rulers and the Indian people; the orthodox Hindus and the untouchables. Gandhi did not face anything quite like the current conflict in the Middle East, but the principles by which he lived are relevant today.

Trevor Lewis
- Executive committee member of  The Gandhi Foundation

 

If you would like to read the introduction to The Gandhi Foundation Award by Omar Hayat and why the Parents Circle Family Forum was chosen please click on the Link below:

Introducing the Gandhi Foundation Peace Award 2010 to PCFF- Omar Hayat

 

If you would like to read the presentation speech by Professor Carolyn Regan, Director of the Children’s Legal Centre – last years peace award recipient, please click on the link below:

Presenting the 2010 award to PCFF by Carolyn Regan of the Children’s Legal Centre

The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award and Annual Lecture 2010

To be presented to the
Parents Circle Families Forum

Wednesday 3rd November

6 – 8pm (seated by 5.45pm)

at The House of Lords
Room 4A

This year the Annual Lecture will take the form of a panel discussion with the following distinguished members:

  • The Parents Circle Families Forum (2 representatives: 1 Israeli and 1 Palestinian)
  • Denis Halliday – former Assistant General Secretary of the UN, who was on the recent flotilla to Gaza
  • Huw Irranca-Davies – Labour MP for Ogmore
  • Professor Lord Bhikhu Parekh – Chair.

The panel will discuss nonviolent solutions to the situation in the Middle East.

The Gandhi Foundation Trustees felt that the Parents Circle Families Forum has been guided by one of the highest forms of Gandhian ideals, that of dialoguing with and understanding the adversary’s point of view and finding common ground on which to base a solution. The PCFF is also working to influence public and political opinion on aspects of reconciliation as a means to finally resolving the problems of security, historical lineage and common inheritance. The bereaved families on both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict have united in their common grief, have had the courage to advocate that further violence is not a solution and are striving peacefully to prevent future bereavements.

Tickets are free, but there is limited availability and those wishing to attend should contact Omar Hayat at: omarhayat@chemecol.net

The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award 2010

The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award for 2010
is awarded to

The Parents Circle Families Forum

The Gandhi Foundation Trustees felt that the Parents Circle Families Forum has been guided by one of the highest forms of Gandhian ideals, that of dialoguing with and understanding the adversary’s point of view and finding common ground on which to base a solution. The PCFF is also working to influence public and political opinion on aspects of reconciliation as a means to finally resolving the problems of security, historical lineage and common inheritance. The bereaved families on both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict have united in their common grief, have had the courage to advocate that further violence is not a solution and are striving peacefully to prevent future bereavements.

The Gandhi Foundation Friends, Trustees and Patrons look forward to welcoming to London, representatives from the Parents Circle Families Forum in October 2010 to receive the award and hear about the outstanding work that they are carrying out. Further details will be available nearer the time.

The Parents Circle Families Forum website

The Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture and Peace Award 2009 – The Children’s Legal Centre

Lord Bhikhu Parekh, Cherie Blair and Professor Carolyn Hamilton (Director of Childrens Legal Centre) receiving the Peace Award

Professor Carolyn Hamilton (Director of The Children's Legal Centre) and Cherie Blair receiving the Peace Award, with Lord Bhikhu Parekh

The Gandhi Foundation’s Annual Lecture and Peace Award were held this year in conjunction with The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple. The venue was the historic Temple Church, a building originally founded by the Knights Templar and now used, not just as a place of worship, but also for promoting understanding between faiths and peaceful dialogue on a variety of issues.

The Inner Temple had expressed their desire to have closer collaboration with The Gandhi Foundation as Mohandas Gandhi was admitted to the Inner Temple in 1888.

The preparation for the 2009 joint Annual Lecture started over a cup of coffee at the Sub Treasurer’s, Mr Patrick Maddams, office in spring 2008. Later, when the Peace award was agreed to be given to The Children’s Legal Centre, it was decided to join the two events. The date of 14th October was chosen as the most suitable given that on 2nd October, Gandhi’s birth date, many other events would be taking place.

Fasken Martineau, one of the world’s leading international business law and litigation firms with more than 650 lawyers with offices in Canada, the United Kingdom, France and South Africa agreed to sponsor the event. This enabled us to offer free tickets. Over 500 people from governmental bodies, legal firms, social services, academics and other organisations were contacted. Approximately 300 people came to the event – one of the largest numbers since Shabana Azmi received the award on behalf of Nivara Hakk in 2006.

Lord Bhikhu Parekh, a Patron of The Gandhi Foundation, welcomed the guests and explained the reasons why The Gandhi Foundation had chosen to present the 2009 International Peace Award to The Children’s Legal Centre (CLC).

Denis Halliday presenting the Peace Award to Professor Carolyn Hamilton

Denis Halliday presenting the Peace Award to Professor Carolyn Hamilton

The Peace Award was presented by Denis Halliday, a former recipient of the award himself, who had flown in from Ireland especially for the event.

The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award is a means to acknowledge works of individuals or organisations that have actively and consistently adhered to the guiding principles of nonviolence and importantly have had an impact on either the political, legal or social challenges of our times.

The CLC certainly fit these criteria. One additional criteria, is that of an ‘un-sung hero’ i.e. people doing incredible work but not having been formally recognised.  When they were originally nominated, The Gandhi Foundation did not know much about them, but after a few weeks of research we were truly amazed at the breadth and scope of their work.

The work that the CLC are doing in representing young and vulnerable children, especially girls, and in helping to change the legal structures relating to children, is incredibly important. The outcomes affect not only the lives of these children but society at large and the future prosperity, not only in economic terms, of nations. The fact that the CLC’s work is especially focused in helping vulnerable girls from either social or legal abuse is, in our opinion, very important from a Gandhian prospective.

Mahatma Gandhi greatly valued the social role of women and called them the architects of civilization. He deeply lamented their inferior treatment and marginalization and insisted that unless women were given full equality society had no hope.

One of the defining features of any civilised society should be how it treats those that are marginalised, vulnerable and without representation. The CLC’s work certainly brings that representation, care and humanity.

After the presentation of the award to Professor Carolyn Hamilton, Director of the CLC, Cherie Blair, a long time patron of the CLC, gave an acceptance speech which is available by clicking this link: Cherie Blair’s acceptance speech on behalf of the Children’s Legal Centre

Justice Aftab Alam of the Indian Supreme Court giving the Annual Lecture

Justice Aftab Alam of the Indian Supreme Court giving the Annual Lecture

Following the presentation, The Rt Hon. Lord Justice Laws, Lord Justice of Appeals, took the stage to introduce Justice Aftab Alam of the Supreme Court of India, who had kindly agreed to give The Gandhi Foundation 2009 Annual Lecture. His speech on The Role of the Indian Supreme Court in Upholding Secularism in India was very well received and the transcript is available by clicking on the link below. A DVD of the event will also be available shortly. The lecture will also be published by the Inner Temple.

Following the lecture, a short Q&A session took place followed by a drinks reception, sponsored by Hardwick & Morris, Chartered Accountants.

The Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture 2009 – The Role of the Indian Supreme Court in Upholding Secularism in India by Justice Aftab Alam


Omar Hayat
Trustee, The Gandhi Foundation
Annual Lecture & International Peace Award Organiser

2008 Peace Award & Annual Lecture – Harold Good & Alec Reid

Dr Omar Hayat, Rev Harold Good, Father Alec Reid, Lord Bhikhu Parekh

Dr Omar Hayat, Father Alec Reid, Rev Harold Good, Lord Bhikhu Parekh

Gandhi Peace Award 2008 – Citation
by Dr. Omar Hayat

Something extraordinary has taken place and is taking place in Northern Ireland. Something very powerful indeed. After decades of troubles the wholly unexpected coalition of the two extremes in the province, the Sinn Fein and the DUP has taken place (originally with the Reverend Paisley as First Minister (now replaced by Peter Robinson) and Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister).

However, it would always have been all too easy to despair of any resolution of the tribal politics of the province and Northern Ireland also has of course many similarities to the communal divide of India and the peacemakers of Northern Ireland all along faced in the Protestant/Catholic divide just the same sort of challenge as Mohandas Gandhi did in his prolonged struggle against the force of Hindu/Muslim communalism; which periodically grips India. Northern Ireland was always a Gandhian challenge and sometimes we forget how much of Gandhi’s struggle was one against terrorism. It was a struggle that did cost him his life. Clearly the Gandhi Foundation wanted to celebrate, indeed rejoice, in the triumph of non-violence over violence.

Omar Hayat and Bhikhu Parekh

Omar Hayat and Bhikhu Parekh

Of course, key to the recent political truce was the decommissioning process. Here there was a critical barrier to be overcome. No member of the IRA could afford to be photographed handing in their weapons – this according to their military code is a treasonable offence and so another solution had to be found. That was through the witness statements to the handing in of weapons to trusted representatives of the two communities. The men asked to take on this role were the Reverend Harold Good and Father Alex Reid who acted as clerical witnesses during General John de Chastelain’s disarmament process. This act of being representatives of the two communities and overseeing the disarmament requires a great deal of Trust, a very uncommon trust in today’s world which strives towards transparency, which in some circumstances is a very good thing but also implies a lack of trust. So literally these two men have been trusted by the rest of the world and especially the sectarian parties of Northern Ireland, just on their say so, to have told the truth. Otherwise the whole process would not have progressed. A heavy responsibility indeed.

Alec Reid and Harold Good

Alec Reid and Harold Good

It may be appropriate here if I read a few comments made at the time:

‘I hadn’t heard of Good before I saw him being interviewed on the news following the announcement of the disarmament. He gives a feeling of gentle sincerity and integrity which I personally feel engenders trust. It’s hard for me to understand why anyone would feel that he would lie or allow himself to be duped …………..’

‘It’s wonderful to know we have such people of faith as Rev. Good and Father Alec helping to make peace between the people of Northern Ireland and perhaps an encouragement to the rest of us that continue to hold onto `old hurt’ as we continue to blast the darkness instead of lighting a candle.

I want to now say something about the background of these two men to becoming witnesses in the disarmament process.

Rev. Harold Good

Rev. Harold Good

Reverend Harold Good
In all kinds of ways Harold Good has been involved in Gandhian causes. Born 1937 in Derry he was to follow his father into the Methodist ministry. He served as a probationary minister in the Dublin City mission in the 1950’s. He met his wife, Clodagh, whilst serving in Waterford.

In the 60’s he served in Ohio and came into direct involvement with the civil rights movement. He served in the largely black Methodist church in Indianapolis and there he was to be deeply affected by the assassination of Martin Luther King. He made a connection between racism and sectarianism.

Returning to Northern Ireland in 1968 it was through being assigned to a chapel in Agnes Road, Shankill, that he was plunged into the heart of the sectarian divide. He was witness to the consequences of brutal murders:

`I wasn’t isolated in an ivory tower. I know the pain inflicted by terrorists.’ He had to draw on the philosophy of John Wesley: `be friends of all and enemies of none.’ To quote Good himself: `honest relationships must have both, patience and aggressiveness, for the building of trust.’

In the course of his ministry he was active in the work of reconciliation and the resettlement of prisoners. He was the Director in the 70’s of the Corrymeela community., a centre for reconciliation between the communities. He was chair of NIACRO (Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Prisoners), part-time prison chaplain at Crumlin road prison, worked closely with both Republican and loyalist prisoners. A key part of the Good Friday agreement was of course the release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners.

In 1999 he was able to take a sabbatical in South Africa and his life converged very immediately with the life of Gandhi. He attended the centenary of the Phoenix farm settlement outside Durban and met Gandhi’s granddaughter. He became close to Bishop Tutu and was inspired by the South African Truth Commission and became actively involved and remains so to this day in the equivalent Healing through Remembering project in Northern Ireland.

Reverend Good has become a recognised speaker on conflict resolution, invited for example to lecture to the Basques. The Basque government awarded him the Rene Cassin Human Rights award. He and Father Reid were invited to give the John Hume lecture at the McGill University.

He was awarded an MBE in 1970 and OBE in 1985. He was elected President of the Irish Methodist Church 2001-2.

Father Alec Reid

Father Alec Reid

Father Alec Reid
Brought up in County Tipperary he was professed as a monk in the Redemptorist order 1950 (the Redemptorists were founded in 1732, for mission work among the poor, and significantly refused to restrict their mission to just educational work) and in 1954 joined the Clonard monastery in Belfast, sited at the crossroads between the Nationalist Catholic community and the Protestant Shankill road. Here he was to spend the next 40 years.

In the nature of his vocation this has been a more public than private life. In 1988 he gave the last rites to two Royal signals corporals who accidentally strayed into a republican funeral and were killed by the Provisional IRA. Father Reid has always been a committed opponent of violence. In this cause from the late 80’s onwards he engaged in talks between all the political parties, first facilitating a meeting between SDLP leader John Hume and Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, meeting Charles Haughey in 1987 and thereafter involved discreetly in the political process right through to the Good Friday agreement of 1998.

He has likewise been involved in the peace process in Basque Spain and in 2002 was awarded the Sabino Arana `World Mirror prize ‘by the Sabino Arana Foundation of Bilbao.

He is currently based in Dublin. Although, recently he was not feeling too well we are delighted that he has come today. So, here was the background to the trust placed in them both as a witness to the decommissioning process.

I would now like to ask Lord Bhikhu Parekh to present the Gandhi Foundation 2008 International Peace Award to Reverend Harold Good & Father Alexander Reid.

Bhikhu Parekh and Harold Good

Bhikhu Parekh and Harold Good

Peace Award Acceptance Speech & Annual Lecture
by Dr. Harold Good

Thank you … and thank you Father Alec for speaking on behalf of us both and for expressing so eloquently the immense sense of honour and privilege of which we are both so aware this evening.

Following Our Part In The Verification of De-Commissioning . . .
There was a great deal of interest on the part of journalists and writers, all of whom wanted a “scoop”! One of them interviewed me for a book in which he asked why I got myself involved in all of this. In reply I said something to the effect that I wanted to leave my grandchildren and the children of their generation, the gift of peace. One of my daughters was reading this to her ten year old son and said,

“Wasn’t that a nice thing Granddad said … he wanted to leave you the gift of peace !” To which he replied, “I hope he will leave us some of his money as well !”

I hope he will be happy with the peace …. because there won’t be a lot else! More seriously, I can think of no greater gift that one generation could leave to another, than the gift of a world more at peace with itself than the one it inherited.

Gandhi Foundation audience

Gandhi Foundation audience

I know that this is where we and Gandhi and this Foundation which bears his name will find common ground. We can all think of iconic figures of the 20th Century. People who have left their mark on the pages of history for many different reasons. Some for their music, some for their analytical insights and others for their scientific achievements. But of those who have made the greatest contribution to our understanding of how we are meant to resolve our conflicts and how we are to share life on this planet, the first names to come to mind will be those of Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. Each of them in their own distinctive way has influenced us all, as they have influenced history. But of the four, the one whose life and teaching helped more than any to shape the thinking of the other three was, of course, Mahatma Gandhi.

This year we have marked the 40th Anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King and the 60th Anniversary of the death of Gandhi. How ironic, that two relentless advocates of non-violence should both suffer such a violent death. Those of my age and above may remember something of that fateful 30th day of January, 1948 , when on our crackling wireless sets we heard of the assassination of this strangely clad, skeletal and bespectacled little man in the distant land of India. As a ten year old schoolboy I could not have understood the significance of that event and would have paid it little attention.

For me it was many years later when I began to understand the impact of Gandhi’s teaching upon a world that lay well beyond the shores of either India or Ireland. By then it was the mid-sixties and I was living and studying in the then very turbulent and racially divided United States of America.

During that time I was serving a black inner-city congregation – from whom I learned much more about grace than I did about race! But nothing prepared me for the task of ministering to those people in the week that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King. A week when everything he had preached and learned from Gandhi was put to the ultimate test. But a week in which America and the world was to see that no assassin’s bullet could destroy the dream. A dream which is unfolding before our very eyes during these final days of the American election.

It was not surprising, that upon my return to Ireland in the late sixties I was to bring something of that experience into an inner city parish in the then turbulent Northern Ireland. It was on our first visit to South Africa that Clodagh and I stood on the railway platform in Pietermaritzburg where Gandhi , the Cambridge educated lawyer was ejected from the first class compartment for no reason other than the colour of his skin and his ethnic origins. This, of course, is where it all began. Those who flung him from that train could not have known that in that moment they were launching one of the most powerful movements in world history!

Later we drove to Phoenix near Durban to see for ourselves the settlement where Gandhi established a model of community for fellow Indians who, like himself, had been marginalised in the country of their adoption. We had been invited to the dedication of a memorial to Gandhi, to be attended by the Prime Minister of India. Our host was responsible for the arrangements, and with a life-size marble bust of the Mahatma on the back seat we bumped our way to Phoenix. I have a wonderful memory of Clodagh and Gandhi hanging on to their seats, if not each other! Sadly, it rained all through the ceremony and when leaving our vehicle got firmly stuck in a sea of mud. We pushed and shoved with the help of a gracious man who I asked to help us … not knowing until we were both covered in mud that he was none other than the grandson of Gandhi himself!

Having shared all of that, I hasten to add that these rich experiences do not make me a Gandhian expert. On the contrary, I am very conscious that I am in the presence of people who have already forgotten more than I will ever know about the Mahatma. So I will be cautious in my references!

On a recent evening I watched a BBC documentary to mark the 40th Anniversary of the first Civil Rights March in Northern Ireland. It was entitled, “The Day the Troubles Began”. But as we all know, our troubles began long before 5th October 1968. As I watched the scenes of bloody confrontation between the peaceful protestors and the police, I looked at Gandhi on the cover of the book on my knee and thought how different our story might have been if long before 1968 we had taken time to hear what Gandhi had to say to Ireland, as well as to India.

Not that the real Gandhi was the infallible ‘saint’ which many of his followers perceived him to be. Indeed, he would be the first to remind us of his own imperfections and of his personal vulnerability.

“I am not a god”, he would say. “Indeed, if the truth were known I am tempted more than most men . . .”

In his personal life he was a complex man. Like the Protestant Puritans he struggled with irrational guilt and his natural desires. In his political life he had many critics as well as disciples. His biographer, Judith Brown, encapsulates him well when she writes,

“He was a man of his time and place, with a particular philosophical and religious background, facing a particular political and social situation. He was also deeply human, capable of heights and depths of sensation and vision, of great enlightenment and dire doubt. The roots of his attitudes and actions were tangled, as are most people’s. He made good and bad choices. He hurt some, yet consoled and sustained many. He was caught in compromises, inevitable in public life.”

So what was it about this enigmatic figure which made him an icon of the 20th Century? What is it about him that continues to bring people , such as ourselves, together on a night such as this, sixty years after his death? Again, Judith Brown.

“….. fundamentally, Gandhi was a man of vision and action, who asked many of the profoundest questions that face humankind as it struggles to live in community. It was this confrontation out of a real humanity which marks his true stature and which makes his struggles and glimpses of truth of enduring significance. As a man of his time who asked the deepest questions, even though he did not have all the answers, he became a man for all times and all places.”

Returning to the theme of this evening, “Lessons for Peacemaking”, Gandhi offers two fundamental principles to those who would be serious about making peace. Firstly he said, “Be the change you want to see in the world”, reminding us of the need for personal integrity in the search for peace. This was the distinctive genius of Gandhi, he ‘lived the dream’. His words and actions were one, not two. In his lifestyle; his long marches; his going to prison; his readiness to fast unto death, there could be no doubt about his integrity as well as his intent.

Secondly, in a world where people instinctively assume that violence is the only sure way to challenge and change an unjust order, or that physical force is the only way of dealing with civil unrest and insurgency, Gandhi insists that there is always another and a better way. This is where I want us to connect with the Irish Peace Process.

Amongst the many books from which I sought inspiration for this lecture, I found this one in my local library. What a fascinating title, “A Word to Gandhi, the lesson of Ireland”! It is a remarkable book, addressed to Gandhi in 1931 by none other than a Brigadier-General Crozier of the British Army who had served in Ireland during the bloodiest years of the Irish rebellion. The Brigadier concludes his book with these words,

“Having seen a great deal of force in use, having applied that force for over thirty years, having experienced the utter failure of force, I must needs look for other weapons with which to achieve the welfare of mankind”

In his insistence that there must be another and a better way to resolve the problems of both Ireland and India, he pleads for a return to

“…… the weapons of love, tolerance, faith and truth and a cleansing of the stables”

Those of us who draw our inspiration from the Jesus of history, as did Gandhi, will remember his words,

“you have heard it said of old …but l tell you there is a new way”.

And it was St Paul who introduced his timeless words about the power of love by saying,

“But now I will show you a more excellent way . . .” (1st Corinthians 12/13)

For All Parties To Our Conflict,
The time had come when we knew there had to be another way. After thirty and more years of violence, the people of Ireland, North and South, Nationalist and Unionist, Catholic and Protestant, were weary of war. None more so than the victims and survivors of our conflict who would resonate with the words of Gandhi when he spoke of the awfulness and the futility of violence.

“What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?”

Inevitably, the search for another and a better way begins with the acceptance of REALITY. And, as we know, reality can be painful. For Republicans, with their long history, the painful reality was that their political aspiration would not and could not be achieved through an never-ending armed and bloody struggle. For the British Government it meant acceptance of the reality that there was never going to be a military solution to the Irish problem.

A reality about which Brigadier Crozier had written to Gandhi so many years before! . . . Why does it take us so long to learn from the lessons of history? But within those realities were other realities. None of which came easily to a people entrenched in history and engulfed in violence. For Unionists it was the acceptance of the right of Nationalists to equal rights of citizenship as well as their legitimate political aspiration. For Nationalists it was the acceptance of the right of Unionists to theirs. In the search for a better way one must offer to the other nothing less than one would ask for oneself. The ultimate reality was that this part of Ireland was home to people of both traditions, Nationalist and Unionist, Catholic and Protestant, who must finally find a way to live together.

IF the acceptance of REALITY is the first step in the search for peace . . . the second is the need for DIALOGUE. This is not to suggest that there was no dialogue prior to the setting up of formal talks. While not widely publicised, throughout those violent years there was much informal dialogue which for many of us began on the streets of our cities in the darkest of days and nights.

We continued that dialogue in Protestant parsonages and Catholic monasteries; in private homes and grass-roots movements where people of goodwill came together to share their fears and their frustration. For those involved, such gatherings provided an antidote to consummate hatred and dismal despair and sustained a vision of what ultimately was to follow.

However, significant as it was, much of this dialogue was limited to conversations between like-minded people, none of whom would ever resort to violence as a way of resolving a dispute of any kind. The time had come for dialogue to include historic enemies. Something that would be resisted, but which people of goodwill were prepared to facilitate.

Yitzhak Rabin, former Prime Minister of Israel, made relentless efforts to make peace with Palestine. During the peace talks, he was pictured shaking the hand of his arch enemy, Yassar Arafat. In the face of furious criticism, he said, “you make peace with your enemies, not with your friends.” In the context of our community, subjected to years of violence and counter-violence, this would be as unthinkable as it was unpalatable. Not many would understand Gandhi’s approach to dialogue with an opponent. Gandhi’s word for this was “SATYAGRAHA.” He explains it …

“It is never the intention of SATYAGRAHA to embarrass your opponent. The appeal is never to his fear; it is, must be, always to his heart.”

“Behind my non-cooperation there is always the keenest desire to co-operate on the slightest pretext, even with the worst of opponents. To me, a very imperfect mortal, ever in need of God’s grace, no one is beyond redemption.”

In describing the dialogue which brought us to where we now are, I use the image of a curtained stage. There were three levels at which people talked, which I describe as ….

  1. Back-stage
  2. Off-stage
  3. On-stage

Firstly, BACK STAGE
By this I refer to ‘behind the scenes’, informal, unrecorded conversations for which no one would be held accountable. Opportunities for people from all sides of this conflict to hear one another, some for the very first time. As it had to be an HONEST dialogue it was not always an easy dialogue. While TRUTH can ultimately make us free, it can also be very painful.

All too easily forgotten due to later events and the passage of time, was the courageous initiative on the part of Protestant churchmen who, in 1974, met secretly with the leadership of the IRA at a hotel in Feakle, Co Clare. Our history might have been very different had those talks not been abandoned after the unexpected arrival of the Irish Police in response to a tip-off!

While it is of such conversations that Father Alec and I are most familiar, you will have noticed that we do not speak of them in any detail. Unlike others, there will be no ‘reveal-all books’! For honest dialogue there must be mutual trust…. a trust which is sacred and must never be betrayed.

Father Alec Reid

Father Alec Reid

For Father Alec there was the remarkable back-stage dialogue which led to the ground-breaking Hume-Adams talks resulting in the IRA cease-fire of 1994. In a BBC 4 profile it was Olivia O’Leary who paid my friend a well-deserved compliment when she said,

“In every conflict there is a no man’s land into which few will dare to go. Father Alec was one who did.”

For me, and for others from my tradition, there were endless days of dialogue with those committed to the antithesis of the political position embraced by the majority of people from our part of the community. This was not an easy tension, but one we chose to carry discreetly within ourselves.

I return to my image of the curtained stage. At the theatre, when curtains are pulled, the band plays and the leading players walk on stage, we are unaware of those who helped to shift the furniture, adjust the lighting and write the scripts. What matters most is what we see before us, and what is to follow. So it is in making peace. And rightly so.

The second level of dialogue is that which we describe as “OFF-STAGE”
For those involved this was difficult, potentially politically dangerous and full of risk, for there is no definite outcome. In the 1980s an IRA re-armed by Libya intensified its violent campaign and the state was accused of “shoot to kill”. There seemed to be no end to the “Long War”. But behind those violent images was a secret ‘backchannel’ involving the British Security Services, a facilitator, Derry businessman Brendan Duddy, and Martin McGuinness. Having accepted reality, both sides knew that the only way out of this conflict would be through negotiation and dialogue. This is but one example of “off stage” dialogue where issues and potential are explored in private before arriving on the public stage.

The third level of dialogue we describe as “ON STAGE”.
Throughout the years there have been many much publicized initiatives, each of which it was hoped would break the deadlock and resolve our conflict. We remember most by name, if not in detail. The ‘Anglo-Irish Agreement’; the ‘Sunningdale Agreement’ ; the ‘Downing Street Declaration’. Usually these initiatives are described as “failed” or “ill-fated”. In my view they should not be, for each was followed by strenuous efforts to build on what had been learned. Here I pause to pay tribute to the leadership of David Trimble and John Hume who put process and peace before self and party and paid a high electoral price, but without whose vision and effort we would not be where we now are.

An important lesson from our history is that to have any chance of success, dialogue must be inclusive. Father Alec’s simple but profoundly important image is of a ‘table’ around which all parties to a conflict are invited to sit, as equals. This was the basis of the talks chaired by Senator George Mitchell which led to the Good Friday Agreement. While Ian Paisley’s party and lesser known Bob McCartney chose to leave the table when Sinn Fein took their seats, their seats were kept for them while others sat through long days and nights until they arrived at agreement.

This was to be the genius of the Good Friday Agreement. As a ‘man-made’ agreement it could not be perfect, and was not acceptable to all. But in separate referenda it received the overwhelming endorsement of the people in both parts of Ireland. Here at last was CONSENSUS as to what was no longer acceptable as well as agreement on a way forward based on exclusively peaceful means and respect for the rights of all
To achieve consensus, there is an inevitable need for COMPROMISE.

Those who would argue that ‘compromise’ is a doubtful if not ‘dirty’ word will know that no marriage or any meaningful relationship would survive without it! It is not without significance that the words ‘compromise’ and ‘accommodation’ share a common root. Therefore compromise, like accommodation, is about making space for one another.

In the Good Friday Agreement there was much that was mutually acceptable to all of the parties. But there were highly contentious issues which could only be resolved through compromise. One such issue was the demand for the early release of ‘politically-motivated’ prisoners from both sides of our conflict, many of whom had been guilty of the most heinous of crimes.

At that time I chaired an organisation that shared responsibility for the care and resettlement of prisoners of all kinds and we facilitated an informed debate on the issue. Amongst those who had difficulty with the concept of early release were people from the churches.

So, I invited their representatives to meet with Brian Currin, a South African lawyer who had been involved within their Truth and Reconciliation Commission. One of my guests asked,

“But what about justice?”

“Don’t speak or think of this as justice” said Brian. “This is not about justice. You cannot speak of this as justice to a widow or an orphan. This is about giving all parties to the conflict an opportunity to share in a new beginning, whether you think they deserve it or not.”

“That” said I, “is what we as preachers call ‘grace’!”

“If that is your word”, said he, “keep using it for you will need a lot of it!”

In addition to ‘reality’; ‘dialogue’; ‘consensus’ and ‘compromise’, every peace process needs visible ‘SIGNS AND SYMBOLS’. This was what lay behind the demand of Unionists, and of both governments, for the complete de-commissioning of the weapons of the IRA. For Unionists, they would not contemplate sharing government with Republicans until there was evidence of ‘deeds not words’.

The historic Constitution of the Republican movement clearly forbids the surrender of one’s weapon. It speaks highly of the patience of Gen. John de Chastelain and his colleagues on the International Commission on De-commissioning that they were able to agree a process with the leadership of the IRA whereby their weapons would be put permanently ‘beyond use’ and ‘beyond reach.’ It was no surprise that the demand of Mr Paisley and the Democratic Unionists for photographic evidence was unacceptable to the IRA. The compromise was that two clerics, one Catholic and one Protestant, should be the ‘seeing eyes’ to verify what had taken place. Father Alec and I were entrusted with that task. While we do not speak of the detail of that exercise, neither of us will forget the moment when out of the shadows, a lone figure who watched over us during those days stepped forward and with military precision handed his weapon to General de Chastelain.

At that moment Father Alec leaned over and whispered in my ear, “there goes the last gun out of Irish politics.”

To report what we had seen with our own eyes was conformation of a visible sign that as far as Republicans were concerned, ‘their war was over’.

Other visible confidence-building measures included the implementation of the Patten Report on policing. A new name, new uniform, badges and insignia were very visible signs and symbols of a new Police which from now on would be fully accountable and representative of the whole community.

And there were those remarkable images from May of last year when all of the parties took their seats in the new Stormont Assembly. For me the lasting image is that of First Minister, Ian Paisley, and Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, going through the door of that building. Note the hand of one upon the arm of the other. This truly was ‘the hand of history’. And worth a thousand choreographed handshakes!

These are but some of the ‘Lessons for Peacemaking’, from our story. We could go on to speak of the need for ‘HOPE’. In one of his biographies , Gandhi is described in the language of the Old Testament prophet Zechariah as ‘a prisoner of hope’. Without that dogged and at times stubborn quality of hope, every peace process would fall victim to despair.

Many years ago, during the darkest days and nights of our troubles, our local newspaper invited children to write of their hopes for Northern Ireland. I still have the cutting with the simple hope of one little girl who wrote,

‘I want to grow up in a Northern Ireland where you can look at a sunset without wondering what are they bombing tonight.’

When I saw the cover of the Good Friday Agreement, I wondered did she remember what she wrote? I certainly did, for it was her letter as much as anything which prevented me from giving up.

Today our children see sunsets instead of bombs. As a community we have faced and accepted realities; engaged in dialogue; achieved consensus; accepted compromise and witnessed the signs and symbols of peace. In the context of his beloved India, Gandhi wrote what would well describe what we have seen . . .

“Things undreamt of are daily being seen, the impossible is ever becoming possible. We are constantly being astonished these days at the amazing discoveries in the field of violence. But I maintain that far more undreamt of and seemingly impossible discoveries will be made in the field of non-violence.”

But while lessons have been learned, we cannot sit back and assume that our schooling in the ways of peace is complete. It is the American poet Robert Frost who speaks of the temptation to retreat to what might appear to be a ‘safe’ place.

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep … but we have miles to go before we sleep … and we have promises to keep.”

Last year, in the Basque Country, Father Alec and I shared a platform with Rolf Meyer, former Minister for Security in the discredited Apartheid Government of South Africa. He later became the chief negotiator in a peace process with the ANC. He outlined ten steps in that process. Number 9 was the need for a ‘CHANGE OF MIND’. What could follow that? As preachers we should have known. Number 10 was the need for ‘A CHANGE OF HEART.’

Remembering what happened on the train at Pietermaritzburg, Gandhi would have rejoiced in hearing that. As a deeply spiritual person, who insisted that spiritual values should be the basis for political action, he would resonate with that need for a change of heart.

As we observed the relationship between First Minister Ian Paisley, the man who consistently said “No” and “Never”, and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, self-confessed commander of the IRA, there was clearly something more than a change of mind!

As churches, we must accept responsibility for our part in our tragic history. But if part of the problem, we must now be part of the solution. And if we are true to what we preach, our distinctive contribution must be in the transformation of hearts and minds. Only when we dismantle the ‘barricades’ in our attitudes will the peace walls be taken down. It will be in the de-commissioning of our mind-set that we will set each other free from fear.

Like Gandhi, we too are on an unfinished journey. None must be left behind, not least those victims on every side who have not yet found healing. Like Gandhi we too have our deep disappointments as we see what he called

“wasted opportunity through the scramble for power and diversion of political energy”

But from the lessons of history, this is a journey from which we dare not turn back, not least for the sake of the child who wrote that letter and her children and theirs. So thank you for taking time to try and understand us, and please be patient with us as we continue our journey and share our story.

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