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Story of PEACE Key Themes Reconciliation

Key Themes


Image from the PEACE III Groundwork NI Project.

What does Reconciliation Mean?

From the beginning, Reconciliation has been at the heart of the PEACE Programmes. From PEACE I onwards, the stated aim of the Programmes has been to reinforce progress towards a peaceful and stable society and to promote reconciliation. In subsequent programmes the aim also included the aspiration to address the legacy of the conflict and to take advantage of the opportunities arising from the peace. Unfortunately, the programmes did not come with a ready-made definition of what reconciliation meant in a society that has been so deeply divided for so long. Neither did it come with a manual to tell the programme managers how to do it.

There was also very little relevant precedent available. The experience of South Africa, where Nelson Mandela had become President 4 years before the signing of the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement, had been an inspiration to many of those who had been involved in the lead up to the cessation of violence in Ireland / Northern Ireland and the eventual signing of the agreement. However, South Africa was a vastly different place from Ireland / Northern Ireland – the cultural, social, historical, economic, and political contexts were very different. Bringing to an end, and healing the scars of what was then, the last remaining violent conflict in a Member State of the European Union, was always going to be a special challenge. This was made even more complex by the intimacy of the ties that existed between Ireland and the United Kingdom, stretching back over many hundreds of years.

In many ways, the first EU Programme for PEACE and Reconciliation – PEACE I, bore a striking resemblance to the European Recovery Programme, known as the Marshall Plan, enacted in 1948 in the aftermath of World War II. Both programmes set out on a programme of reconstruction and rebuilding of the towns and cities that had been damaged by the conflict (albeit on vastly different scales) and on rebuilding the trade and economic capacity of the areas most affected by the conflict. The principal measures of PEACE I were predominantly economic in their orientation: Employment; Urban and Rural Regeneration in Northern Ireland and the border counties; Cross Border Linkages and Cooperation; Social Inclusion (women, children and young people, vulnerable groups); Productive Investment / Industrial Development.

The originators of the PEACE Programmes, very wisely as it turns out, did not embark on any attempt to analyse, and gain agreement on the causes and roots of the conflict. It must have been clear to them at the time that this was an exercise that would have caused more division and disagreement. Implied in the approach they adopted however, was an understanding and acceptance that there existed significant social and economic deprivation in the region and that any attempt to build inclusion and participation would need to start at rebuilding capacity for a productive and profitable economy.

The first PEACE Programme did include measures to reach out to vulnerable groups and to promote social inclusion. One of the greatest legacies of that Programme was the creation of Local Authority based partnership-structures aimed at building inclusiveness in the process of long-term community planning. These partnership-structures eventually became Local Strategic Partnerships (LSPs); District Partnerships; and Regional Partnerships in subsequent Peace Programmes. The growth and development of these local partnership-structures eventually influenced the Reform of Public Administration structures at a local level and have contributed to the development of an enlightened system of local authority planning and management across Northern Ireland. That legacy placed local authorities at the heart of the implementation of the PEACE Programmes from the beginning.

However, the way in which the programme was being implemented at that time attracted criticism for the lack of clear guidance on how these activities were supposed to promote reconciliation as stated in the main aim of the Programme. In an audit of the Programme carried out by the European Court of Auditors, it was said that the Programme lacked distinctiveness – it was deemed to be a standard economic regeneration programme with a Peace label rather than a Special Programme for Peace and Reconciliation as had been promised. To those who had been involved in promoting local partnerships and in reaching out to divided communities during those early days, this criticism seemed rather harsh. There was however a validity in the comments, and they served to encourage the newly formed SEUPB to engage on a path of development aimed at addressing the issue.

It was during the PEACE II Programme that a concerted effort was made by SEUPB and the European Commission to provide that element of distinctiveness that had been missing from PEACE I. The European Commission insisted that a way must be found to measure the contribution that the Programme was making to the promotion of reconciliation and to provide evidence that this was being achieved. This reflected the fact that PEACE II had migrated to become part of the EU’s family of Structural Funds Programmes and, as such, it had to meet the stringent criteria attached to those programmes: governance; accountability; measurability; and evaluation. Some felt at the time that this failed to take account of the special conditions attaching to a peacebuilding and conflict resolution and that the effort to force the Programmes into the straitjacket of the Structural Funds would not work. This requirement, however, gave rise to the creation of the Distinctiveness Working Group, as a sub-set of the Monitoring Committee responsible for overseeing the management and implementation of the Programme. It was this decision that provided SEUPB with the principal impetus towards generating a deeper understanding of the meaning of Reconciliation in theory and in practice and of finding ways of measuring what at first seemed elusive, unmeasurable, and intangible.

With the benefit of hindsight, the first attempts at measuring Reconciliation may appear to be rather naïve and awkward. It should be remembered however that there was no previous experience on which to draw and the efforts that were made were a sincere attempt to make a meaningful and lasting contribution to the building of a peaceful and sustainable society and to promote Reconciliation.

In order to ensure that the Programme was distinct from other Structural Funds Programmes, the projects funded under the PEACE II Programme had to demonstrate how they met what were known as the Distinctiveness Criteria. These were formulated as follows:

  • Projects were required to demonstrate how they had a direct or indirect effect on one or other of the Programmes objectives – i.e. addressing the legacy of the conflict, and / or taking advantage of the opportunities arising from the peace. Projects were required to demonstrate this impact by reference to:
    • geographic areas that had been significantly affected by the conflict;
    • social and / or economic sectors that had been adversely affected by the conflict;
    • groups within society that had been adversely affected by the conflict (e.g. victims and survivors; ex-combatants / ex-prisoners; women; children; young people)
  • In relation to Reconciliation, projects were also requested to demonstrate effectively how the project contributed to the development of reconciliation, mutual understanding, and respect between and within communities and traditions, in Northern Ireland and between Ireland and the border counties of Ireland.

It seemed that progress was being made. These criteria were used in the assessment of eligibility for funding by project applicants and in determining whether the funding would be allocated. A scoring mechanism was used in the assessment of project applications that apportioned a weighting to each of the criteria and added it to the score awarded for the project’s suitability under the Measure Objectives and the Horizontal Principles. The weightings were:

  • 24% for Legacy / Opportunity (areas, sectors, groups);
  • 6% for Reconciliation;
  • 60% for the Measure Objectives; and
  • 10% for the Horizontal Principles.

The overall threshold required for funding was 65%.

The problems associated with this approach became obvious to the managers of the programmes early on in the first four years of PEACE II (2000 to 2003). It became clear that those who were good at writing applications were more successful in getting funding. Those who had less experience in writing applications and who had a lower propensity to apply for this kind of funding, were at a disadvantage. It was also clear that the capacity to deliver a good project application did not guarantee that the qualitative impact on the ground would be significantly improved. The actual assessment of the applications, while well intentioned and sincere, also had the potential to arrive at subjective conclusions. Many projects that felt the need to work on a ‘single identity’ basis within communities, with groups that were not yet ready to reach out to members of the other community, could potentially be excluded and disadvantaged by a strict application of these criteria. It was also clear that the weighting attached to Reconciliation was an indication of the weakness of the concept as a Programme management criterion. Most importantly, there was still no clear indication of what was meant by Reconciliation. The addition of the considerations related to mutual understanding and respect within and between communities and traditions, was a useful clarification of what was being sought, as was the addition of the desirability of applying these criteria on a cross-border basis.

Despite its shortcomings, this first attempt at defining the Distinctiveness of the Programmes and at understanding how to promote reconciliation served as a very valuable platform to take the next steps towards a deeper understanding of these challenging and complex concepts.


A Working Definition

As part of the preparation of the PEACE II Extension (2004 to 2006), the SEUPB funded a project under Measure 2.1 of the Programme (Reconciliation for Sustainable Peace) that was at the time being managed by the Community Relations Council (CRC). The project promoters embarked on a research exercise aimed at arriving at a working definition of the term ‘Reconciliation’ in Northern Ireland. The research drew on available literature at the time and involved considerable consultation with grass roots groups and organisations within the region. The results were presented in a paper entitled Community Reconciliation: Realising Opportunities, Meeting Challenges and Ensuring New Innovation into the future.”[1]. The outcome of this research and the proposals that emerged ended up having an important impact on the future direction of the Peace Programmes and on the approach of SEUPB towards their design, development, and implementation.

The working definition that was arrived at was based on the key assumption that building peace requires attention to relationships. Reconciliation is understood as the process of addressing conflictual and fractured relationships. This includes mending broken-down relationships and building new relationships where they have not previously existed. Importantly, the authors concluded that reconciliation, when seen as essentially relationship building, is a voluntary act that cannot be imposed.

The authors of the research proposed as part of their working definition that reconciliation must be seen as a process that involves five interwoven and related strands. These are:

  1. Developing a shared vision of an interdependent and fair society.
  2. Acknowledging and dealing with the past.
  3. Building positive relationships.
  4. Significant cultural and attitudinal change.
  5. Substantial social, economic, and political change.

Each of these strands contain difficult challenges that cannot be achieved in a short time. They are part of a long process of change and dialogue. Some of these challenges are not within the capacity of a PEACE Programme to deliver – they require a concerted effort of the whole of society and a degree of political leadership that an institution such as SEUPB could not hope to guarantee. What did become clear however was that the PEACE Programmes provided an ideal location for initiatives and interventions under each of these headings that perhaps could not be carried out by mainstream government agencies or departments, but which, taken together, could have a transformative effect on society.

The PEACE Programmes could contribute towards the development of a vision of a shared future by facilitating the building of relationships, and opportunities for interaction and dialogue, between individuals and organisations who have significantly different opinions and political beliefs. This can help to create the conditions in which differences are understood and accepted as a prelude to agreeing how to live together in a shared space in a manner that is fair, equitable and inclusive of all. This is a critical component of any reconciliation process.

The PEACE Programmes could also contribute towards the acknowledgement of and dealing with the past by providing safe spaces in which to explore ways in which the truth of the past, with all of its pain, suffering and loss, can be recognised. This can also help towards exploring mechanisms aimed at the provision of justice, healing, restitution, reparation, and restoration. The Programmes can assist in providing safe forums in which individuals and organisations can recognise their own role in the conflict, accept and learn from it and move towards ways in which assurances of non-repetition can be provided and, even, apologies offered. This kind of activity requires new ways of communicating and working together between former enemies and between divided communities. It also requires the development of new techniques for listening and new vocabulary for articulating the stories of the past.

The working definition of Reconciliation emphasises the fundamental importance of Relationships and of Relationship Building as part of peacebuilding and conflict resolution. The PEACE Programmes could make a substantial contribution in this area by helping to address issues of trust, prejudice, and intolerance as a basis for moving towards an acceptance of differences as well as communalities. The PEACE Programmes had already created partnership structures at a local level that could serve as ideal vehicles for this kind of work.

Changing attitudes and culture can only happen over a long time and across the generations. The PEACE Programmes are ideally suited to making a contribution to this process given the relatively long-term frame over which they operate – each Programme period lasts 7 years, with two years added at the end for conclusion and governance and two years at the beginning for consultation and preparation. Thus, the lifespan of a Programme is typically ca. 11 years. It is through the process of relationship building across the community divides that lasting impact on the changing of attitudes, culture and the elimination of prejudice and hate can be achieved. This should lead to an increase respect for human rights and create an environment in which every individual feels they belong and are respected, accepted, and capable of fulfilling themselves as active participants in society.

Finally, the PEACE Programmes can make an important contribution towards the process of achieving substantial social, economic, and political change by contributing towards the creation of systems and structures that promote equality and equity as part of the way in which society operates.

During the second phase of the PEACE II Programme, 2004 to 2006, the recommendations of the Hamber / Kelly research were incorporated into the methodology of programme management by SEUPB. Project applicants were required to demonstrate in their applications how their project contributed towards the practical application of the 5 strands of reconciliation as outlined in the working definition provided. The scoring of these assessment also allocated a higher percentage of the overall score to both the distinctiveness criteria and to reconciliation (20% each). Thus, the weighting used in scoring projects changed to:



This was another tentative step along the way towards gaining a deeper understanding of the theoretical content of what reconciliation meant in a post-conflict peace building programme, and how to incorporate this understanding into the practice of programme management, and in particular, the allocation of funding to eligible projects in a way that was more likely to have a direct impact on promoting reconciliation. The programme’s information literature provided an explanation of the five strands of reconciliation and incorporated these into the guidance that was given to project applicants.

On the positive side, this provided clarity for applicants and assessors on what was meant by the distinctiveness and reconciliation criteria within the Programmes. The five strands also provided an effective framework within which the Programme could operate and prioritise its interventions.

On the other hand, however, those project applicants who were more adept at writing applications were still more likely to get approval for their project. Individuals and groups within harder to reach communities, who had a lower propensity to apply for funding, were still being disadvantaged by this approach. The accusation that both distinctiveness and reconciliation were at the end of the day largely ‘tick-box’ exercises that did not necessarily reflect what was happening on the ground, was hard to defend. It was still not clear that the funding was being allocated to those projects most likely to have an impact on the achievement of the ideals contained in the five strands of the working definition. In addition, it soon became clear that projects were finding it difficult to address all five strands of the definition of reconciliation, especially in the areas of significant cultural and attitudinal change and substantial social, economic, and political change.


Integrating Reconciliation into Programme Planning and Implementation

The final two years of the PEACE II Programme coincided with the preparatory phase for the PEACE III Programme. During that period, extensive consultations took place throughout Northern Ireland and the border counties of Ireland on the lessons that could be learned from both PEACE I and PEACE II, and how these lessons could be applied to the preparation of a new Programme. These consultations had the advantage of taking place shortly after the completion of the Hamber and Kelly research and the attempts that were being made to incorporate their findings into the management of the Programme. For those who were involved in the process at the time, it felt like at last a meaningful dialogue and debate was taking place on the topic of reconciliation and decisions could be made about how the lessons learned could be applied to the work of the new Programme that would last from 2007 to 2013.

Based on the feedback received during the consultation and in an attempt to finally incorporate reconciliation into the heart of the strategy and management of the Programme, it was agreed that the five strands contained in the working definition provided by Hamber and Kelly would be used as a strategic framework for the core objectives of the PEACE III Programme. The Programme would continue to embrace the key aim of the Peace Programmes that had been used since PEACE I, i.e. to reinforce progress towards a peaceful and sustainable society and to promote reconciliation. In order to achieve this aim, the Programme would focus on two key areas of activity, i.e. Reconciling Communities and Contributing to a Shared Society. The following diagram[2] was used to illustrate this approach:


The feedback from the consultations identified these two areas as the ones in which the Peace Programmes could have the most immediate impact. Under the theme of Reconciling Communities, it was agreed that projects should focus on Building Positive Relations at a Local Level and Acknowledging and Dealing with the Past. Under the theme of Contributing to a Shared Society, it was agreed that projects should focus on the Creation of Shared Public Spaces and Developing Key Institutional Capacities for a Shared Society.

The overall strategy for the PEACE III Programme was presented in a summary form using the following diagram:


This approach had the advantage of incorporating the concept and practice of reconciliation into the core of the programme. It addressed the issue of subjectivity in the selection and assessment of projects by requiring that they directly address the reconciliation objectives of the programme.

At the core of PEACE III is the requirement to build positive relationships, which had been identified as the central driver of promoting reconciliation. In order to be able to achieve this, it was essential that ways should be found within communities to acknowledge and deal with the past. This was an ambitious objective given that the programme could not address the complex issues of justice and reparation. What was intended was that within communities, ways should be found to listen to the stories of the other side and develop an understanding of the ‘other’ and move towards a development of mutual respect as a basis for contributing to a shared society.

The role of local authorities in this process was seen as key. The partnership-structures that had been developed in PEACE I and further enhanced in PEACE II were recognised as central to the relationship building core of PEACE III. It was through the local authority partnership structures that shared public spaces could be developed within the towns, villages, and local communities. It had been highlighted during the consultation process for the preparation of the PEACE III programme that the main streets and town centres throughout the region were key areas in which the divided communities met. It was important that these areas were made to feel welcoming and safe for individuals and groups of all identities. To do this, communities would have to enter into dialogue within their community and across community divides about how this could be achieved.

The programme also recognised that this kind of work placed new demands on local authorities and, more widely, on public agencies responsible for the development and delivery of services at a local level. For that reason, it was decided that part of the programme should invest in the development of key institutional capacities for a shared society. This was intended to assist those responsible for the delivery of services at a local level to train and develop their staff in the integration of an inclusive culture that would promote reconciliation through their work and engagement with individuals and groups within their communities.

With this approach, it was intended that reconciliation would no longer be an additional element of distinctiveness within the programme. It became the programme. It was at the heart of everything that the programme set out to achieve. The strategic analysis carried out as part of the PEACE II Extension and as part of the preparation of the PEACE III Programme and included in the Operational Programme document[3] approved by both Member States and the European Commission, represented a significant step forward in the understanding of how the objectives of peace and reconciliation could be woven into the fabric of the programme and how progress towards their achievement could be measured. Projects funded under the PEACE III Programme by their very nature already had reconciliation in-built into their design.

This was reflected in the scoring mechanisms that were used in the assessment of project applications and in the determination of their eligibility for funding. The Programme Priority and Theme Specific Objectives included in their formulation the core concepts of reconciliation and there was no longer a need to apply a separate assessment of their contribution to promoting reconciliation. This is reflected in the following chart, which also demonstrates a significant increase in the weighting that was allocated to the achievement of these objectives:


Breakdown of Scoring System


Maximum Score


Weighted Final Score





Programme Specific Objectives (including target groups and areas)




Priority and Theme Specific Objectives








Value for Money/Added Value
















Sustainable Development




Impact on Poverty












Quality Threshold (65%)






PEACE III represented a significant step forward in the incorporation of Reconciliation into the heart of Programme Design and Implementation and in recognising the centrality of its contribution to the achievement of the goals of Peace and Reconciliation. It helped to build understanding between communities, empowering them and giving them confidence to address community and conflict related issues. It helped to build a sense of ownership of the peace process within communities. For many people in Northern Ireland and the border counties of Ireland, the PEACE Programmes became the most immediate manifestation of the Peace Process on the ground – they in effect became the Peace Process of the people. This approach also assisted in addressing the specific needs of areas, sectors and groups that had been significantly affected by the conflict.

The progress made in the PEACE III Programme in understanding reconciliation also assisted in the process of measuring progress towards the achievement of the objectives of peace and reconciliation that had been demanded by the European Commission.

This experience was carried forward into the preparation of the fourth Programme – PEACE IV. Under the direction of the two Governments in Ireland and the United Kingdom, and in close collaboration with the Northern Ireland Executive and the European Commission, SEUPB embarked in 2012 on a process of in-depth consultation across the region with the objective of identifying the key themes that should be the focus for the new Programme that was due to commence in 2014 and run until 2020. The process of consultation was again animated by the working definition of Reconciliation that had been applied in PEACE III. Four key themes were identified for PEACE IV:

The first of these was Shared Education – in recognition of the fact that education continued to be one of the areas of life in the region where segregation along religious and identity lines was most prominent, the new programme would invest in projects that encouraged linkages across the community divide. During the consultation, there had been much debate over whether the emphasis should be on Integrated Education rather than Shared Education. In the end, a decision was taken around what was achievable and most likely to promote change and cross community understanding.

The second theme was Children and Young People – at the time, the Northern Ireland
Executive was engaged in the development of a policy known as T-BUC (Together Building a United Community). This policy contained a high level of commitment to improving community relations and continuing the journey towards a more united and shared society. This represented a major step forward in mainstreaming through public policy much of what the PEACE Programmes had been working on since the beginning. The T-BUC initiative contained a lot of commitments to the development of support services for young people (defined as up to 24 years of age). The PEACE IV Programme recognised this as an opportunity to work in tandem with public policy in this area and to compliment the work that was to be done under T-BUC.

The third theme was Shared Spaces and Services – the success of the work that had been done in PEACE III in this area was recognised by a commitment to continue to invest in the development of both shared physical spaces within communities and the building of competence for the delivery of services that embraced the commitment to peace building and reconciliation.

The fourth theme was Civil Society – in recognition of the central role played by local based partnership structures involving local authorities, community and voluntary sector organisations, and representatives of the wider civil society, the Programme committed itself to investing further in this work. This represents a resounding endorsement of the wisdom of the planners and builders of PEACE I in starting this process of partnership building at a local level and the work of the subsequent Programmes in copper-fastening these partnership groups as an integral part of the architecture required to make progress towards a peaceful and stable society and to promote reconciliation.

The PEACE IV Programme is a good example of how much progress has been made by the Programmes in promoting reconciliation. There is a much greater awareness in Northern Ireland and the border counties of Ireland of what it means and the challenges it entails. There continues to be a degree of nervousness within communities about the use of the term reconciliation as this can entail a degree of fundamental transformation that certain parts of society are not quite ready for. However, there is universal recognition of the need for positive relations across the community divide and of finding ways of dealing with difference, including acknowledging and dealing with the past. Also, much progress has been made in developing safe shared spaces and in building capacity for a shared future in the way in which public services are delivered.

Examples of Good Practice

There are many thousands of projects across all of the Programmes that illustrate the progress that has been made along this journey. These include major iconic project such as the Peace Bridge in Derry / Londonderry, which has developed a symbolism of its own as a tribute to the work of the communities on both sides of the River Foyle in the city who came together to literally ‘bridge’ the divisions between themselves with the support and assistance of the local council and with the engagement of the local partnership structures in the city. In the process they transformed the city and the relationships between the communities.

Similarly, the Peace Link Project in Clones: The PEACE Link is an iconic state of the art sporting facility on the edge of Clones, Co. Monaghan, one of the areas in the border counties of Ireland that had been most affected by the conflict. The facility is at the heart of a movement to build better relationships between people in the cross-border area of Clones, Co. Monaghan in Ireland and Erne East, Co. Fermanagh, in Northern Ireland, using sport as the medium. In this case, cross border partnership structures between communities and between the representatives of sports organisations that traditionally would not have worked together, succeeded in building a facility that served communities of all identities across a complex border region.

But there are also many thousands of smaller scale projects that impact directly on the lives and experiences of thousands of groups and individuals across the region, including for example[4]  :

  • The development of local council peace and reconciliation action plans to help combat sectarianism and racism;
  • Assisting community groups to tackle signs of sectarianism and racism within their communities using creative arts;
  • Developing partnerships to reduce sectarianism and racism, and promote leadership development and social integration with ethnic minorities;
  • The collection of stories and narratives of the conflict shared through various means face-to-face and digitally to promote reconciliation and understanding;
  • Capacity building with women to contribute to post-conflict transition, inter-community dialogue, storytelling, and Reconciliation
  • Increasing knowledge and skills in trauma awareness, conflict transformation and restorative justice;
  • Projects aimed at increasing participation in formal politics, often focused on women and young people;
  • Building cross-community childcare facilities;
  • Creating shared spaces such as community centres, sporting facilities and green spaces;
  • Addressing contentious issues such as murals, flags, and commemoration, as well as reimaging of murals;
  • Projects addressing aspects of the current planning models which impact negatively on peacebuilding;
  • Interaction, dialogue and meeting between groups and communities with different political perspectives;
  • Introducing new approaches to the study of conflict into the school curriculum;
  • Formation of networks of former prisoners and ex-combatants (e.g. the Prison to Peace Project – P2P), including all major former paramilitary organisations (loyalist and republican) aimed at supporting the building of peace, working with young people and schools to inform younger people and discourage any repetition or return to violence.

Perhaps most noteworthy of all is the evidence from the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, which tracks changes in attitudes and behaviour across a wide range of areas. Since the beginning of the PEACE Programmes, a number of questions have been included in these annual surveys aimed at tracking how attitudes and behaviours have changed in the area of community relations, workplace integration and practices. These reports have highlighted a gradual improvement over the years in the underlying climate of approval for greater inter-community engagement and tolerance, including increased integration in the workplace and in inter-family connections through marriage. There continue to exist major challenges in Northern Ireland in the areas of segregated education and housing. These challenges serve to underline the fact that the challenges of building a sustainable peace and promoting reconciliation are long term processes that require significant political leadership and commitment. It is a journey that will transcend the generations. The work of the last twenty-five years has however created a solid platform on which to build.