Peacemaker seeks to apply N. Ireland lessons

By Lauren Santye

Professor Monica McWilliams discussed her experiences handling international disputes. McWilliams was one of the negotiators involved in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Many people say that they wish they could make world peace a reality. For some, it’s not just a wish but a life goal.

Renowned peace negotiator Monica McWilliams, a professor of women’s studies at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland, spoke on Feb. 4 in the Sweigart Auditorium about her time serving on the Multi-Party Peace Talks, which led to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. The compromise settled a 30-year conflict within Northern Ireland between mostly Catholics who identified with Ireland and mostly Protestants who identified with Britain. McWilliams helped negotiate and signed the agreement.

“Peace is a process and not an event,” McWilliams said. “Compromise can very difficult. Sometimes you have to say accommodation instead of compromise.”

McWilliams discussed the process for peace that was implemented during her work in Ireland. She explained how it starts with management, like cease- fires and negotiations, then conflict resolution, such as agreements and implementations and finally conflict transformation, which means reconciliation .

When further explaining the peace process that took place in Northern Ireland, McWilliams talked about confidence-building steps that she feels are necessary, such as seating parties alphabetically. This forces those on opposing sides to “keep the dialogue going, break down tension, attempt to engage those who may be skeptical, keep back channels open and encourage parties to stay on board.”

However, McWilliams pointed out achieving peace is never easy.

“People don’t see compromise in conflict as a strength, but rather a weakness,” McWilliams said. “So they compromise with a heavy heart. “

Along with her work in her home country of Northern Ireland, McWilliams has traveled through various nations to give guidelines, mediate and help people with basic principles of negotiations. She has been to Afghanistan, and most recently met with women in Syria.

Right now during the Syrian uprising, there are 60,000 people dead, and 1 million have fled because of the violence. There is also an absence of attention toward Syrian women, according to McWilliams. She is currently meeting with groups of Syrian women to set up a series of ideas of what society would look like if and when the political violence ends. They are “demanding the inclusion of at least 30% of women in the legislative body,” and working toward children’s freedom to receive an education that is not run by radicals.
Joy Suslov, a senior pursuing a masters in teaching, said she enjoyed learning about a new perspective on these global issues.

“I thought it was a very interesting lecture and it was interesting to see a different point of view on negotiations,” Suslov said.

McWilliams stressed the importance of being aware of past conflicts to avoid making matters worse.

“Our tongues can be as deadly as our guns,” McWilliams said. “Those who forget the past are going to be condemned to repeat it.”

Additional reporting by Jen Maldonado.

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