Even after making many visits to the United States, the pride in which people hold their Irish and Ulster-Scots lineage always leaves an impression on me. The strong bonds between the island of Ireland and the US have been shaped and copper fastened by centuries of shared kinship and heritage.
Our shared history means that US influence on the island of Ireland is every bit as important as the influence which Americans of Irish heritage have had at home. The impact of American investment, tourism and trade has been immense and has offered new perspectives and spurred on Irish innovation. The Transatlantic Trade and investment partnership between the EU and the US will further strengthen the relationship between the US and the island of Ireland.
At this time of year, I take time to reflect on the great American tradition of Thanksgiving and the universal messages of peace, hope and appreciation that it promotes. It is a holiday that is firmly understood, if not celebrated in Ireland.
For those of us involved in the efforts to secure a lasting peace, there are many whom we offer our gratitude and there is much for which we are thankful.
For almost three decades, political and financial support from the United States and the international community has equipped the International Fund for Ireland to advance the push for peace and make important contributions to community reconciliation and policy development on the island of Ireland.
That support was instrumental in bringing communities together through economic activity that helped generate the conditions and confidence for early peace-making efforts to succeed, as they did with the IRA ceasefire in 1994 and the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
The progress made at the political level and between communities in many parts of Northern Ireland and the border counties offered hope that a normalisation of relations would take root at all levels. However, in spite of the great progress made, it has become clear that much work is still required to address the complex divisions that remain between and within communities.
The absence of the level of violence that characterised previous decades does not mean that a sustainable peace has been achieved. We cannot escape the fact that people have been left behind by the Peace Process and increasing activity by those opposed to the political settlement threaten the progress that has been made.
In uncertain times, the Fund remains one of, if not the only, actors available and willing to go where others cannot and to take the necessary risks for a lasting peace. The value of the Fund’s international independence has never been greater nor has the quality of its work been more evident.
In the last three years, our programmes have led directly to mainstreamed and sustainable governmental policies that address, for example, community separation in the education system. Our careful and timely interventions have led to agreements to remove interface barriers in North and West Belfast and Derry/Londonderry and also led to the agreement of an accord between the Londonderry Bands Forum and the Apprentice Boys, which has the capacity to be adopted as a protocol for all parades in Northern Ireland.
Our programmes are equipping local communities to develop solutions to extremism; supporting young people and others to move away from paramiltarism, violence and anti-community activity; providing new options to marginalised young people and giving new confidence to communities isolated by decades of violence.
In early November, the world reflected on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the international efforts that led to that historic moment. In the quarter of a decade since German unification, more physical divisions have been erected in Northern Ireland than at the peak of the Troubles.
Many of the larger so-called ‘peace walls’ have now grown taller and stood longer than the Berlin Wall. These interface structures are one of the most apparent symbols of the remaining division in our society.
Launched in 2012, our Peace Walls Programme supports interface communities to reach to a position where they feel it is safe and appropriate to proceed with the removal of the barriers that separate them.
In less than two years, the Programme (PWP) has delivered significant progress in terms of confidence and relationship building measures, and has begun a schedule of works to transform interface neighbourhoods.
The PWP has received widespread acclaim from community groups, government departments and statutory agencies and has generated considerable momentum for positive physical transformation. Recently the Fund shared its experiences of PWP with representatives from 15 cities emerging from conflict including Nicosia, Jerusalem and Bagdad.
The international community has been supportive of efforts that seek to build confidence, trust and relationships between communities across the island of Ireland and we will continue to share and export our learnings.
However, we cannot be complacent. Peace in Ireland remains fragile and the political structures face increasingly difficult challenges relating to our past.
At the time of writing, Secretary of State Kerry’s Personal Representative, Senator Gary Hart, is taking part in all-party talks aimed at dealing with some of the most contentious matters in Northern Ireland. The importance of these talks cannot be underestimated and the Fund stands ready to support any positive outcomes which can tackle divisive issues.
The Fund is grateful for the generous support and encouragement from the United States and all our donors, which have enabled it to underpin the Peace Process and assist the British and Irish governments in their efforts to deliver a lasting peace. On behalf of the International Fund for Ireland, I wish you and yours a peaceful Thanksgiving.
For further information about our funding programmes, or for information on how to apply for funding, please contact the person(s) or organisation(s) identifed at the end of the relevant programme summary in the areas of activity section.
International Fund for Ireland
28-32 Alfred St.
+44 (0)28 9031 2884