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Article for @VIEWdigital on citizens engagement and how to access the latest magazine on @ChangeTrust

As others manage the fall-out from failure of politics in Northern Ireland, there are some who would do well to remember what the non-violent Ghandi and more recently author EA Bucchianeri said.

Ghandi taught that the best way to find yourself is in the service of others. Because that should be what those in government should aspire to do rather than serve individual or sectional interest.

Bucchianeri’s most famous quotation tells us that there are times when wisdom cannot be found in the chambers of parliament or the halls of academia but at the unpretentious setting of the kitchen table. Because the conversations of citizens at home is often as informed as conversations elsewhere and not distorted by party political calculation.

Democracy is strengthened with more deliberation, informing and involving citizens in decisions that affect them. Democracy is strengthened with evidence-based policy development. Democracy is strengthened when government trusts people, and people can trust a government that serves them because it is open, transparent and working genuinely for the wider civic interest.

I visited the citizens assembly in Dublin a couple of years ago and heard they had interest about their work from all over the world, yet not a single query from 50 miles away, north of Dundalk, before our contact.

The Irish citizen’s assembly, and its pre-runner the constitutional convention, have tackled many politically sensitive issues in Ireland. They have been massively successful. Whether same sex marriage, abortion or environmental protection they didn’t just find answers that changed laws and constitutions, but the process itself strengthened democracy.

While integrated in to the political system through the Dail and Taoiseach’s office, and using ordinary citizens to make recommendations based on evidence, the convention and citizens assembly have been world leading and world learning processes.

Great credit should go to those in government that took the risk, to the secretariat and workers, to all political parties that engaged and, especially, to the citizens who took part.

Some of the principles behind strengthening democracy used by the convention and citizens assembly have been used by Building Change Trust:

ᴏ        Understanding that democracy is so much more than people elected to be representatives, and so much better for it.

ᴏ        Understanding the benefits of involving citizens well and often, trusting people to be able to pursue evidence based policy beyond the prism of party political interest.

ᴏ        Understanding that strengthening deliberative processes benefits everyone and requires tools to be available for use by those who seek the benefit.

ᴏ        Understanding that civil society is the driver of change, which politics will inevitably follow.

Building Change Trust supported the development of deliberative toolkits; it supported eight civic activism projects that, amongst other things, pioneered deliberative polling on what sort of education parents wanted for children in three areas; it championed the introduction of participatory budgeting initiatives when – wait for it – people that pay rates and taxes have a direct say in what their money is used for; it helped establish the Open Government Network that gained the first open government commitments; it is about to run a first citizens assembly for Northern Ireland because no one else will.

Embedding these processes is critical. The tools are available; people understand the benefits to making better policy.

What is needed now is an imperative to embed the deliberative processes – it’s hard not to think of a better imperative than the dreadful stasis in Northern Ireland currently.

Those wise people sitting around their kitchen tables reading this know what to do on issues like same-sex marriage, abortion reform, poverty, culture and language. They need asked; they need brought in to the decision-making process so that they can help drive the change.

The latest View Digital magazine on Building Change Trust can be accessed here:


Victims can’t keep paying an extra price for the peace we enjoy today.

The legacy proposals and subsequent consultation and debate are really important if victims aren’t going to keep paying an extra price for the peace the rest of us enjoy.

What is the agreed vision for this place?

It is well past time to have workable solutions to the needs of victims.

Let us hope the government responds to the legacy consultation with urgency and clarity; providing a route map with no further blocks.

Let us hope also that the final legislation strikes the appropriate balance with the right priorities.

It also needs to rediscover the importance of acknowledgement.

Acknowledgement has almost been disappeared from the proposals. No longer do statements of acknowledgement feature.

Acknowledgement is an important need for victims. It is only right that those who, whatever the circumstances, altered forever the lives of mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, son and daughters, recognise the hurt caused and the lives shattered dramatically and forever.

Acknowledgement needs reintroduced to the legacy process to meaningfully help deliver part of the reconciliation process but also as an end in itself deserving focus and priority.

The best definition of reconciliation so far was developed ten years ago by academics Hamber and Kelly – it identified five strands of reconciliation one of which is acknowledgement and dealing with the legacy of the past.

It is important that acknowledgement is recognised as one strand of reconciliation; an important strand but one amongst other strands.

There is a wider need for reconciliation serviced at many levels within government but especially delivered by courageous leaders within communities.

Reconciliation, like the peace process, is a 50-year plus project.

The five years proposed under the proposals for the implementation and reconciliation group (which should be acknowledgement) is nowhere near enough.

Unfortunately victims’ issues have been politicised for years and decades.

This issue needs de-politicised. Oversight by a group appointed by local political parties and the two governments will simply further politicise assessment of what has been done and what further is important to do.

The political oversight should be dropped in favour of civil society input, recruited through a public appointment process, accountable to democratic institutions but accountable ultimately to victims and the public too.

It is time victims’ needs were met fairly and clearly, with ambition.

You can follow Peter on Twitter @OsborneTweets

The Past, the Present and the Future during Good Relations Week 2018 @ni_crc

Good Relations Week is over for another year. Many hundreds of events and thousands of people took part.

This was a good week – so good that the main problem was which events it was possible to attend. There were too many on all at once.

Three events that I took part in stand out. They represent the past, the present and the future. Apologies to the many others that are not mentioned.

At All Souls Church the Never Again remembrance for every victim in the recent conflict was as powerful as it was poignant, as shocking as it was sobering.

The names went on and on, on and on again. As one after another victim was acknowledged the volume of loss in such a small place was telling.

This rhythm of loss lasted four hours. One name after another for four hours, wearing the listeners down just as our grubby conflict had worn us down for years.

On the stroke of midnight, as international day of peace dawned, the last name was read out. Peace Day reminds us that we have much more in common than different and that war is such a miserable waste of mainly young lives.

Earlier that day I chaired a panel on ending paramilitarism, organised by Falls Community Council.

Nearly 25 years since the ceasefires a mechanism is still needed to allow communities to reclaim their community from paramilitaries who live off the back of the people they claim to protect. At what cost? Literally.

It’s easy to lose sight of progress already made. But a forward flow to the peace process is not inevitable. It needs worked at and inspiration certainly doesn’t come from the lack of innovation, pace or urgency linked to aspects of transitioning communities away from paramilitary control.

Then I had the privilege to see something of the future, attending a youth event for peace day by Springboard, an organisation new to Community Relations Council core funding.

Springboard had a panda theme for Culture Night

These young people had a spark and enthusiasm. Coming from across the community and talking the language of an intercultural and intercommunity future, they challenged racism and sectarianism directly.

No doubt these young people still hear ancestral voices in their head and they listen to peers and parents. But they are being given a chance, and from what was visible an opportunity may be all they will need.

Building the peace in Northern Ireland is about relationships not institutions or political parties.

There was much achieved during Good Relations Week and much more still to do in the years and decades ahead.

Follow Peter Osborne on Twitter @OsborneTweets

Open government and transparency are positives to be embraced not inconvenient requirements

Open government and transparency are not just nifty words and things to be
said because government is required to do them.

Transparency and open government are important; and are valuable and empowering.

Unfortunately recent events have meant there has been little debate about
the reasons why government should welcome transparency. Instead the debate
has been about how people have been found out. Accountability is indeed one
of the benefits of transparency but there are many other reasons that are
positive for government, policy and relationships between government and the
citizens it serves.

Here are three positive reasons for openness and transparency in government:

  1. It develops trust within government and between government and the
    people that are governed. Good government should want its citizens – the
    people it serves – to be active and positive contributors to society and the
    policies that shape it. Trust between citizens and government is critical.
    Trust is eroded when people think they are not being treated fairly, openly,
    consistently or with the public interest at the heart of decision-making.
  1. People get more engaged and better engaged in government and
    politics; ultimately coming to have greater respect for politics and
    government structures The consequence of that may be better policy
    development, and the public and government could get to the same page over many issues.
  1. As data is released more quickly and comprehensively it encourages
    innovation; as more people have access to data, new ideas are generated
    including how to do things differently and better. Everyone benefits as
    does the economy.

These are worthwhile goals. People in government, whether civil servants or
politicians, should understand them and in doing so they may embrace
transparency as leading to better government rather than an inconvenient

The Open Government Network is holding a fascinating conference on 13th
September to explore many of these issues in the light of recent events.

Here is the programme. Demand has been high but there are still places
available. Why not come along?


Get Involved: Special Screening of Fog of Srebrenica and Discussion on Genocide, Dealing with the Past and Moving Forward After Conflict.

Just 23 short years ago, in a part of Europe a three hour flight away, more

than 8,000 boys and men were killed in a slaughter that was to become known

as the Srebrenica genocide.

It took less than a week to rob so many of their lives; and to rob so many

of their loved ones of their life as they knew it.

In the large, characterless factory buildings that housed the Dutch UN

peacekeepers in 1995, as the genocide unfolded, the graffiti of the young

troops is still visible. The buildings make up part of the Srebrenica

memorial centre.

Thousands of victims were pushed out of these buildings by the UN troops;

hundreds of them ended up killed as part of the genocide.

One of the Dutch troops wrote on the wall: UN United Nothing.

In a way these young Dutch peacekeepers were victims too, poorly led and

feeling powerless despite having the power of the world behind them.

We remember the genocide because of the victims and their families, because

it is right to remember, because it was in Europe during most of our

lifetimes, and because it could happen again – it is happening again.

Here is how you can be part of the 2018 memorial events:

At 6pm on Sunday 8th July come along to the Crescent Arts Centre to watch

the documentary film Fog of Srebrenica and take part in the short panel

discussion afterwards. Booking is essential.

Here is more information and how to book your place:

At 6pm on Tuesday 10th July join us at Belfast City hall for the formal

Northern Ireland commemoration. Here is how to book for it:

At 2.30pm at Belfast City Hall on Sunday 15th July join an interfaith walk

to St Anne’s cathedral. No booking needed for that.

A beautiful and powerful place with a serenity far removed from the last hours of the Allied soldiers buried there


The serene old cemetery at Caudry

The past should not define us but it is important to understand. It is important also to respect the memory of those who were victims of the past.


Last year I found out that my great uncle died at the Somme. I remember my granny – it was her older brother who never returned.

Grave Thom Davidson

Sergeant Thomas Davidson’s final resting place


She died herself when I was too young to know, understand or ask questions; too young to ask about her brother who she no doubt remembered and for whom she still grieved.


His name was Sergeant Thomas Davidson. He got married just before joining up, was sent to France and went over the top on 1st July 1916 at the Somme.  He was badly wounded – we don’t know what happened and where – but he didn’t make it back to the Allied side.  Instead he was taken prisoner and died from his wounds two weeks later.


He was 22 years old.


Having learned that last year, we made a visit to his grave last week in Caudry old cemetery.


It was a beautiful and powerful place with a serenity far removed from the last hours of the 50 or so Allied soldiers buried there. All young men; little more than boys.


We were the first of the family to visit as far as we are aware. A century ago few were wealthy or confident enough to make the journey.


What a tragedy that is in itself. These young men gave their life for a cause that was opaque at the time; and obscure now.  Then they were buried and left alone; with families grieving at a distance physically at first then because generations move on.


Those who were lucky enough to live through the War did not return to a land for heroes. The families of those who died were not treated as the loved ones of heroes.


Hopefully it won’t be my last visit and I’ll try to make sure those that follow me understand; and respect all the victims of war.


Sadly this wasn’t the last time young people were used and left to die alone. It is still happening.

Imagine Protestant and Catholic GPs were trained in separate Colleges to cure mainly their own faith. Acceptable? My article for @VIEWdigital on education

There are two villages just over two miles apart. They have a population of nearly 4,000 people between them, 760 of whom are under 16 years of age. They have fewer than 300 children of primary school age.

Yet, these two villages are served by four primary schools.

The villages will remain nameless. But segregation in education will have major and lasting impact on these children as they grow up; as they develop interests and friendships, habits and life-long attitudes. These villages, like every other hamlet, village, town and city in Northern Ireland are being condemned to another generation of people living parallel lives coming together too rarely and sometimes in conflict.

Segregation in education is socially and morally bankrupt as a concept because it reinforces societal segregation and puts strain on how people live their lives, promoting a separate psyche.

Segregation in education is helping to economically bankrupt how Northern Ireland is governed with millions invested in duplication of buildings, resources and services. A 2015 Ulster University Cost of Division study showed the number of surplus places in the Controlled and Catholic Maintained sector (32,000 and 35,000 respectively) was costing between £14 million and £93 million each year – and that was for primary school provision alone.

Yet we regularly hear about lack of money within the education sector including delays in infrastructure investment and schools shaving a few thousand pounds off their budgets by making classroom assistants redundant.

That is not to advocate a particular system. There is much to be positive about in all forms of education in Northern Ireland, although too many young people are still left behind; often those young people are living in the most disadvantaged communities and in the most segregated areas.

The duplication and waste of the existing system, the moral and social dysfunction that it causes, requires change.

Those who advocate ending segregation in education are often accused of social engineering.

Yet the greatest practice of social engineering is that which keeps young people apart in their formative years, a segregation which is then easier to sustain in succeeding years.

There is even segregation in teacher training. Imagine if your child wanted to be a GP. Would you say to them, if you want to cure Protestants then you’ll go to this college but if you want to cure Catholics then you’ll go to this different college? Would you add, you can’t actually treat Catholics as well as Protestants – can you?

How absurd would that be?

Yet it effectively happens in teacher training, costing over £2 million additional public subsidy annually to keep segregated teacher training colleges open; and with significantly more teachers trained each year than we actually need. No wonder many unemployed young teachers emigrate to get a teaching job.

Sharing makes a positive difference but all programmes and systems should demonstrate a continuum of moving children and young people from segregation to meaningful learning and developing together, sustainable beyond the latest round of funding.

It is systemic change that is needed.

In the USA 50 years ago Martin Luther King did as much as anyone to end segregation in education. He once said true compassion isn’t tossing a few coins to a beggar you pass in the street; true compassion acknowledges that the system giving rise to beggars’ needs changed.

True wisdom in Northern Ireland is realising that the systems giving rise to segregated living over many years need to change; true courage is then speaking out for change.

Acknowledging the cost of maintaining segregation in education is a first step. More people from all walks of civil society need to speak out to recognise the wrong being done to our children and our collective, shared future.

Peter Osborne, 2018, @OsborneTweets

The whole edition on education can be viewed at:

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