23rd March: 7.00pm
Challenging the post-conflict narrative
Accounts of the conflict and peace process in and about Northern Ireland are frequently told through the lens of academics, the media or outsiders looking in, often portraying stereotypical violence between uneducated rivals.
Meanwhile, the experiences of individuals and communities directly involved, both in the conflict and its transformation, are often overlooked. In this event you will hear first-hand from some of those whose voices are rarely heard as they challenge conventional narratives and discuss how researchers and the media might work with them to open up a richer understanding of the past and what it means for the future. Our speakers include:
Philip O’Sullivan (Chair) is a Senior Lecturer at The Open University in Ireland based in Belfast. He also works on the University’s Time to Think Project, an archive and ongoing community collaboration for knowledge-exchange, teaching and research on the power of education in divided societies.
Michael Culbert is Director of Coiste Na nIarchimí, a body that supports Republican ex-prisoners and their families. Michael is a former IRA prisoner and spent 16 years in prison. Following his release, he has dedicated his career to community work, working with the political ex-prisoner community and all who have been impacted by the conflict in Ireland. He believes in a peace built on equality and justice for all – Unionist and Republican, Loyalist/ Nationalist and understands the value in sharing his experiences with academics, the media, and the wider community to help people understand the past and to prevent future conflicts.
Avila Kilmurray is a community activist and peacebuilder. Born in Dublin, she has lived and worked in the community and volunteer sector in Northern Ireland for over 40 years. In the 1990’s Avila was a founding member of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition and Executive Director of the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland for 20 years, managing measures under the European Union PEACE programmes. She is the author of Community Action in a Contested Society; The Story of Northern Ireland, which details how community action contributes to building peace in Northern Ireland. Avila currently supports the work of The Social Change Initiative, promoting social justice activism and advocacy.
William Mitchell is Project Director of The Act Initiative, a conflict transformation programme of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). William is a former UVF prisoner, imprisoned when he was only 17 years old in 1975, until his release in 1988. Following his release, he has dedicated his career to addressing the lack of opportunity and marginalisation of former political prisoners and those categorised as ex-combatants. William challenges the danger of a single narrative portraying Loyalist paramilitary ex-prisoners as stereotypically violent, un-educated and without political ideology. He argues that this narrative makes former loyalist political reluctant to talk publicly about their experiences.
Gabi Kent is a Lecturer in Knowledge Exchange at The Open University and works on the Time to Think project. During the conflict and the peace process The Open University [OU] provided higher education to both Loyalists and Republicans in British and Irish prisons, including The Maze-Long Kesh Compounds and H Blocks. Student and staff experiences were collated in The OU in Ireland’s Time to Think oral history archive, and this also became the foundation for new collaborations. Gabi will discuss learnings from this evolving project and some of the ways in which OU academics are working with communities to address local and global challenges today through Time to Think.