It is a pleasure for me to be able to participate with you in this year’s Summer School at Glencree.


The work you are doing to promote peace and understanding between divided communities can be of the greatest importance to building peace in Northern Ireland.   It can also inspire other communities throughout the world that are also struggling with the challenges of reconciliation and co-existence.


The reality is that throughout the world the greatest threat to peace now comes from the inability of diverse communities to coexist within the same constitutional units.

In 1999 only two of the 27 serious conflicts in the world were between countries: the rest were within countries – primarily between ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious communities.   Such conflict are often characterised by extraordinary brutality – involving ethnic cleansing and massacres of whole communities – and by the implacable hatred that develops between the contending communities.


Multicommunal societies are like uranium atoms with large unstable nuclei.  The challenge is to ensure that the forces that bind the nuclei together remain stronger than the centrifugal that drive them apart.  The nucleus must also be protected against bombardment by radical particles – which if unrestrained could set off an uncontrollable chain reaction.


One thinks of the words of your great poet  W.B,Yeats in “The Second Coming”:


“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are filled with passionate intensity.”


The work that you are doing at Glencree is designed to strengthen the centre and to make sure that it does hold:


This was also the challenge that also confronted us in South Africa at the end of the ‘eighties. We were caught in a seemingly hopeless downward spiral of violence and repression.  Few observers believed that we would be able to find a peaceful solution.  What enabled our parties to bridge the enormous chasms that divided us?  I should like to suggest the following.


There was common acceptance that:



Looking back on our experience we can identify the following key factors that contributed to the success of our negotiations:



History sometimes opens a window of opportunity, when all the forces involved are ripe for negotiation.  Our window of opportunity opened at the end of the 1980s:



These are among the factors that enabled us in South Africa to reach agreement.   Some of them were developed specifically for our own complex situation.  Others may have a more universal application.  I will leave it to you to decide which aspects of our experience are relevant to the search for peace in Northern Ireland.


We also learned, however, that the conclusion of peace is just the beginning of the process.


In the sphere of human relationships there is no point at which one can sit back and say that one has solved the problem.  The reality is that unless all human relationships receive constant and ongoing care, nurturing and communication,  they begin to unravel.  Reaching agreements to end conflicts is only the beginning of the process.  The challenge then becomes to ensure that conflicts do not flare up again, that newly established relationships are placed on firm foundations, and that agreements are honoured.  In order to achieve this there are a number of basic requirements:



Forgiveness is essential.  Conflicting parties will be able to escape from the vortex of violence only if they can find the strength to forgive one another.  Forgiveness is also the beginning of the road to reconciliation.


It is much easier to reach agreement on the future than on the past.  .


In South Africa, most of us agreed that we needed to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to determine the ‘truth’ about the conflict of our past as a necessary precursor to forgiveness and reconciliation.  However, we discovered that the search for the truth could itself be highly divisive and could lead to alienation rather than reconciliation.


The TRC did, indeed, succeed in uncovering some of the truth about our past conflict.  However, at the end of the day the ‘truth’ that it presented was the truth of only one of the parties – primarily because the other two main parties the conflict – the old National Party and the IFP of Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi – were not included in the process. It was as though an all-Protestant or all-Catholic commission were to try to write the history of the conflict in Northern Ireland.


In my view, the truth regarding the past needs to be hammered out in frank discussions between all the parties involved.   Unless the final product is broadly – and probably grudgingly – accepted by all the major parties, it will not lead to reconciliation but to further misunderstanding and recriminations.


The third requirement for harmony between communities in newly reconciled societies is the establishment of clear rules and guidelines for their future relationship.  I should like to suggest the following broad approach:


Finally, there must be justice.  If communities in newly reconciled societies do not perceive that they are being treated justly, peace agreements will be of short duration.


In our case, in South Africa, we must work for the maintenance and realisation of our vision of a free, just, democratic and non-racial society. We have a prescription for such a society:  it is our constitution.  We must defend and promote the rights and values that it guarantees.  We must ensure, in the words of Archbishop Tutu, that the injustices of the past are never again repeated.


Justice, however, requires more than the simple observance of the letter of our constitution.  It also places a duty on all South Africans to address the continuing problem of inequality.  It requires us to work for a society in which all our people will be able to lead decent lives and attain, in practice, the ideals set out in our constitution.  This means that


I believe that we have shown in South Africa that even the most intractable conflicts can be solved.  Our challenge now is to show that societies emerging from conflict can continue to live in peace –


You in Glencree and in the broader communities of Northern Ireland and Ireland face a similar responsibility.  Together we must show people caught up in conflict in societies all over the world that there is a better way: