Reflections On The Peace People – By Ciaran Mc Keown

Historians, like the media on which they often rely, tend to record what happened in terms of conventional categories – the struggles between violent forces, legal and illegal, and the party-political jockeying of adversarial politics.
But history is changed by other, deeper forces – fear, hope, a sense of belonging or identity, a sense of meaning in the great mystery of being alive in the first place and ultimately a sense of the sacred without any orthodox codification.
It was to these deeper forces that the vision and energy of the Peace People were applied.
I make no claim for what was achieved although I know in my own mind and heart that it was vital and has gone on echoing.
What is vital today, as the past is honoured, is to acknowledge that the vision of the Peace People is far from being fulfilled and that each generation must renew that vision in its own terms and times.
We are far from creating a truly nonviolent culture and some distance from creating the Northern Irish community.
That magnificent challenge may seem daunting. But to quote an unlikely source: the Irish soccer legend Roy Keane, regarded by some as almost maniacal in his quest for sporting success, answered the criticism by saying: “I’m not looking for perfection, I’m looking for progress.”
And as an encouragement to a new generation of would-be peacemakers, may I note one example of progress that is still far from perfection.
When I first began promoting the idea of a “Northern Irish identity” to both include and transcend received identities, this was greeted by many with uneasiness, anger or merely indifference as another strange Peace People notion.
Those with a vested interest in restricting people to the more limited identities were particularly derisive.
But I have noted for more than 10 years that supermarkets actively promote “guaranteed Northern Irish produce”. And the number of people who now seem themselves as Northern Irish, first and foremost but not exclusively, has been growing steadily, even in the most unlikely quarters.
The simple adjectival phrase “Northern Irish” which seemed partitionist to one side and nationalistic to the other is no longer controversial. Language is important…
Progress can be made with vision, patience and commitment. The fulfilment of the Peace People vision lies in the future, not the past…