Thursday, 14 May 2009 03:00

Article 23 Committee Delegation Draws on Northern Ireland Lessons

Baghdad-Thursday, 14 May 2009-Last week UNAMI organized a 4-day visit to Northern Ireland for the members of the Article 23 Committee, as well as some members of the Kirkuk Provincial Council from all the four components, and other senior police officials from Kirkuk.


Northern Ireland was chosen by the Article 23 Committee and UNAMI as a province of the United Kingdom that has key similarities with the Iraqi province of Kirkuk.   While recognizing that every disputed situation in the world has its own unique circumstances, it was felt that the successful experience of conflict resolution that has taken place in Northern Ireland over the past 12 years contains some useful lessons for resolving the issue of Kirkuk. 

The visit focused on three areas of the Northern Irish experience:

1) Power-Sharing between the different communities, a core mandate of the Article 23 Committee.  The Kirkuk delegates studied the power-sharing that has taken place at various levels between the two communities in Northern Ireland, especially the allocation of positions at both executive and less senior civil service levels.

2) Police Reform, a prerequisite to ending the Northern Ireland conflict.  The delegation examined how the Police Service of Northern Ireland was transformed from a body that appeared to favor only one community into what is now a professional and politically independent force that scrupulously observes the human rights of detainees, thereby engendering the trust of everyone living in the province.  

3) The Constitutional Status of the province, and how Northern Ireland has different official linkages to two separate entities (the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland).  This arrangement allowed both those who wanted the province to remain part of the UK and also those who wanted it to join Ireland to feel they had achieved the bulk of what they wanted. 

"UNAMI believes that what we saw together in Northern Ireland has a lot of relevance for Kirkuk," said Andrew Gilmour, Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, who accompanied the delegation to Belfast.  He added, "Sure, we are all aware that there are many differences in the two situations, not least the fact that the UK and Ireland are two states, whereas the KRG is part of a single Iraqi state.  Nevertheless, there are certain principles common to both places, and close study of some aspects could be enormously beneficial to the people of Kirkuk.  That is what we were trying to achieve by organizing this important visit."

The delegation was hosted and extensively briefed by the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Mayor of Derry, several other political and security officials, including Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, a former leader of the paramilitary organization the Irish Republican Army (IRA) that fought the British and others for several decades.  He shared with the delegation his view on the role of leadership in bringing peace rather than provoking further tensions.  The delegation recognized the courageous statesmanship recently demonstrated by Mr. McGuinness in publicly denouncing a recent atrocity carried out by hard-line renegade members of the IRA.  His public statement greatly helped calm the situation.

A consistent message given to the Kirkuk delegation by the leaders of both Northern Irish communities was the essential importance of accepting that maximalist goals which take no account of the concerns and historical narrative of the other side can never be achieved, and the result is likely to be endless bloodshed. For sustainable peace to be reached, all sides must accept that nobody can achieve all of his goals, but everybody must be able to feel that some of his goals have been achieved.  

Members of the delegation assured their hosts and the organizers that they had carefully absorbed these lessons and would seek to apply those of relevance to Kirkuk.  The Committee members agreed to resume their meetings in Kirkuk next week.

Staffan de Mistura, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, welcomed the findings of the UNAMI and the Kirkuk delegation to Northern Ireland as "potentially a major stepping stone to achieving improved mutual understanding and an acceptable political solution for all communities living in Kirkuk.”

Last modified on Thursday, 14 May 2009 03:00

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