Platform for Change Event on Dealing with the Past, 5 September in the Black Box

Platform for Change is organising an event on ‘Dealing with the Past’ in conjunction with its next meeting, set for Monday 5 September at 7.30 pm in the Black Box, Belfast.

The Platform for Change PfC website describes the event this way:

The meeting will begin with a dramatic presentation by the women who comprise Theatre of Witness of their personal stories of Northern Ireland’s troubled past. This will stimulate a general discussion, amid the continuing controversy over the appointment of an individual convicted of the murder of a civilian as a ministerial special adviser and as a decade of centenaries approaches which will revisit the region’s formative violent years.

I am sympathetic to stimulating fresh thinking around the political themes that PfC, according to its latest campaign newsletter, has identified as its priorities for 2011-2012:

  • The programme for Government/Budget
  • Governance Structures
  • Dealing with the Past

The latest PfC newsletter also raises some possible campaigning points for the group:

  • Three S’s: shared future, social inclusion, sustainable development
  • Government by agreement, opposition by right
  • Come clean: honesty about paramilitary and sectarian pasts

And the newsletter includes proposals to form working groups and a campaign team that would produce policy papers, communicate messages through conventional media and the internet, and lobby politicians around these campaigning points.

After PfC’s annual general meeting in June, Brian Walker contributed a useful analysis of the group and its goals. I share his sympathy for the group, as well as some of his concerns.

For example, Walker picks up on a certain antipathy to the ‘Executive Parties’ (read: the DUP and Sinn Fein) among people involved with PfC. In the PfC events that I have attended, I have noted politicians from Alliance, the SDLP, the UUP and some smaller parties, but not yet the DUP or Sinn Fein. As Walker writes:

Progress can only be made through or around the Executive parties; certainly not in conflict with them. Campaigning for realignment at this stage is therefore counterproductive.

I read this as Walker arguing that PfC should back off for awhile from pushing debate around governance structures, and to instead focus on what he identifies as ‘other causes’:

In open consultation and debate and with added expertise it [PfC] could facilitate coherent policies on local taxation and harmonisation with the Republic’s economy; the use of the Irish language, the extent of a human rights culture and dealing with the past as well as the live legacy of paramilitarism.

I also would be concerned that PfC’s three themes are too broad and too diffuse for what is currently a small group to tackle efficiently and effectively.

But I welcome the focus of this latest evening on Dealing with the Past. This is an issue that is not ‘going away,’ signalling that Northern Ireland requires some different policies and approaches. Further, it’s plausible that Dealing with the Past is a more ‘manageable’ issue for PfC – a timely one that does not have to appear to set the group up in opposition to particular party political agendas.



Gladys is a Research Fellow in the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s University Belfast. She also blogs on religion and politics at