The Progressive Unionist Party was founded on the belief that the most effective way of dealing with a violent conflict is to transform it into a peaceful democratic one. We remain loyal to that principle and will continue to do so in the future. So what does ‘Conflict Transformation’ actually mean and how can the theory translate into meaningful activity?
We advocate the pursuit of “conflict transformation” as opposed to “conflict resolution” or “conflict management” Conflict transformation is different from the other two because it reflects a better understanding of the nature of conflict itself. “Conflict resolution “ implies that conflict is bad - hence something should be ended. It also assumes that conflict is a short term phenomenon that can be “resolved” permanently through mediation or other intervention processes. “Conflict management” correctly assumes that conflicts are long tem processes that can not be resolved but the notion of “management” that people can be directed or controlled as though they were physical objects. In addition, the notion of management suggests that the goal is the reduction or control of volatility more than dealing with the real source of the problem.
Conflict transformation, as described by John Paul Lederach a conflict practitioner, does not suggest that we simply eliminate or control conflict, but rather recognise and work with its “dialectic nature” By this he means that social conflict is naturally created by humans who are involved in relationships, yet once it occurs, it changes (I.e. transforms) the events, people, and relationships that created the initial conflict. Thus the cause - and - effect relationship goes both ways - from the people and relationship to the conflict and back to the people and relationship. In a sense “conflict transformation” is a term that describes a natural occurrence. Conflicts changes relationships in predictable ways, altering communication patterns altering images of the self and of the other.
In Northern Ireland we accepted that it was not possible to resolve the conflict between those who believe in a United Ireland and their opponents who seek to maintain Northern Ireland’s place within the UK. Thus we sought to transform the argument from an armed violent one to a peaceful democratic one. Though there is still some way to go, we believe that our ideas are now generally accepted by the mainstream.
Throughout the last two decades we have advocated a series of actions that are consistent with the principle of ‘Conflict Transformation’. In the early 1990’s we were one of the key players in achieving the Loyalist cease-fires that helped create the space for political talks. In the late 1990’s we played a full and active role in the talks that culminated in the Good Friday Agreement. We advocated agreement as a means of providing a peaceful and democratic environment for politicians and the public to debate the key issues facing society both today and in the future. We believe the outcome of both the cease-fires and the agreement has seen the situation in Northern Ireland transformed for the better and thus our position remains unchanged.
Since the GFA we have recommended a robust package of transformation measures as a means of lifting Loyalist communities out of conflict. Whilst some support has been forth-coming resistance from the established political order has prevented real long-term change from taking root. We believe it is only a matter of time before real support is given and the communal confidence generated by schemes such as Northern Ireland Alternatives becomes the norm as opposed to the exception.