Northern Ireland native discusses mediator’s role in conflictBy Mary Eckert Bluffton University
BLUFFTON, Ohio — Inspired by the events of the infamous “Bloody Sunday” massacre of 1972, Michael Doherty, Bluffton University Pathways scholar-in-residence and director of the Peace and Reconciliation Group in Northern Ireland, reflected on his role as a community mediator Nov. 13.
A resident of Derry, Northern Ireland, Doherty spoke on the history of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, the role of mediators in those conflicts and about his role as a mediator.
On Jan. 30, 1972, Doherty was one of the civil rights protesters gathered for a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association march in the Bogside area of Derry. The day came to be known as “Bloody Sunday” after 14 people were killed by the British, who were upset by the civil rights march.
Doherty was standing directly in front of the people who were shot and said he realized then that he needed to take up mediation efforts, beginning his journey to reconcile Northern Ireland.
After the events of the Bloody Sunday massacre, the Northern Ireland government responded by developing community-relations programs to aid in alleviating the conflict. Doherty has been crucial in implementing community-action learning programs in Northern Ireland.
He has developed a facilitative-mediation process in which he and those he trains help people listen to each other, in an effort to ease the tensions among the Irish people.
The role of a mediator is not easy, Doherty said. Mediators have to be trusted and take risks. They have to be able to talk to paramilitaries on both sides of a conflict — a task that is uncomfortable and often unsafe.
“There is a difference between neutrality and impartiality,” said Doherty, and mediators have to understand the difference. Mediators can engage in neutral dialogue while acknowledging their opposition to some of the parties’ actions.
Mediators have to teach peaceful behavior and also know the difference between mediation and negotiation, he said.
Doherty’s efforts and those of others throughout Northern Ireland have helped make the country less violent. The conflict is far from being reconciled, however, and Doherty said there is still much work to be done.
“Although people cannot change the past, they can change the future, and sometimes we need to admit we got it wrong,” he said.
Doherty spoke in Bluffton’s weekly chapel service and met with classes. He held a workshop for faculty and staff, exploring how to be an effective mediator in and out of the classroom.
The scholar-in-residence program is part of Bluffton’s Pathways to Mission and Vocation project.
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