At a workshop on “Mediation Skills in Conflict” in 1985 a small group of peace activists saw the potential for mediation in the Northern Ireland situation. By 1987 they had launched the Northern Ireland Conflict and Mediation Association (NICMA), with the aim of promoting the use of mediation through training. The organisation was constituted and charitable status sought in 1991. Brendan McAllister was appointed as Director, with Clare Morrison as his assistant. Whilst driven by those interested in developing a ‘peacebuilding tool’, from the beginning it was understood that to successfully develop mediation, it should be promoted in as many areas of society as possible (community, statutory and private sectors).
John Paul Lederach was a significant supporter of and influence on the organisation’s development. Some early key strategic decisions included those to:
- Develop mediation through pioneering practice in our own context to inform the training
- Use mediation skills on ‘conflicted issues’ (not just discreet disputes)
- Develop mediation processes beyond traditional tightly bound models (e.g. the five-stage, North American Model). The term ‘mediative’ was coined through this practice.
By the mid 1990’s the organisation had developed the credibility and confidence to become involved in significant conflicted issues. Thus the work on policing (which was to continue for more than a decade) was begun. So, too, mediation was written into law (for the first time in N.I.) as the Parades Commission was established. It was on the issues surrounding parades and protests that mediation first came into the wider public’s consciousness.
Throughout the years, the organisation continued its work in various sectors and at many levels in our society (an approach now known as ‘systemic’). One of the significant achievements of Mediation Northern Ireland’s work has been to maintain relevance and credibility in many sectors (community, business, statutory, public and political). Furthermore, it has demonstrated the possibility of being an independent, impartial indigenous organisation in a highly divided and conflicted society.
As the end to violence approached and arrived, the organisation used mediation approaches to provide key strategic leaders the space to creatively consider the challenges they faced. The more structured, and long-term, of these processes were the Good Relations Forums. In the early years of this decade the cumulative learning from this work was used (particularly) in the North West of England to develop new practice on cohesion issues – local practitioners working on contention and dysfunction in local relations.
In turn, learning from the work in England has informed our work on community cohesion at home; pioneering the development of mediation as a tool for cohesion in N.I.
The organisation has come a long way from the initial vision of its founding activists and is recognised today as having become a unique resource to the work of developing mediation and mediative approaches suitable for new challenges in many contexts.