Irish experience cited in Mindanao peace talks | Inquirer News

Irish experience cited in Mindanao peace talks

/ 05:54 AM September 15, 2011

Something has to give in the talks between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) aimed at ending the decadeslong strife in Mindanao, according to an Irish lawmaker.

And a peace agreement need not settle all issues in one sitting, said Deputy Dominic Hannigan, a parliamentarian who chairs a legislative body overseeing the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement that put an end to the conflict between unionists and separatists in Northern Ireland in 1998.

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“What we learned in Northern Ireland is that blockages are inevitable along the way. But they must not be allowed to derail the process,” Hannigan told reporters at a press briefing in Makati City on Wednesday.

“Absolutism by either side could potentially lead to a breakdown in talks and even a return to hostilities,” he said.

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Hannigan is in town for three weeks to work in a private capacity for the international nongovernment organization VSO Bahaginan, which spearheads enterprising development projects in the provinces.

Similarities

There are similarities in the MILF secessionist campaign and the Irish insurgency known as The Troubles, Hannigan said.

The Troubles began in the late 1960s when Catholic nationalists and Protestant unionists took up arms in settling the issue of Northern Ireland’s sovereignty.

The ensuing conflict produced groups like the Irish Republican Army and other paramilitary organizations whose operations for three decades cost over 3,000 lives and untold damage to property.

Hannigan suggested that a way forward could be in the form of disarmament.

He said that in the Irish case, paramilitary organizations were initially hesitant to lay down their arms. But after a series of dialogues and secret meetings, the stakeholders decided to come to the negotiating table “with their arms outside the room” and discuss a lasting peace, he said.

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“Not every issue needs to be agreed on in detail as part of the agreement,” Hannigan said. “Some things may prove to be too difficult to get absolute agreement on at the beginning, but it may be possible to include them within the agreement.”

The parties may even indicate in the initial agreement to revisit unsettled issues “when trust and mutual understanding between parties improve,” he said.

Outside the box

Hannigan said negotiators should also focus on how communities of people would be protected by laws and mechanisms in a future territory, and not toil too much on “what to call the conflicted territory … and how to describe it.”

“The issue of whether a constitutional agreement is necessary should not be allowed to block an agreement,” he said, adding that legal scholars could be put to work to do “some thinking outside the box to get a compromise agreeable to both sides.”

It is also important to include all potential stakeholders, even the smaller armed groups, in the negotiations, Hannigan said.

“The danger is if you don’t get them to sign up, they’ll shout from the sides and they’ll potentially try to wreck any agreement,” he said.

Hannigan admitted that the aim of pleasing all stakeholders remained elusive after the Good Friday Agreement was signed because rebel groups continued to mount offensives against the government.

To deal with the issue, the Irish government targeted the small communities where rebel sympathizers could be found, he said, describing the communities as the insurgents’ “oxygen.”

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TAGS: decades-long strife, Deputy Dominic Hannigan, Irish lawmaker, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Peace agreement, Philippine Government, The Troubles, VSO-Bahaginan
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