Langley, British Columbia—Those touring Aras An Uachtarain, Ireland’s White House, may wonder why a painting from Trinity Western University hangs in the stately building. But ask Craig Seaton, PhD, a professor of sociology and director of the Irish Studies Program at TWU, and the reason becomes clear. His research on peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, and the relationships he has built with key figures on all sides of the conflict, have given Seaton and his students opportunities to meet with everyone from Ireland’s Prime Minister to the chief negotiator for Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA. It is also why Dr. Martin Mansergh, special advisor to the Irish Prime Minister, will be in Langley, B.C., on Nov. 22 to speak at Trinity Western University.
“As events have changed, Northern Ireland has become a uniquely accessible vehicle for learning,” says Seaton. “The peace process has moved on, and my long history there makes it possible for students to have access to people and to have experiences that they normally wouldn’t have.”
This past summer, Seaton led his sixth student group to study Northern Ireland’s peace process, with stops in Britain, Ireland and Northern Ireland. During that time, the group met more than 40 key people on all sides of the conflict, including militants, political leaders, security forces and reconciliation activists.
“Many of them were very significant players,” says Seaton, who notes that around one-third of the contacts this year were new. “And they’ve recently become even more significant given the political events of the day. Two have just assumed leadership of their respective political parties.”
For the first time, students had the opportunity to meet with Sir Ronnie Flanagan, police chief in Northern Ireland, who is scheduled speak at Trinity Western University in March. At his headquarters on the outskirts of Belfast, students talked with Flanagan about his proposed police reforms and possibilities for peace.
“Meeting with the police has been a favourite event for students,” says Seaton. “The students always come away quite surprised at how personable the police are.”
“When students prepare to meet with political activists, security forces personnel and figures associated with past violence, they often find out that these people are like their next door neighbours or their uncles, and there’s always a period of adjustment for them,” says Seaton. “The students have to work through how to translate what they’ve been hearing with who these people are.”
Seaton has had over a decade to work through what he has seen, heard and studied in Northern Ireland. He took interest in the peace process in 1988 and in 1990 received a grant to study the reconciliation movement. It was at this time that Seaton began interviewing people from across Northern Ireland’s communities.
In 1992, Seaton took his first group of students to Ireland, presenting copies of a painting of butterflies by B.C. artist, Myrtle-Anne Rempel, to five reconciliation groups to encourage them in their transformational work. Six years later, Seaton and a group of students presented the original painting to the president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, which today hangs in Ireland’s White House.
“These things, over time, have formed a foundation for us,” says Seaton. “One thing has led to another until we have been able to form quite a network. One of the most rewarding aspects is that you begin to see people as people, and not just as those you read about and view on television. And they no longer see me as someone who leads a travelling student group, but as someone they know as a person.”
That personal touch has brought and continues to bring Northern Ireland’s leaders and prominent political figures to B.C. Last year’s speakers at TWU included General John de Chastelain, the person responsible for disarming paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, Reverend Roy Magee, a conflict mediator from Northern Ireland, and Sir (Robert) Andrew Burns, the British High Commissioner to Canada. In addition to bringing Martin Mansergh to speak on November 22 and Sir Ronnie Flanagan to speak on March 28, Seaton will bring the deputy speaker for the Northern Ireland Assembly, Donovan McClelland, at the deputy speaker’s own request, to make a presentation at TWU on March 7.
On November 22, a reception with Mansergh will be held at 6:30 p.m. in Alumni Hall at the Reimer Student Centre on TWU’s campus. He will speak on “The Peace Process and Political Prospects in Northern Ireland,” at 7:30 p.m. in Block Hall at the Neufeld Science Centre. All are welcome to attend and admission is free.
Trinity Western University, located in Langley, B.C., is a privately funded Christian liberal arts university enrolling over 3,000 students this year. With a broad-based, liberal arts and sciences curriculum, the University offers undergraduate degrees in 34 major areas ranging from business, education and computer science to biology and nursing, and 12 graduate degrees including counselling psychology, theology and administrative leadership.
Last Updated: 2012-08-21