Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Guild of Uriel

  In meetings of The Guild of Uriel we sit in a circle with everyone introducing themselves. Visitors are given the floor to present whatever stories and ideas they wish to share. They tell their stories and we respond. The "we" being a group of cross community/cross border volunteers seeking to facilitate dialogue in a private context. This simple format enables change to take place with ripple effects permeating to the wider reaches of society and sparking other developments.

  We seek engagement with, and between, all who wish to engage. People from all walks of life have shared the experience and there are no restrictions, with participants setting the agenda. There are no (or few) "experts" and this enables the sharing of experiences. Nor are we seeking "truth" in the sense of accuracy but when people honestly share their stories "truth" is present. The Guild, over most of 10 years, has engaged with republicans, unionists, loyalists, victims (including security force victims), Orangemen, people from the interfaces, political parties and so on. Whoever engages with us engages with the other because we ourselves include both traditions.

  We are flexible and try to respond as we see the need. We prefer the image of an organism rather than organisation. We have joint chairs—one a unionist from the north and the other a nationalist from the south with a core membership of approximately 16 people drawn from unionist and nationalist traditions. We bring people together in what they experience as a lively, dynamic, creative, challenging and fulfilling encounter.

  Members and friends occasionally visit parts of Northern Ireland characterised by disruption and violence. Once we met in Dan Winters Cottage—birthplace of the Orange Order and this was a moving experience. We have had tense moments, as when former security services members tell of harrowing experiences. The work is not centred on the past although in early days we emphasized the healing of memories. Uriel was the name of an area centred on County Louth in medieval times. It included parts of adjacent counties heavily influenced by the Anglo-Normans/Old English and we seek reconciliation with that past and in the present.

  We believe this work is most effective in small groups away from media attention. The important thing is that people's stories are listened to and responded to positively and even critically but respectfully. Honest but respectful and empathetic feedback is given to those sharing their stories. We engage after sharing a meal together. This sets the tone in preparation for open discussion. We close each session with a minute's silence.

  In contrast a public truth commission might not heal wounds. The roots of the conflict are too deep and complex to be elucidated to everyone's satisfaction. Conflict over whose truth is accepted would seem inevitable in such circumstances. Some would feel their story was misrepresented or neglected and they might be left in greater pain. Some facts, as opposed to "truth", would be recovered, but limited knowledge can be dangerous. We feel however that there is a place for more formal and "authorised" story-telling, perhaps facilitated by a university, in which stories could be told, heard, responded to and recorded—in private. An initiative in this direction is being considered but the lessons learnt over almost a decade remain vital.

29 November 2004

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