Co-Operation Ireland strives to make words like peace, respect, and reconciliation the real basis of relationships between communities in Northern Ireland, as well as the overall relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
IrishCentral caught up with Peter Sheridan, the man whose life work has been promoting peace, respect, and reconciliation as an officer of the law in Northern Ireland for 30 years, and currently as Chief Executive of Co-Operation Ireland.
Just joining the force in what was one of the most dangerous times in Northern Ireland put Sheridan, a Catholic, at severe risk.
He explained that “you just couldn't have said at the time that you were joining the police it would've been too dangerous.”
”I was one of the five percent of Catholics to join the police force back in 1976,” explained Sheridan, who started right after high school after advice from a priest turned career teacher.
“In that year I think there were about 450 murdered in the province and thats just a population of one and a half million so its high numbers.”
As those would be reasons enough for most to find new work, Sheridan excelled as a police officer giving him a front row seat to the mess of violence that he now cleans up.
“I suppose it’s interesting to move into peace work, although I would argue a lot of policing done right is about peace work,” Sheridan explained about his transition to Co-Operation Ireland in 2009.
Sheridan now works to reform the dated political and social normalities.
“In Northern Ireland 95 percent of social housing is segregated into Catholic/Protestant, education is segregated, only five percent of kids go to integrated schools, walls of division are built between communities, that are 30-feet high, some of them, and some of them are a mile long, and so why would we be surprised within the middle of that there are not crises of identity and people.”
While some are calling for the unification of Ireland, Sheridan sees a simpler and more realistic resolution.
“I want to see the unification of people, I'm not so much concerned about territory whether we united two fields between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, I’m more interested in how we unite people and how we build those relationships and whatever happens with land and territory in the future, thats up to the people.”
Sheridan explained the four phrases he sees as key “Peacekeeping phase, peacemaking phase, peace building phase, peace sharing.
“I think we're now in what I talk about a peace building phase, in other words, how do you underpin a political agreement by normalizing relationships between communities.”
But Sheridan acknowledged and affirmed “we have to remember where we came from.”
“If you took New York City and the population in NYC, the conflict in Northern Ireland is the equivalent of 40,000 people dying during that time, never mind the seven million people seriously injured, so you could imagine if that happened in NYC the trauma, its not a quick fix, this about nurturing and constructing relationships to get to what I talk about a shared society.”
Sheridan added “And of course we want to get to a place where the peace process in Ireland is an example for other peace processes around the world.”
“In 1962 if you were black and got on a bus in the United States you are put to the back of the bus, 50 years later you have a black president. Have you dealt with all the issues of racism, no you haven't, but you've made huge progress so we have to get to a stage where we can move from that segregated nature of society to a shared nature of society.”
For more information visit www.cooperationireland.org.