From Strabane to Seoul: Peacemaking in Ireland and Korea

Posted on: 19 September 2017

Borders and peacemaking in Ireland and Korea was the focus of an international conference hosted by the Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College Dublin in the Ulster Museum, Belfast on 18th and 19th of September, 2017.

An informed understanding of Korea has rarely been more important, according to the organisers of the event entitled “Peace Processes and Borders in a Changing Geopolitical Context: Ireland, Korea and Beyond”.

At the conference politicians, policy and peacemaking experts from Korea, Ireland and the UK shared mutual experiences of peacemaking in Ireland and Korea and their insights on the evolving geo-political context in Europe and East Asia.  It is hoped that the conference will promote interest in the Irish peace process in Korea and will inform a better understanding in Ireland of the complexity of the current Korean crisis.

Mairead Maguire, winner of the Nobel Peace prize as one of the founders of the Peace People, addressed the conference as did Ulster University’s Professor Seán Farren, former Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive, who delivered the key-note speech entitled “Making Peace in a World of Terror: Reflections on Northern Ireland’s Experience of Terror and Peace-Making”.

Other speakers included Professor Andrew Pierce, Head of the Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity; Professor Jonathan Tonge, University of Liverpool; Dong-geun Kim, Deputy-Governor of Gyeonggi Province; Yeo-jun Yoon, former Minister of Environment, South Korea; and Professor Jongyil Ra, former South Korean Ambassador to the UK.

Dr David Mitchell, Assistant Professor in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation at Trinity commented: “The histories of both Ireland and Korea have been shaped by colonisation by a larger, more powerful neighbour. Both have a bitterly contested past and both have experienced peace processes. Both remain divided. At the same time, the differences are inescapable. Ireland has been favoured by a peaceful regional environment, and strong support for peacemaking. By contrast, as the recent crisis has shown, Korea is surrounded by powerful states with conflicting and changing interests. And, of course, there is the nature of the North Korean regime. Decommissioning is not denuclearisation.”

Dr Dongjin Kim, Adjunct Assistant Professor at Trinity and North Korean expert, added: “Interest in the Northern Ireland peace process is growing in Korea, especially among those who prioritise improved inter-Korean relations over political unification. Despite Brexit and the current political stalemate at Stormont, the Northern Ireland peace process is still considered as one of the most successful in the world showing that protracted conflicts can be transformed. Korea, too, has made significant steps towards peace in the past. Peace processes are not linear but winding, halting and uncertain. At times of threat and setback sharing experiences between peacemaking arenas which are, in different ways, still unfolding is of the utmost importance.”

The conference, which was held in the Ulster Museum in Belfast’s Botanic Gardens, was in partnership with the Institute of Trans-division and Border Studies, Shinhan University, South Korea, and the Centre for Korean Studies, Waseda University, Japan. It is funded by the Provincial Government of Gyeonggi, South Korea, and Shinhan University.