Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein and parliament member for West Belfast, provided a broad assessment of the Irish Conflict – and conflict resolution in general – in a Sept. 24 lecture in Dodds Auditorium. “No conflict is intractable,” he said. “Conflicts don’t just happen on the earth. There is reason and cause, and in many cases the causes are similar.”
Adams said that resolving conflict is a matter of dialogue. “And by dialogue, I mean genuine, proactive listening – not talking up to people, but talking to people,” he said. He used the example of Nelson Mandela to clarify his point, noting that Mandela was once described as “a terrorist, a criminal, a gangster” but was later elected president of South Africa. Mandela, Adams explained, made the effort to communicate with the African National Congress. “There needs to be political will,” he said. “Everybody should have the ability to bring forward our issues. With the dialogue, it all starts to change.”
On the other hand, trust is not very high on Adams’ priority list in resolving conflict. “A lot of lazy journalists and politicians talk about how there needs to be trust,” he said. “In a conflict, if you’re waiting for trust … you’re waiting for a very long time. Trust is an objective, not a condition.”
Adams emphasized that achieving peace and addressing seemingly intractable conflicts is a hugely complex undertaking, with difficult governments and politics often standing in the way. “How do you it?” he asked. “How do you make peace when the other side won’t talk? How do you inform and reach out to people?”
But the ones we should look to, he said, are ourselves. “One person can make all the difference,” he said, adding that many of us have been upset by events in the media and been moved to do something about them, but have ultimately never acted because “we are busy with something else in our lives. The most difficult negotiation is with your own self,” he said.