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Billy King


Nonviolence News


INNATE 30 (and 250)

by Rob Fairmichael

INNATE is 30 years on the go this year – and this article appears in issue 250 of its newsletter 'Nonviolent News'. On INNATE's 25th anniversary a compilation was produced of people around the island (and further afield) saying what they thought of INNATE. This anniversary a consultation is planned with members, subscribers and contacts, over the next number of months, to get feedback and see what people think INNATE should most valuably be doing. So there will be opportunities to respond. These responses will be used for planning INNATE's work over the next number of years.

This piece, however, will mainly look back over three decades of work. Perhaps it is INNATE playing its own tin whistle - which is hopefully a gentler and more interesting version of blowing our own trumpet... A short pictorial, and to some extent written, history of INNATE is available on Flickr.

INNATE began after the demise of the broad Northern Ireland Peace Forum with the intention of it being a networking opportunity for those who were 'into' nonviolence and nonviolent training, on an island-wide basis. Dawn magazine ("Nonviolent action, civil liberties, movements for change", also produced on an all-island basis) had finished monthly production a couple of years previously though its occasional publication Dawn Train continued to be produced including a few under the aegis of INNATE. Fortunately someone (Sarah Whelan) suggested putting an 'E', for 'Education', on the end of the proposed name 'INNAT', and this gave 'INNATE' a much more rounded name and a suitable acronym.

Many things which are planned do not work out and INNATE became much more of a group with a networking function than a network itself, i.e. the people it was hoped would come to meetings only came to occasional seminars and similar events. However the networking function grew and advances in technology also made new possibilities emerge. Nonviolent News, which had been an occasional newssheet from INNATE, went monthly from 1994 and online from 1998 (with the same faithful webmaster all the time since), with the e-mail and web editions expanding in size to five or six times the length of the 2-page paper newssheet. Numerous seminars on topics to do with peace, nonviolence and organising took place, and this was also an opportunity for networking.

INNATE pioneered monitoring as a response to tense situations of possible conflict in the period around 1990. This was in advance of the parades issues, including Drumcree (where INNATE was involved before it became 'Drumcree'), becoming a principal bone of contention in the North in the mid-1990s. While nonviolence training would usually be of support to one 'side', depending on what model of monitoring is utilised, monitoring can be a neutral presence intended to both record what happened and help all sides to be on their best behaviour.

INNATE produced a pamphlet and organised a conference in 1994 on monitoring (a k a observing, the two terms being generally interchangeable but used in particular ways by particular people). Soon 'everyone' was doing it, and Mediation Northern Ireland (MNI) has continued so it still has a monitoring team today; the director of MNI at that time did his first monitoring with INNATE.

A wide variety of seminars, meetings, trainings, exhibitions and other events have been organised, including one film series. One early conference was "Learning from experience" (1989) and this perhaps was slightly different because it was looking at experiences of community organising to see what could be learnt, and was written up in Dawn Train No.9 We have benefitted greatly in having visiting speakers coming through a member with considerable international peace contacts, partly through having worked with the War Resisters' International (with which INNATE is linked).

Nonviolent News first appeared in 1990 as a duplicated sheet and gradually developed from there. When it went online it gradually picked up steam and size, including editorials, the Billy King comment column, a column by Larry Speight on green issues, and so on. Nonviolent News is the only regular and generic peace and nonviolence publication in Ireland; there are 10 full issues a year with news supplements in the other two months – it is thus fully monthly. In the 25th anniversary compendium of comments about INNATE, Stephen Ryan, Senior Lecturer in Peace and Conflict Studies, Ulster University at Magee, had this to say: "Students on our MSc in Peace and Conflict Studies are always asking about peace activities on the island of Ireland that they can contribute to.  I always advise them that their best source of information is Nonviolent News."

The INNATE website has expanded over the years with a conscious effort being made to add new and different material. It includes almost a hundred downloadable A4 size posters on issues to do with peace, nonviolence, ecology and human right. For reasons of time – there would not be time to lay out the monthly Nonviolent News in full magazine format – it appears as a 'words only' publication, so the posters provide a visual approach. All the posters can be freely downloaded for printing at home but are also available from INNATE for exhibition purposes (framed or unframed), either complete or as a smaller selection suitable to the venue – contact INNATE for further information.

It has been a relatively new departure to have involvement in exhibitions and supporting programme. Brushstrokes for Peace was an exhibition of paintings, arpilleras (textiles) and posters which took place at Verbal (Arts Centre), Derry in 2014. In 2017 a joint venture with Conflict Textiles took place of an exhibition on War-Torn Children at the Linen Hall Library in Belfast; this exhibition included photos, arpilleras and posters as well as some artefacts. Both of these exhibitions had supporting programme. Part of War-Torn Children will travel to Limerick, and possibly elsewhere. INNATE's posters have also been displayed in various locations and exhibitions.

In addition to the poster set providing some visual material, the INNATE photo site provides an opportunity to give a pictorial record of events, people and publications. It is linked to the main website. The content includes material on particular themes (mediation, monitoring and accompaniment etc) as well as particular organisations (Afri, Corrymeela, AVP, CND, Peace People, INNATE). Archival and current material is welcome for addition to this. An effort is made to try to develop this into an at least partial pictorial record of peace and related activities in Ireland.

One of the disappointments from the original aims of INNATE is the lack of nonviolence training undertaken, and the negligible number of requests coming in for the same. There has been some training work, including in more recent years on gender and peace, and strategic planning for people involved in opposing fracking, but this is an area which has not developed in the way it was hoped. Nevertheless, the possibility of training was written up (from INNATE's experience) in 'DIY' format in the 'Workshops' section of the website. This includes training material on a variety of aspects of nonviolence, both exploring the concept and planning for particular actions and events. There is also a section on exploring group work and dynamics and, perhaps most downloaded, on consensus decision making.

Producing peace trails is an exciting enterprise which INNATE is currently engaged in along with partner organisations though we initiated the process. If it works well it will be a permanent or semi-permanent memorialisation of work which people have done for peace, justice and related issues. In the Northern Ireland context it will also provide an alternative narrative to 'Troubles' or 'dark' tourism.

Peace trails are at the 'information gathering' stage and it is hoped within a few years to have produced peace trails for Belfast, Derry and Dublin. A short peace trail for Co Mayo was produced by Afri and INNATE some years ago. Information is being gathered for elsewhere as well – anywhere in Ireland – and it is to be hoped that even where a peace trail is impossible that there can still be a peace feature, i.e. a freestanding memorialisation in some form.

The intention behind the peace trails in Ireland is to include peace, justice, inclusion (newcomers, and Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland) and sustainability, and occasionally covering pinnacles of cultural achievement or scientific advances which have benefitted humanity. The people, actions and events celebrated can be anything from a once off action through to a lifetime devoted to peace. The prototype Belfast trail is probably rather more detailed, and community oriented, than most other trails internationally. This is partly because when anti-sectarianism and anti-racism is included in the mix there is plenty to celebrate but it is hoped that a more detailed approach – including the work and actions of ordinary people and groups – who are also extraordinary - will communicate better as an inspiration to those on the trail.

A hidden part of INNATE's work, going on behind the scenes, is providing advice, information, and sometimes support and solidarity to others. This work is so diverse as to be difficult to summarise but includes work with both groups and individuals at home and abroad – and with a prominent website INNATE receives enquiries internationally. INNATE tries to relate to a broad spectrum of work relating to peace and nonviolence, including green and human rights issues.

One example of support for an organisation within the field concerns AVP, the Alternatives to Violence Project; this has been working away successfully in the Republic since the late 1980s. There have been four attempts to get it going in Northern Ireland and, unfortunately, for various reasons none have succeeded. INNATE has been involved in two efforts to get it going in the North, one jointly with Kilcranny House after the turn of the millennium, and subsequently in an advisory capacity when there was a further exploration of getting it started. Next time lucky perhaps!

INNATE is also occasionally directly involved in actions and street theatre, aside from what members get involved in their personal capacities. Another part of the mosaic has been monthly networking meetings, usually but not always in Belfast, where work is discussed and plans drawn up.

While INNATE is 'based' mainly in Belfast and the North, it would try to relate to people all over the island of Ireland, and further afield. While Nonviolent News generally covers work in Ireland, with just a few mentions of developments elsewhere, it clearly tries to include work by groups and organisations here who are focused on international issues. INNATE has been an associate member or affiliate of both the War Resisters' International (WRI) and the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) and has links with a variety of other international bodies. In 2002 the WRI Triennial conference took place in Dublin and INNATE was the major Irish partner.

In terms of running INNATE, it is a small, voluntary group with no paid staff or office space. Offers of help or involvement are always welcome and can begin with a discussion about possibilities, and in this era help can come from anywhere. INNATE survives on a very slender budget. What the future holds remains to be written but it is hoped to continue to provide a significant resource for peace and progressive movements in Ireland, in both jurisdictions. While regular tasks in hand, including producing Nonviolent News and the peace trails, will take a significant amount of ongoing effort, it is hoped that the consultation exercise which INNATE will be engaging in during 2017 will help set its course for 'maximum usefulness' to the sector it seeks to serve, and contribute towards peace on this island and further afield.

Copyright INNATE 2016