The end of the beginning

April 17, 1998

An historic peace deal and the long-awaited go-ahead for a new campus promise exciting times for Ulster's higher and futher education.

A peace agreement does not mean that violence and suspicion disappear overnight, a politics specialist at Ulster University has warned.

"This is a crucial moment. But it is not the end, it is the end of the beginning. A peace agreement creates a possibility that reconciliation might happen some time in the future," said Duncan Morrow.

Dr Morrow has carried out research in Ulster's centre for the study of conflict and teaches in the peace studies department.

In the context of Northern Ireland, peace meant creating the beginnings of political stability, which would then allow for some stability of planning, he said.

"The question is whether enough stability can be created in the political system to begin to create a degree of social relaxation and allow people to move more freely within and between their communities, and come to terms with living alongside one another."

"Love hasn't broken out between everybody. We have had deals before, which were broken by community antagonism. In periods of tension, people tend to retreat to their secure places," he said.

But higher education had been one of the most successful sections of the community in containing sectarianism, he pointed out. He acknowledged that this had been largely on the basis of "don't say, don't ask", but it nonetheless highlighted the possibility of coexistence within institutions.

Setting up an assembly would not be a culmination of the peace process, but "establishing the base camp from which to scale the mountain". He said that moves towards a peace agreement had clearly been dragged out of politicians, whose own authority had been undermined by 25 years of not being seen as the focus of power. A peace agreement was aimed at bringing the province into the more normal pattern of western democracy.

"People expect change to come through contacts between community groups and civil servants," said Dr Morrow. There had been a great deal of scepticism about the talks among the population, who were unwilling to hope too much, given the failure of peace talks in the past, he said.

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