The ACT Initiative is an entity through which members of the UVF and RHC can demonstrate transformation and positive citizenship.




Changes since the early 1990s beginning with the ceasefires and followed by the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the formation of the Executive Assembly and subsequent Devolved Government, have given rise to a new political dispensation.  Within this, the contribution of the UVF and RHC is often undervalued.  Historically, their role in the continuation of the conflict has been well documented resulting in a stereotypical portrayal by the media and others.  Whilst at times this may be justifiable, their positive contribution within Protestant working-class communities in helping to sustain this new political dispensation is rarely documented.  Given that what they do may be considered politically covert, their involvement has often been anonymous.  However, in attempting to ‘emerge from the shadows’ to contribute positively to civic society; the opportunity through The ACT Initiative now exists to transform former combatants into active citizens.

This document outlines the strategic intentions and the developments to date of The ACT Initiative and is the result of extensive consultation with the membership.  In this respect, a mandate has been secured to support this being the policy for the implementation of the former Statement of Intent, (May 2007) and addresses the two elements of DDR still outstanding namely; Demobilisation and Reintegration.


Phase 1 – Transitional

In recognizing that the journey from conflict to peace is a complex process, this phase is designed to support volunteers to build their capacity and prepare them to engage.  To do this, a specific training programme has been designed which is a distillation of a range of material drawn from existing sources and original ideas which are influenced by the theories, writings and experiences of others, including the participants.  The training consists of a series of workshops each influenced by a separate approach and underpinned by a related concept.  The workshops are conducted in a training environment which is safe, comfortable and conducive to learning.  Participants are encouraged to bring their real life concrete experiences to the training arena thus transforming abstract theories into lived-life realities.  In doing so, their involvement is not passive but active resulting in a deeper engagement with the material to encourage the social construction of knowledge in a cycle of reflection which produces action.  On completion, their critical awareness is raised and they have a better understanding of what needs to or what has changed in their lives as individuals, as a group, in our communities and in society.  This helps them learn or reaffirm the skills required to transform our communities into better places to live in by communicating, listening to others, being more open and accountable and organising better as a group.  Opportunities are then created to network with other groups to contribute positively to civic society.

To date, 1647 members have been trained, engaged or consulted.  Of these, 191 completed the extensive 12 week ACT training programme with 12 of these progressing to an Adaptive Leadership programme with the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard.  These leaders have been successful in disseminating the strategy of ACT and have co-facilitated subsequent workshops for additional members to further build capacity.  Currently, 600 questionnaires have been distributed, collated and analysed to identify the additional needs of all those who expressed a wish to make a positive contribution to civic society.  This helped identify further training which has been completed in, for example;

Mediation Skills – Child Protection – Youth Work – Community Development – Transitional Justice – Drug Awareness – Suicide Intervention – Mentoring – Archiving – First Aid – Media Training – Facilitative Leadership – Steps Ahead Employment Placement – Construction Safety Regulations – Restorative Justice – Employment Preparation – Re-Imaging – Community Safety – Conflict Resolution.


Phase 2 – Operational

The creation of a transformation model is identified as the best means to build on and utilise the capacity of the volunteers.  This is underpinned by the concept of community development with the notion of distributional leadership at its core.  Ten departments, each with a specific relevant theme, and each with a designated individual as a co-ordinator, have been constructed.  The co-ordinator has the responsibility of designing a set of objectives for his department which present the opportunity to first, engage volunteers and second, to engage the wider community.  Each co-ordinator will draw support from eight operational localities the organisation is active in.  In this respect, responsibility for the department objectives is not under the sole leadership of the co-ordinator.  Instead, it is distributed via those with interest, experience, skill and knowledge.

The vehicle through which the department objectives become operational is known as an Area Action Group.  One each from the operational localities, making a total of eight, has been constructed.  The function of the Area Action Group is to begin working any or all of the departments, which are relevant to their locality, in partnership with stakeholders willing to offer support.  Over time, these action-based pieces of practice portray the organisation more positively and create a conduit through which opportunities of communal citizenship are created for volunteers.

Three means of accountability are identified.  The first is the formation of a Steering Group.  At this, critical friends will oversee all aspects of The ACT Initiative including the application of funding.  The Steering Group will meet quarterly.  The second is the formation of a Strategic Review Group.  At this, key members of The ACT Initiative and supporters from civic society will review progress and make recommendations for changes if required.  The Strategic Review Group will also meet quarterly. The third and final is the formation of a co-ordinators’ committee.  At this, each of the co-ordinators will discuss the development of their respective departments and how it is operating via the Area Action Groups.  This provides a clear channel for communication whilst also disseminating good practice across localities.  The co-ordinators’ committee will meet monthly.

Phase 3 – Political

The building of volunteers’ capacity and their transformation into positive active citizenship is combined from both phases 1 & 2 into this third phase.  This is the politicisation of the organisation whereby all volunteers are encouraged to be more representative and collaborative within their respective communities.  A partnership with, or support for, the Progressive Unionist Party is recommended as the most likely mechanism through which to demonstrate this.  In addition, volunteers are encouraged to join residents’ groups, forums, cultural and historic societies, or whatever is relevant in their communities, as a further demonstration of being political.  The integration of phases 1 & 2 will result in the province-wide implementation of The ACT Initiative as a distinct entity which demonstrates transformation, citizenship, and promotes collaboration with all elements of civic society.


The ACT Initiative – Step by Step Summary

  • Volunteers embark on capacity building training programme.
  • A large ‘pool’ of trained volunteers is created.
  • 10 themed departments are identified.
  • Each department is assigned a co-ordinator.
  • Each co-ordinator identifies support from volunteers’ ‘pool’.
  • A set of objectives are designed for each department.
  • 8 Area Action Groups are constructed.
  • The department objectives are disseminated to The Area Action Group.
  • The Area Action Group begins working the departments in partnership with the community.
  • Co-ordinators meet monthly to communicate the action-based work.
  • The Strategic Review Group meets quarterly to review progress.
  • The Steering Group meets quarterly to oversee developments.


Area Action Group – Localities

Greater Shankill                   North Down

North Belfast                         North Antrim

South Belfast                          East Antrim

East Belfast


Alternatives – A community – based Restorative Justice Project

 With the ever-increasing rise in paramilitary attacks, in the form of summary justice ‘kneecapping’ in Republican communities, this barbaric phenomenon is relatively a thing of the past in Loyalist communities.  With the PSNI currently exploring new ways to eradicate this, Alternatives have been a leading agency in employing a human rights approach to addressing summary justice in partnership with the community.


Watters, (2006) sets the scene.

“Restorative justice values, processes and practices have their origins in many  indigenous traditions such as the Maoris, Samoans and Native Americans” (Consedine, 1995) where the people owned the conflict and resolved it themselves by bringing the relevant parties together with elders present to help facilitate the dialogue.  These ancient practices were rediscovered in the 1970’s and adopted in Canada and America largely by church based groups of the Mennonite tradition with the development of the first Victim Offender Mediation Programme (VORP) in Canada in 1974 and then spreading throughout North America and Europe.  Morris (2002) attributes the growth of the restorative justice movement to two things:  firstly the perceived ineffectiveness and high cost of conventional justice processes and secondly to the failure of the conventional justice system to hold offenders accountable in meaningful ways or to respond adequately to victim’ needs and interests.


The UN Basic Principles, (2000), on the use of Restorative Justice Programmes in Criminal Matters defines restorative justice as “any process in which the victim and the offender, and, where appropriate, any other individuals or community members affected by a crime, participate together actively in the resolution of matters arising from the crime, generally with the help of a facilitator.  Restorative processes may include mediation, conciliation, conferencing, victim support and sentencing circles”.  Restorative justice views crime in terms of the human costs and address a number of key questions.  “Who has been affected by the crime?  What are their needs?  How can those needs be met”?  (Zehr, 2002).  “This paradigm shift reintegrates the offender, meets the needs of the victim and provides local communities with a sense of ownership and responsibility for dealing with crime”, (McEvoy, 1998).


“It is impossible to understand the principles and practices of restorative justice within the Northern Ireland context without reference to the violent conflict, the transitionary nature of Northern Irish society, the vacuum in policing as a result of the conflict and the special circumstances out of which restorative justice has emerged”, (Include Youth, 2006).  Restorative justice in Northern Ireland developed initially at a community level as a response to paramilitary punishment violence.  Smyth et al (2001:21) argue that expectations created by the peace process and the new political dispensation provided the impetus to replace informal, punitive justice systems with a restorative approach.  This system of informal justice emerged in working class communities with high levels of paramilitary influence and activity as a result of failures in the formal criminal justice system, rising levels of anti-social behaviour and the absence of a legitimate or adequate policing service and an attempt to discredit the police.  Although receiving considerable levels of support within these communities, this system ultimately only served to disempower the community and create more excluded, angry and embittered young people whose behaviours also need to be understood within the recent history of the conflict.


Cornell, (2008), informs us: Alternatives was established in 1998 in response to a community consultation exercise whose purpose was to find an alternative to anti-social behaviour and low-level crime following an upsurge in paramilitary punishment beatings and shootings in the Greater Shankill area.  Based on a US model of restorative justice but adapted to the specific needs and realities of the local community, the project became the first indigenous, community-based restorative justice project in Ireland, and now has four sites in Belfast and one in North Down.  The project deals exclusively with non-violent offences and primarily with young offenders who have come or are in danger of coming to the attention of the paramilitaries and are at risk of being beaten or shot;  the only requirement for participation is an admission of guilt.  Under the guidance of experienced youth workers from their own community, those enrolled in Alternatives’ Intensive Youth Support Programme, (IYSP), examine the hurt and the harm their actions have caused their victims, their communities, their families and themselves.  As part of this course of self-reflection, they produce a Personal Contract that details their commitment to put things right with all those they have injured.  At the end of this process, which can take several months, when the offender is ready and if the victim is willing, they meet face to face for a restorative conference mediated by a member of Alternatives’ staff.  Other staff members who have been working with either the victim or the offender also attend to provide encouragement and support.


To ensure the meeting goes as smoothly as possible, Alternatives offer rapid, sustained and indefinite support to victims as well as offenders.  In addition to offering victims an opportunity to describe their experience and vent their emotions, victims support staff and a large pool of trained volunteers are available to visit victims in their own homes, to asses their personal security needs and to provide basic measures, including minor repairs, to make their homes less vulnerable to crime.  Unlike some victim support services, all Alternatives’ staff and volunteers are local people who share the experience and concerns of those they serve – an aspect of the service which has added meaning when those receiving support have been victims of racist or homophobic attack.  Also atypically among such services, Alternatives places no limits on the support it provides;  a single visit can take ten minutes or two hours depending on the needs of the individual, and no case is ever completely closed unless someone dies, moves out of the area or chooses to decline further support.  As part of its three-pronged mission to empower, advocate for and defend victims (and offenders) against policies and presumptions that threaten their welfare, Alternatives work closely with independent advice providers such as Citizens Advice Bureau to ensure that those who use the service are as fully informed as possible about other forms of support available to them, including benefits, and their rights and responsibilities under the law.


In spite of the accomplishments and successes of community based restorative justice programmes in Northern Ireland, the criticism voiced by government, statutory agencies, political parties and some human rights organisations are consistent and persistent.  Mika (2002) outlines such reservations: “these programmes are nothing more than the soft face of a paramilitary police force”.


This perception of community-based restorative justice programmes increased with the introduction of the Criminal Justice Review (2002).  While the Review accepted that community based restorative justice programmes ‘ could have a role to play in dealing with types of low-level offences’, it raised concerns about possible human rights abuses in terms of coercion, double jeopardy, legal representation, determination of guilt and the right to appeal.


Alternatives are clear in their commitment to human rights and have published their own standards of good practice.  Alternatives argue that its commitment to a rights agenda is visible and transparent through their practice.  For example, their training materials include:


  • Restorative      Justice, (RJ), must operate in accordance with the rule of law
  • RJ      is not an alternative to a trial.       Either party can opt to engage the formal criminal justice system      at any time
  • Taking      part in RJ must be a voluntary process.       No-one, whether alleged offender or victim, should be placed under      any degree of compulsion to take part
  • Both      parties to the process have a right to independent legal advice prior to      taking part or at any time during the process if they so wish.  Such advice may be free depending on the      income of the person seeking it
  • If      either party wishes to be accompanied by a solicitor during the process      they have the right to be so accompanied
  • A      young person (under18) taking part in the process should be accompanied by      an appropriate adult, if required, during engagement with RJ
  • If      the alleged offender insists that he/she is innocent, RJ should not      proceed
  • Any      outcome from RJ must respect the dignity and human rights of both      parties.  Nothing which might amount      to degrading treatment can be sanctioned by RJ schemes
  • RJ      schemes cannot discriminated against anyone engaging with the process in      terms of their race/gender/community background/sexual orientation or      other status
  • Diversity      must be respected


In the current debate surrounding community-based restorative justice programmes and their compliance with human rights standards, little has been said by government and statutory agencies about the positive contribution that an organisation like Alternatives has made to further the rights and participation of children and young people.  For many the overriding question remains: in preventing punishment attacks and in working with children and young people, how are the young people being treated within community restorative justice programmes?



This brings us back to the issue of a real understanding of the principles and practices of restorative justice and the harmonisation of these with children’s and young people’s rights.  Alternatives would propose that it makes sense that young people and their parent/guardian be advised of their right to seek the advice of a lawyer and have their lawyer present during the restorative conference/mediation but not participate.  It is imperative that a restorative process does not mirror an adversarial process including the issue of power imbalances.  A young person must not be led into a room where he/she is overwhelmed by a group of adults who feel they have the right to ‘make decisions on his/her behalf’.  This represents the adversarial system and the values of restorative justice insist that its system enables both the young person and the victim to have a real and meaningful contribution.


Billy’s story


Billy is sixteen years old, the age when a young person leaves school with some qualifications and begins to shape a career for himself.  However, Billy has already left school; he was expelled at the age of fifteen with no qualifications and the career he has forged out for himself is one of crime and ‘hooding’.  Billy has been involved in stealing from local shops in his community since he was twelve.  Recently, this has extended to stealing from houses to help pay for his drug habit.  He has been involved in using drugs since he was thirteen.  Billy has been warned, threatened and beaten on one occasion by paramilitaries for his habitual stealing.  None of this has changed his behaviour.


Billy arrives at the office of Alternatives one afternoon, shaking with fear.  He tells the worker in the office that he is under threat from the paramilitaries and that one of his mates has told him the word on the streets is that “he’ll be lucky if he didn’t get his elbows as well as his knees done”.  Billy is known to the Alternatives staff.  His most recent incident of stealing from his own aunt’s house has been brought to the attention of the project manager who immediately phones a senior paramilitary contact.  The message is clear – this time Billy has “over stepped the mark” and there is a strong view within the community he should be ‘kneecapped’. (‘Kneecapping’ is a brutal phenomenon perpetuated by paramilitaries as a means of summary justice.  In layman’s terms, a person is shot behind the knee causing considerable damage to the patella.  In some cases, amputations have resulted).    The project manager successfully negotiates a positive intervention with an understanding that Billy is being invited to enrol in the Alternatives Intensive Youth Support Programme, (IYSP), to begin exploring how he can heal the harm he has caused, not only to others but to himself also.  This ‘buys’ some cooling off time.


Billy is no stranger to violence but this, to date, has not changed his behaviour.  In spite of the community’s desire for instant ‘justice’, there is the acceptance that something different needs to be tried.  The Alternatives IYSP is not some sort of probation, it is a real alternative to the whole concept of violent punishment in the form of summary justice, which is widely supported in the types of communities Billy, and other young people like him, live in.  Alternatives take referrals from anyone who has a legitimate concern.  Often this will be a self-referral from someone perceived to be under threat, sometimes from the paramilitaries and sometimes from concerned individuals or groups in the community.  Referrals also come from statutory sources such as schools, social services, probation, Housing Executive and the Police.  Alternatives work closely with the Police and formal protocols have been signed with the Northern Ireland Office to improve the mechanism of sharing information and promote a better working partnership.


The project manager has been told Billy’s behaviour has deteriorated in the community and in his most recent incident he broke into his aunt’s house and stole £300 worth of jewellery.  Billy admitted the offence and claimed that the jewellery was sold on and the money used to pay a drug debt.  He is encouraged to talk about the incident.  It is not Alternatives’ job either to investigate crimes or to determine guilt or innocence.  Instead, it is the workers job to create an environment wherein all the relevant parties have the opportunity to tell their stories and have their voices heard.  In this way, a consensus may be reached as to the best way forward, given the nature of the circumstances.  The starting point is an admission of guilt from Billy.


Billy wants help and he obviously does not want to be on the receiving end of a paramilitary punishment attack.  Since he is under eighteen, his family must be involved.  Billy is told to go home and come back later that day with a parent or any other appropriate family member or relative to discuss the type of support he might need.  Apart from being a requirement by law, this is also part of good practice inasmuch as it is a holistic approach to working with young offenders.  Often family and friends of an offender are deeply involved in the scenario, at times also part of the problem, and therefore hopefully part of the solution.


Billy arrives back later that day with his mother who is totally devastated by the recent events.  The project manager is joined in this meeting by a support worker who will work closely with Billy should he choose to enrol on the IYSP.  The manager outlines the various options.  Billy can:

  • Walk      out of the office, do nothing and take his chances in the community.
  • He      can contact the Police, confess what he has done and be processed by the      formal criminal justice system.
  • He      can contact Base 2 – A project managed by the Northern Ireland Association      for the Care and Resettlement of offenders which support people under      threat by helping them get out of their area.
  • Or Billy      can enrol with Alternatives, a programme that will encourage him to accept      the human consequences of his actions and make things as right as possible      with his victims, his community and himself.

They are all genuine options and Billy has the right to choose.  His family want him to be involved in the programme.  His extended family, including one of his victims, his aunt, feel he could benefit from it and the community want Billy’s behaviour to change.  From Alternatives’ point of view, his case seems appropriate for the IYSP.


Potential participants are normally told to think about their options overnight or for a few days.  Next day, Billy returns to the office with the good news that he wants to work with Alternatives.  That afternoon, Billy and his support worker have their first formal meeting.  This person is a qualified youth worker and trained restorative justice practitioner who will be with Billy throughout his participation on the programme.  Billy is given an outline of the programme, which is likely to include an element of voluntary work, restitution to the victim and personal goals to help him make positive changes in his life.  He and the support worker both sign a set of guidelines that detail his commitment to Alternatives and theirs to him.


Meanwhile, the project manager assigns another member of staff to the case, one who is a trained mediator.  Her first job is to visit the victim to find out how she is feeling and to determine her needs.  She informs her that she has a right to contact the police, if she has not already done so, and that Billy has agreed to participate on Alternatives’ IYSP.  These matters are addressed in the course of a supportive discussion where the main thing is to let the victim talk through the incident if they wish.  Sometimes victims want nothing to do with Alternatives, sometimes they want to participate, and each case is different.


In this case, the aunt is willing to talk and tells the mediator how this was not the first time Billy had stolen from her.  He stole some money last year, had been caught and had paid it back.  She has not spoken to Billy since the incident or this latest one and is wary of meeting him because she is so angry.  However, she also states that she wants him to hear how hurt and angry she is and to understand how much some of the jewellery he stole meant to her.  She also wants compensated so that she can pay to replace the jewellery.


Generally, victims are invited to participate in a face-to-face meeting with the offender if that is what they want and if they would find that helpful.  If the victim is unwilling or not ready yet to meet the offender, the mediator may act as a go-between to see whether a contract or plan of restitution can be agreed by both parties.  In any event, the mediator will meet with the offender to hear their side of the story and agree a plan of action.  Alternatives are clear that victims have the principle role in defining and directing the terms and conditions of the exchange with the offender, whatever form it takes.  It is the mediator’s role to ensure that under no circumstances is the victim re-victimised.


Billy and his support worker begin meeting on a regular basis to develop a detailed contract which attempts to address the needs of all the stakeholders.  In this respect, the support is person-centred and may continue for a short period of time or, as in some cases, as long as a year.  With Billy, the first stage is self awareness.  The support worker develops a relationship with him and creates a learning environment wherein he learns about Billy’s life, his family, educational experience, his problems and offending behaviour.  He is encouraged to identify the negative choices he has made and to reflect on how they might be changed.  This is developed into identifying and naming the key issues and problems which have influenced Billy so that a plan of action can be designed with achievable goals.


In Billy’s case he is resistant to seeing how his drug use, stealing, performance at school and deteriorated relationships with his family are interconnected. He is immersed in a culture where drug use is viewed as the ‘norm’ and therefore he finds it difficult to imagine his existence without drugs.  All of his friends are drug users and his social life revolves around this, so therefore he is resistant to accepting the negative impact drugs are having on his life.  With much intensive work, he admits that his drug use has increased over the past year as he has been feeling increasingly worse about himself.  He feels bad about being kicked out of school and is embarrassed about the fact that his reading and writing skills are not what they should be for someone his age.  He knows that his mother is ashamed of him and his father has had no contact with him since his stealing has increased.  He has alienated almost all of his family and has buried himself in drugs as a way of escaping from ‘his world’.


The next phase is described as victim awareness.  The support worker discusses with Billy how his aunt and others like her might feel about losing their property.  He is encouraged to think about a time when he felt victimised such as when he was beaten by the paramilitaries; he is shown a video on victimisation and encouraged to understand empathy with the sufferings of the victim.  Billy also meets with the mediator to talk about his side of the story and to establish if he is willing to meet with his aunt in a face-to-face exchange to address the hurt he has caused her.  After a period of preparation he agrees to meet with his aunt and feels he, at least, owes her an apology as well as discussing how he can make things right.  A meeting is scheduled for an agreed date.


In the next stage, Billy is encouraged to appreciate his responsibility to his community.  This means all those who live in the neighbourhood and, more particularly, all those who may have suffered from his antisocial behaviour in the past.  When asked what shops he has stolen from, he replies that he has stolen from almost every shop in his community.  Billy’s actions have affected many people directly.  In addition to this, we all have neighbours, friends and family who affect us and are affected by our way of life indirectly.  We are interdependent with others in our social life.  Restorative Justice argues that those who make up our social life have a right and duty to be involved in putting things right when social links are strained and broken by crime.


Billy formally recognises his responsibility to the community by agreeing to meet with the local Traders Association to discuss with them how he could give something back for the harm he had caused.  During this meeting he offers a formal apology and agrees to complete 80 hours volunteer work cleaning up the yards of some of the shops and doing odd jobs.  This is a restorative remedy but it should also recognise the severity of the actions that led to it by an appropriate number of hours.  Emphasis is also put on finding work placements where the participant can find meaningful ways and help find a place for them in society.


After this period of intense preparation, Billy agrees to his contract and commits this to writing.  In all cases the contract should address the needs of the victim, the community and the offender.  For Billy, he has agreed to meet his aunt and make restitution.  The 80 hours of volunteer work makes up for some of the harm he has caused to local traders and to the community.  For himself, he has agreed to stop stealing, attend a drug awareness course to get some counselling and participate in a tutoring programme at Alternatives which addresses his literacy problems.  His mother is involved in finalising the contract which is then signed by her, Billy and his support worker.


Billy begins working on his contract.  He meets with his aunt to apologise for his actions.  His aunt brings her husband to the meeting for support and Billy brings his mother and support worker.  Everyone at the meeting takes it in turn to speak.  Billy’s aunt tells how hurt and disappointed she is and how what she wants most is for him to mend his ways.  She also says that there were two items of jewellery which were of great sentimental value to her and asks if there is any way she can get them back.  If not, she states that she would like £150 to replace them.  Billy apologises for stealing from her and tells his aunt that he will try to get the jewellery back but, if not, will pay £15 per week for ten weeks if she agrees.  A contract is signed regarding this agreement and the mediator closes the meeting with a promise to monitor progress.


Billy is able to buy back one item of jewellery and pays his aunt £50 in restitution.  He gets a part-time job in the local chip-shop through his volunteering work and pays the money off in three weeks.  All parties are satisfied with this outcome.  He does ten hours each week in volunteer work until the 80 hours are completed.  This is a huge accomplishment for a young man who until recently had no structure to his days whatsoever.  The local traders also begin to see Billy in a different light and relationships begin to be changed.


In terms of his personal goals, Billy begins to set weekly targets for himself.  He begins attending a drugs education programme at a local centre and begins thinking realistically about the affects long-term drug use can have.  He also starts attending a tutoring programme twice each week in Alternatives and gets involved in evening youth provision they provide.  All of this, as well as his part-time job mean that Billy’s life now has a focus.


He has begun to make positive changes.  For the first time in his life, he has people around him who accept him for who he is and who wants to support him.  So Billy’s journey begins.  Each step is his to take but he will have people to walk with him.


Whilst these could be viewed as two success stories, Alternatives have been established fourteen years and their development has not been without problems.  In March 2007 they invited the Criminal Justice Inspector in to inspect their practice with a view to gaining government accreditation.  The following is extracted from his report.


They (Alternatives) operate in working-class Loyalist areas which have traditionally been dominated by paramilitaries.  They started locally but have extended their services to adjacent estates and areas in response to demand.  Alternatives set out to reduce paramilitary summary justice by offering a non-violent approach to dealing with low-level offending and antisocial behaviour.  In these areas the community has looked to the paramilitaries to maintain order and protect them from petty crime and antisocial behaviour by young people.  There was, and still is, a reluctance to call in the police and a widespread feeling that the police and the courts were not effective in dealing with problems of this sort.  The paramilitaries provided a ‘public order’ service to their communities as a means of maintaining their influence and control.


Concerns have been expressed about the community-based restorative justice schemes that:

  • They are a front for      paramilitary organisations, which they help to maintain control over their      communities;
  • They rely on coercion by the      paramilitaries to force clients to take part in restorative justice;
  • They infringe the rights of the      client by denying him or her due process;
  • They expose the client to      double jeopardy.

Inspectors found no evidence that there were any such problems in relation to Alternatives.


There are sound policies on equality and human rights, and policies are in place on all the other matters one would regularly expect.  Human rights are crucial to a sound approach to restorative justice.  It is essential that no client should feel under pressure to admit to an offence or to take part in a programme if they are not guilty.  Alternatives place no pressure on clients to admit to an offence.  The interventions offered would be ineffective if the client were not acknowledging their responsibility and engaging voluntarily.  Clients are given time to think about whether they want to participate and are given other options.


This process of good practice has been reaffirmed with government accreditation being granted following the Criminal Justice Inspectors Report.  Whilst Alternatives’ practice has always been within the Criminal Law Act (NI) 1967, the future process will involve closer working partnerships with the formal justice system under the framework known as the NIO Protocols.  More recently, cases such as Billy’s will be processed by Alternatives, passed to the Public Prosecutors Service via the Police then returned to Alternatives’ IYSP.  This provides a conduit for the type of communities Alternatives are active in to work closer and with more faith in the statutory formal system.   



Billy’s human rights would quite possibly have been seriously abused but for the intervention of Alternatives.  By his own admission, he was spiralling downward out of control and, had he continued, he believes he would have been “seriously seen to” by the paramilitaries.  What you have been presented with in this material is an example from practice that is rooted in the principles of human rights.  At times this has been explicit when, for example, you read about the policies Alternatives have in place to ensure equality and so forth.  At other times, it requires you to reflect on what you read to identify the human rights concepts such as the attention to unconditional positive regard employed by Billy’s support worker.  The assertion by the writer that a duty to human rights, including those that are there to protect us by law, should be a basic standard for anyone working with young people is inclusive of those also often labelled ‘undesirables’.


Imagineering, imaging and imagining

            A rich debate about the role of the imagination in Northern Ireland emerged after the failure of Belfast’s bid, called Imagine Belfast, to make it onto the shortlist for the 2008 European Capital of Culture.[8] This very public humiliation led to a great deal of hand-wringing and accusation in political and arts circles in Belfast but it is not my intention to go into details here. Instead I begin with the title of the bid, ‘Imagine Belfast’, to open this reflection on three connotations of imagination: imagineering, imaging and imagining. In using the term imagineering I am taking a lead from writer and academic David Johnston, who described the writers of the Imagine Belfast bid as ‘social engineers’:

Johnston argued that they had placed more importance on ‘imagineering’, or producing a ‘Disneyesque’ view of Belfast, than on the realities as they existed.[9]  The Imagineering arm of the Disney Empire, set up in 1952, was intended to suggest the combination of imagining and engineering that would be needed to create the famous Disney theme parks.  I will suggest in this article that the notion of imagineering can be extended beyond the exigencies of the Disney Empire, and even beyond the Imagine Belfast bid. Imagineering highlights weaknesses in the wider political sphere within which the Good Friday Agreement was grounded and suggests that it provided the grounds on which imagination and social engineering were brought together.

The second term ‘imaging’ comes from the ‘Re-imaging Communities’ programme which was set up and supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland in 2006 to reconfigure or repaint sectarian murals throughout Northern Ireland.[10] The third point for consideration, imagining, stems from my observations of a social archiving project in Mount Vernon, a housing estate in North Belfast with a poor reputation due to its perceived associations with crime and Loyalist paramilitary activity. Both of these projects will be examined in detail below but first I need to elaborate on the notion of imagineering by drawing attention to the ‘engineered’ nature of the Good Friday Agreement and placing it in a cultural context.


The events of the period under scrutiny in this special edition, the years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, can be seen as having their roots as far back as the 16th century, a history which is too complex to rehearse here.  The most recent manifestation of conflict that preceded the Good Friday Agreement is often popularly known as ‘the Troubles’, a period of Northern Ireland’s history which began in the late 1960s. At that time increased calls for civil rights among the Catholic community in the North which, according to Jarman, was also about challenging the Orange hegemony of the streets[11], developed into ‘the Troubles’ after the introduction of the British army into Northern Ireland. The organising of Republicans into paramilitary organisations like the IRA, correlating paramilitary activity among Loyalists into organisations like the UDA and the UVF and the UFF, the presence of British troops, as well as the Northern Irish security forces and police, led to a protracted war that played out on the streets of the cities and towns of Northern Ireland as well as in rural communities. The conflict began to change its complexion as paramilitary groups started manoeuvring for position ahead of any possible ‘peace deal’ in the 1990s.[12] Subsequent ceasefires allowed for a protracted series of political negotiations involving the governments of Britain and Ireland, the many political parties that exist in Northern Ireland (chief among them the DUP, UUP, Sinn Fein, The Alliance Party and the SDLP) and also with representatives of the government of the United States.   The Good Friday Agreement which emerged in 1998 was endorsed by 71.1 per cent of voters in a national ballot in Northern Ireland while 95 per cent of voters in the Republic of Ireland said they supported it. The Agreement was a cleverly orchestrated ‘deal’ providing a way to hold together a fractious, antagonistic and mutually suspicious number of political actors while allowing those on both sides to claim victory: on one hand that the union with Britain was safe, and on the other, that it provided a stepping stone to a united Ireland.[13]

The Good Friday Agreement was seen as heralding a new era of peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland but peace has not emerged with any ease or sense of immediacy in the post-Agreement years and ‘public disillusionment with the Agreement and its implementation [has] become a major factor in post-accord Northern Ireland’.[14]  Indeed Farry points out the paradox that has emerged in recent years in which ‘the intensity of the conflict in Northern Ireland has been reduced [while] divisions have become even more closely defined and entrenched’.[15] The Agreement has been called a ‘sophisticated piece of constitutional and political engineering designed to constitutionally manage exclusive nationalisms within a sustained political structure’[16] and it continues to produce a problematic legacy because, despite the ballot, it was conceived and agreed at an elite political level. I stress the ‘engineering’ of the Agreement because there was, and continues to be, a serious dissonance between the political processes involved in the negotiation and the lived experience of ‘peace’ among the people of Northern Ireland. The Agreement was a remarkable, and imaginative, piece of conflict management but there has been a marked drop in support for it among Unionists especially, and the Protestant majority more generally, who have seen the potential win-win situation that emerged from the Agreement slide into a zero-sum perception in which they feel themselves to be the losers at every stage.[17] Negotiations for the Agreement were mostly carried out behind closed doors among politicians and civil servants but I will argue here that without any ‘cultural cement’[18] no political framework can succeed. So, although the politicians brokered a period of peace through the Good Friday Agreement, the political economy has largely failed to produce a ‘cultural landscape’ within which people might locate or imagine themselves.[19]

One of the major impacts of the ‘engineered’ nature of the Agreement is the further embedding of the ‘two traditions’, Protestant and Catholic, something which was seen as essential to make the Agreement stick,  but which has been viewed with dismay by many as a reductionist move that continues, and even further promotes, existing divisions. The emphasis in this article is on the cultural and social ramifications of the Good Friday Agreement because my argument is that, by reducing the complex web of alliances, allegiances, identities, and interpretations of histories into two seemingly mutually separate blocks, the rich complexities that have grown up around questions of identity in Northern Ireland can be ignored or at least downplayed. The smoothing out of complexities of identity in the Agreement by introducing two monolithic and exclusionary identity positions has seriously undermined any chances of a lasting peace in Northern Ireland to the extent that the question remains as to ‘whether it provides an effective framework for a permanent resolution of the conflict’.[20]

Culture and tradition are deeply embedded in the politics of Northern Ireland, an idea perhaps best represented by O’Reilly’s suggestion that ‘culture=tradition=legitimacy’.[21] The ‘two traditions’ approach perpetuates influential but disempowering cultural stereotypes the most important one, crudely speaking, that Protestants have no culture or, if they do, it is grounded in hatred, negativity and lack of imagination. Catholic culture, on the other hand, is seen as rich and vibrant, full of creativity, wit and imagination.[22] It is my intention to examine these ideas by way of a discussion of Belfast’s political murals and in order to do that I need to put them into a context in which they may be understood and appreciated as part of a rich material and visual culture that can be read as a manifestation of changing political and social cultures in Northern Ireland more generally. This is important because both the Re-imaging Communities initiative and the social archiving project in Mount Vernon, which I go on to discuss, have murals at their centre.

Signs and Symbols

In Northern Ireland both ‘sides’ have what have been called ‘extensive symbolic inventories’[23] by means of which people can locate themselves geographically, culturally and socially anywhere in the province. Kerbstones, lamp posts and telephone junction boxes which have been painted red, white and blue (the colours of the British Union flag) denote a Loyalist (and therefore predominantly Protestant) area. Similar painting of street furniture in green, white and gold (the colours of the Irish tricolour) indicates a Nationalist and therefore mostly Catholic area in what Santino calls ‘marked cultural landscapes’.[24] Not only will observers be able to read the dominant religious and cultural affiliations of the area in which they are located, they will also know that they are most likely in a working class area where political and religious commitment is strongly felt.

People in Northern Ireland have a deep understanding of the polysemic readings of cultural, political and religious signs and symbols. In a country where any emblem that was not the British flag was banned in 1954[25],  and which still has special legislation around flags and emblems[26], symbols in Northern Ireland are a ‘touch paper issue’.[27] Flags, kerbstones, lamp posts and even floral displays all contain a multi-referential visual potency which reflects and perpetuates the desire to control the dominant narrative.[28] A brief account offers one telling example which illustrates the extent to which symbols are minutely read and the level of emotion contained in this reading. Controversy erupted in 2001 when vases of white lilies were displayed in the main government buildings at Stormont in Belfast. White lilies have become a Republican symbol after the Easter Rising of 1916 in Dublin when fifteen Republicans were executed by British forces. For some Unionist politicians the connotations of these flowers in a public building were too potent, leading one to comment that ‘For the first time in the history of the United Kingdom a government building will be used to display symbols which honour IRA terrorists’.[29]

Conflict over symbols is usually indicative of deeper problems and the ‘tectonic grinding together of the two communal blocs [has] twisted and buckled the political culture of Northern Ireland’[30] making symbols incredibly potent. Symbolism generally works on two levels, suggest Brown and Mc Ginty, one allegorical where small single objects and acts are seen to stand for a wider truth and the other more deliberate where each group has its own inventory of signs and symbols. These signs and symbols are the means by which groups and individuals grasp and express ideas about their identity and their relations with the world. Writing about peace making Galtung suggests that objects in the symbolic sphere like ‘stars, crosses, crescents, flags, anthems and military parades’[31] are highly influential in setting the conditions on which conflict or peace might exist. Symbols have the power to ‘change the moral color (sic) of an act’ legitimising actual physical violence in such a way as to make it ‘look, even feel, right – or at least not wrong’.[32] In a similar vein Buckley speaks of symbols as being like coloured glass, we look through it and see the world beyond but it is a world that is altered in some way.[33] Symbolism works because of the human ability to communicate in complex ways and is effective due to the human tendency to objectify ourselves and others.[34] Symbols take on extra layers of meaning and resonance in situations of ethnic conflict when emotions are heightened and certain groups feel under threat.

The political murals in Northern Ireland have been called ‘perhaps the most colourful expression of territorialism in history’[35] and operate as part of the symbolic order of life there. Murals started to be painted in the late 19th century when the majority depicted King William III on his white horse as a celebration of his victory in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. King Billy, as he is more commonly known, symbolises the desire to maintain religious and civil liberties and the loyalty of Ulster Protestants to the British state.[36] Later murals started to depict other more contemporary figures, like politician Edward Carson in 1920, although the tradition waned until the early 1980s when it was taken up again as Nationalists began painting murals which largely depicted the Republican Hunger Strike of 1981. The tradition continues into the present day and most commentators agree that the murals painted since the Good Friday Agreement have moved away from overt depictions of paramilitary violence on both sides towards a more politicised view which emphasises prisoners’ rights and cultural and historical signs and symbols.[37]

In order to discuss the range and depth of symbolism in Belfast’s political murals, and to do justice to their sheer number and the complexity of their imagery as well as their materiality, I will use Harrison’s four part conceptualisation of symbolic conflict. Harrison notes that ‘competition for power, wealth, prestige, legitimacy or other political resources seems always to be accompanied by conflict over important symbols’.[38] In conflict situations groups create strategies for manipulating political symbols to effect the distribution of their symbolic capital, a concept that Harrison has taken from Bourdieu’s writing. Political symbols have certain characteristics as markers of status and legitimacy as well as being the focus of ‘emotional attachment, identification and loyalty’[39], objects that people invest in, that they use to create a sense of selfhood, identity and strength both individually and as a group.

The first strategy in building symbolic capital is what Harrison calls a valuation contest where opposing groups struggle to make their symbols preeminent. The valuation contest as far as murals are concerned can be seen in their number, scale and location. Murals are typically painted on the gable ends of houses creating large two-story images which can dominate the landscape. As mentioned above, until the early 1980s mural painting was an mainly Protestant expression until, in the period between the death of hunger striker Bobby Sands on 5th May 1981 and the following autumn, 100 nationalist murals appeared in Belfast and another 50 were painted in Derry.[40] Emotions at the time were running high as ten young Republican prisoners starved themselves to death for the right to be recognised by the British state as political prisoners.

The number and scale of the murals is impressive but the ways in which locations are chosen is another aspect of the competition for value. The appearance of a mural ‘situates a house and its locality within a universe of political conflict, sectarian divisions and paramilitary groups.’[41] As artefacts in public space their power is enhanced by their location and there is evidence that some are painted with specific political reference to that location in addition to their generally partisan nature. In one, for example, masked men are painted preparing to fire a rocket launcher in the direction of a (real) British Army checkpoint.[42]  According to Harrison, in order to maintain dominance efforts can also be made to deface or obliterate the symbols of the group’s opponents and in Northern Ireland this can be seen in the not infrequent defacement and paint bombing of murals.[43]

The second type of symbolic conflict concerns ownership where rivals struggle to claim prior and sole ownership of certain symbols. As I have suggested, since the Good Friday Agreement there has been a marked softening of the images used in the murals on both sides with a move away from paramilitary violence towards images of community activism with the use of cultural and historical symbols. Republican murals have made increasing use of Celtic iconography and the Irish language to underline the importance of Irish culture in legitimising their anti-imperialist stance against the British state.  Many commentators suggest that the murals in Protestant areas have been slower to change but in the last few years increasing interest in a revisionist version of Ulster’s history has led to a number of surprising images which seem to be attempting to reclaim the Celtic imagery so much an important part of Republican culture.

Most notably the traditionally Republican icon Cuchulainn has started to appear on murals in Protestant areas. To understand why Cuchulainn can be claimed by both Republican and Loyalist muralists it is necessary to delve into ancient history. Cuchulainn was a mythical hero whose exploits are recorded in the Tain Bo Cuailnge, or The Cattle Raid of Cooley, an epic poem set in the first century (CE) and thought to have been written in the 8th century (CE). The Cattle Raid of Cooley is described by historian Ian Adamson as embodying the ‘traditions of the ancient Ulster peoples in their struggles against successive invaders’.[44] Adamson argues that Cuchulainn was a member of the pre-Celtic people of the Cruthin who were forced into exile in Scotland, thereby providing the ancestry of the Scots who then settled Ireland from the seventeenth century onwards. This key reinterpretation of Irish history means that, rather than a colonisation process, the arrival of the Scots is reconfigured as a return of the exiles. This rediscovered myth of the first peoples thus makes Ulster Protestants ‘more Irish’ than the Celts (read Irish/Catholic) who then become the colonisers. Even when the figure of Cuchulainn appears on both Catholic and Protestant murals therefore it is not indicative of any acknowledgement of shared roots but rather an indication of the remaining gulf between the two cultures.

Thirdly there can be innovation contests where rival groups attempt to renew their distinctiveness by inventing new symbols, most likely to occur when ‘groups are seeking to establish or accentuate their distinctiveness from each other’.[45] Murals in Protestant areas are consistently criticised for their lack of innovation and their inability to respond the changing political realities of Northern Ireland. Murals in Catholic areas, on the other hand, are held up an example of an art form containing wit and perceptible critiques of up-to-the-minute changes in the political scene. One mural that is often cited as typical of a lack of imagination and, therefore innovation, in these more optimistic times is the Mount Vernon mural in North Belfast. It contains insignia of the North Belfast Battalion of the paramilitary UVF and is painted onto what looks like the gable wall of a house in the traditional style. Depicting two masked gunmen, it shows one staring out of the frame with his gun pointed away from the viewer and the slogan ‘Prepared for Peace’ above his head, the other staring out of the painting directly at the viewer with his gun pointing in the same direction and the slogan ‘Ready for War’. Other commentators have remarked that this mural indicates an unwillingness to change or move on[46] but, I wonder, if it has become the norm for political murals to be replaced with ‘softer’ images, then this lack of innovation is something of an innovation itself. It certainly makes the question of why this more strident message appeared at a time of decreasing conflict all the more crucial and it will be considered in detail in the last part of this article.

Finally, expansionism takes place when rival groups competing for survival attempt to replace the symbols of one side with those of its own; one is putting one’s stamp on something to make it one’s own or removing any trace of the other group.[47]  In extreme cases, suggests Harrison, this can go as far as the actual removal of the population through ethnic cleansing. I began by describing the divided nature of Belfast’s urban geography and the levels of polarisation in the city of Belfast that are historically grounded and have become particularly extreme in the last fifty years producing the city as a ‘mosaic of sectarian fragments’.[48] A large number of both Catholics and Protestants have moved, or been forcibly moved, from certain areas where they were in the minority to those areas that were perceived as ‘safe’ because they were predominantly Catholic or Protestant areas. Brown and Mac Ginty have suggested that by 2003 over half of Catholics and Protestants lived mainly in sectarian areas that were defined as being more than 90 per cent Catholic or Protestant.[49] Much of the movement towards this polarised urban geography takes place voluntarily but just as much, if not more, comes about as the result of intimidation, fear, and violence, as streets on both sides of the sectarian divide have been ‘claimed’ for one side or the other.

The second part of this article shows two ways in which this gloomy picture of stasis is being challenged, and even undermined, by initiatives that focus on the very instruments of symbolic violence themselves, the murals.  In analysing the possible efficacy of activities around the murals I would make a connection with Bourdieu who was concerned to make obvious the social arrangements that were otherwise hidden behind ideas of history and ‘common sense’. He suggests that ‘to change the world, one has to change the ways of world-making, that is, the vision of the world and the practical operations by which groups are produced and reproduced.’[50] Both projects described here, the Re-imaging Communities project and the social archiving project in Mount Vernon, attempt to help people who live with representations of political violence to explore ways in which they might change their world by changing their vision of their world. I hope to show how the project on Mount Vernon comes close to this vision for a changed world by helping people who live there to understand how they themselves are produced and reproduced within the political imagination of Northern Ireland. By giving them the ‘power to make visible and explicit social divisions that are implicit’, something described by Bourdieu as ‘political power par excellence’[51] those involved with the social archiving project are using the mural as a conduit for discussions on how residents feel they are seen and, more importantly, how they see themselves and how they might imagine themselves differently.


While the murals have come to dominate the streets in parts of Belfast they are not universally welcomed or approved of. Opponents see them as attempts to reinforce a certain political viewpoint, even as intimidatory objects in themselves.[52] The appearance of a mural can signal a level of intimidation because of their paramilitary content which means that opposing them at any stage renders the opponent vulnerable to intimidation or even personal violence. There have been concerns that they might be upsetting for local people; on one occasion, for example, because they were painted on the side of a facility for old people on Belfast’s Newtownards Road.[53] Many oppose the murals, not on political grounds, but simply because of their connotations with vandalism and criminal activity generally. Local newspapers have become involved in campaigns against certain murals on the grounds that they make the areas where they appear unattractive to investment from business and industry.

Partly in response to some of these ideas, but also as a way to try to diminish the influence of the paramilitaries generally, the Re-imaging Communities initiative was set up in 2006 and ran until 2009. The political will to remove paramilitary images had already been signalled in 2005 in a document produced by the Office of the First Minister Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM), part of the new political structure put into place following the Good Friday Agreement. Called ‘A Shared Future’ it spoke of ‘freeing the public realm from displays of sectarian aggression’ initially through negotiation with the communities affected but, if that was not possible, with the support of the police.[54] Re-imaging Communities was a three year programme with £3.3 million investment funded through the Shared Communities Consortium (SSC). The SSC made up of representatives of the Arts Council Northern Ireland (ACNI), The Department of Social Development (DSD), the International Fund for Ireland, (IFI), the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE), the Community Relations Council (CRC), The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), SOLACE, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers and the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM).

Consultation, planning and the repainting of the murals was facilitated by the Arts Council for Northern Ireland and was broadly conceived of as a participatory arts initiative. The ambition of the project was to tackle the ‘visual manifestations of division and sectarianism such as flags, paramilitary murals and kerb paintings’ and to replace them with ‘new positive, inclusive and non-threatening displays that could contribute to making people feel involved in a single wider community’.[55] Through the Re-imaging Communities programme community groups throughout Northern Ireland were encouraged to identify murals and other displays in their own communities that they would like to replace and could then apply for funding to carry out this work with the support of a professional artist. The sites were grouped under two broad headings, Shared Space and Shared Space Plus, with this second group containing the more ambitious projects that involved painting over paramilitary symbolism.

The Re-imaging Communities Programme was based on a number of assumptions around the murals in relation to economic investment, badly needed in Northern Ireland in the post-ceasefire years, and still being stalled by the violence that has dominated life in the province since the early 1970s. It was suggested that removing the most dominant images related to that violence might signal an end to hostilities, making the location more attractive to those outside who had money to invest. Investment would come when communities became less inclined to support paramilitary organisations because community divisions are perceived to be significant barriers to social and economic progress. Arts and cultural activities were seen as central to this growth of community cohesion and policy makers were looking to initiatives in the UK for guidance on this. The New Labour strategies in Britain which emanated from the Social Inclusion Unit in 2000 identified the role of culture and the arts in spurring urban regeneration.  In 2002 ten Neighbourhood Renewal Areas were identified in Northern Ireland and the ACNI made a total of £2.4 million available for arts and cultural projects designed to increase participation and indirectly loosen the grip of the paramilitary organisations thus paving the way, it was thought, for a less divided society.

In 2009 by the end of the project 123 Re-imaging Communities grants had been awarded by 2009 with 21 of those related to the replacement of paramilitary murals. The outputs for the more challenging Shared Space Plus Scheme involved removed paramilitary murals and replaced them with other images.[56] With some, the emphasis is on natural images including butterflies to ‘represent themes of change and freedom’[57] in one example, or more explicitly social messages about the inadvisability of taking drugs in another. The emphasis in the majority of these projects however lies in replacing paramilitary images with broader depictions with an historical, sporting or other cultural emphases often relating to the history of a specific area or village.

An independent evaluation of the project judged it to have had ‘considerable success’ with 60-80 community groups having been involved in the work.[58] The emphasis in all the projects described is on the active involvement of children and young people and of the 6 500 people estimated to have been involved with the projects over 5000 were under the age of 25.[59] The writers of the report on Re-Imaging felt that many areas that had been seen as threatening previously had been opened out into spaces in which the wider community could feel comfortable. The participatory nature of the activities meant that people had felt involved with decisions about their neighbourhoods and that the project had marked an important first step which signalled an acceptance of the need for change.[60]

The scheme is now over although, clearly, many more murals still remain and more are still being painted.[61] Opinion is still divided about the role and place of the political murals that remain: on one level there is a quietly pragmatic recognition that Belfast needs its murals while it is trying to attract tourism and international trade. As Rolston points out one prominent guide states that ‘the wall murals in Belfast and Derry […] are as much a part of Ireland these days as green fields and noisy pubs’.[62] It would be unfair for me to draw any clear conclusions about the value of the work of the Re-imaging Communities, or to evaluate the possible levels of success in changing minds that may have come about as a result of re-painting any of the over one hundred sites that have been affected. However, the term ‘imaging’ is unfortunate in its connotations with appearance, perhaps drawing it uncomfortably into the sphere of advertising or branding, and thus seeming to imply possibly only superficial change. In the social archiving project in Mount Vernon, which I will now discuss, residents are taking part in detailed discussions over a long period of time within their own communities about what they should do, if anything, with these remnants of violence that they have inherited, especially at a time when the peace process is under growing threat. Moving into the final part of the argument I hope to use this example to show the possibilities of stressing imagination over image in this imagineered moment of ‘peace’.




Mount Vernon is a working class housing estate in the North of Belfast with a largely Protestant population. Built on the side of the Cave Hill, which dominates the landscape as it sweeps down one side of Belfast Lough, Mount Vernon has been described as ‘looking like a broken-down fortress’ from the outside.[63] The houses, tightly packed into a small area on the side of the hill, are mostly semi-detached, built in the housing boom of the 1960s. They have neat front gardens complimenting the pockets of greenery in the more public spaces provided by grassed areas on the corners of streets and verges of the roads. There is a local primary school set in extensive grounds and some historical residues in the shape of old walls from the nineteenth century when Mount Vernon was a large stately home modelled on Mount Vernon in Virginia, the home of George Washington.  All this is evident once in the estate but in the past few people from outside would venture into Mount Vernon, partly because of its reputation as an area with high levels of criminality and a strong Loyalist paramilitary presence. In common with many such areas, in both Ireland and Britain, Mount Vernon is an area of economic deprivation with high levels of unemployment. Even set against the high levels of poverty and unemployment in Belfast generally, which is the most deprived government district in Northern Ireland[64], Mount Vernon has been called a ‘pocket of poverty’ by the residents, characterised by its lack of services in health and childcare especially.[65]

In 2002 a resident-led Community Development Forum was set up to try to improve life in Mount Vernon using the resources of those who lived in the estate. Coordinated by community development worker Billy Hutchinson, in 2005 the group applied for and received a small grant to develop a strategy and vision for the area. Hutchinson himself is an ex-combatant who was imprisoned for paramilitary activity with the UVF in the 1970s. He subsequently took a more political route and became one of the leading voices in the Progressive Unionist Party, was elected to Belfast City Council in 1997 and to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1998. Credited by his allies as being a key player in the brokering of the UVF ceasefire and for providing a sense of leadership through political analysis, he is also criticised by some Loyalists as being politically left of centre, something more often associated with Republicans.[66]

As the community development worker for Mount Vernon Hutchinson has driven the process of developing a strategy for the area, working closely with the Community Development Forum.  One of the more unusual aspects of the strategy for Mount Vernon is the prominent role of the arts in discussing the future of the area and in communicating the findings of those involved to the wider community and beyond. Community artists were central to the strategy process and artists in dance, drama and creative writing have worked with community groups to help them to articulate an answer to the question ‘What would make a real difference to Mount Vernon?’ In 2010 a community archiving project took place in Mount Vernon as an extension of this earlier work. It was designed to

inspire discussion on the estate about its past, present and future and to support residents to develop new intra-community learning on how they can develop new perspectives on how they can regenerate the physical and contested environment.[67]

This project was called ‘Mount Vernon: more than just a mural?’ with reference to the notorious Prepared for Peace: Ready for War mural already discussed. This mural is unusual in two respects. Firstly its location is very prominent and clearly visible outside the estate sitting as it does high above the Shore Road, one of the main arterial routes that heads north out of Belfast. This makes it unusual in a situation where most murals are thought to be more a part of an internal community discourse and are not designed for public display in this way.[68] Secondly, its appearance surprised many observers because its bellicose message came at a time when murals generally had turned away from overt depictions of paramilitary activity, as has already been discussed.[69] Vannais chooses to see this mural as characteristic of the fearful Loyalist response to the ceasefires and typical of Protestant intransigence and fear of change generally. She contrasts the Mount Vernon mural with Republican murals painted at the same time which she claims were, by contrast, ‘magnanimous and optimistic’.[70] This suggests a lack of understanding of the complexities of the ‘life story’ of this mural as discussed below but, more importantly, polarisations like this that emerge from a superficial reading of the wishes and desires of the people who live with the murals are unhelpful. They serve to reinforce certain essentialist cultural images which I hope to challenge by discussing the Mount Vernon mural in relation to the social archiving project ‘Mount Vernon: more than just a mural?’

The social archiving project took place over the course of about a year and involved public workshops with local residents facilitated by artists Gerri Moriarty and Jo Egan where participants were enabled to ‘explore common interests and tease out individual differences’.[71] The open public workshops were supplemented by other workshop activities with children, young parents, a women’s group, and the elderly residents of an old people’s facility. The workshop methodology emerged from research carried out by William Mitchell who adapted a technique that he has developed through his work with ex-paramilitary Loyalist prisoners. Mitchell himself is a former prisoner who, like Hutchinson, has been imprisoned for paramilitary activities but who now works with ex-combatants to try to understand why they acted in the way that they did and to bring that knowledge to a wider audience.[72] To begin the workshop the facilitators produced photographic of images of Mount Vernon, including some of the Prepared for Peace: Ready for War mural, a number of smaller murals and other familiar sites around the estate. Participants created personal timelines which, for the adults, meant that their stories moved through the worst period of the conflict. These personal chronologies were used to create mind maps from which the creative team developed questions that tried to elicit as much information as possible with as little interruption from them as possible.[73] Through this process the team developed a question based on what they had been hearing from participants: ‘As a resident, or someone associated with Mount Vernon, tell us of your past and present experiences and how you would want these to influence Mount Vernon’s future relationship with the outside world.’[74] This question was posed on film to 12 individuals of differing ages, backgrounds and gender who responded to the question after which they had the opportunity to develop one aspect of their story if they wished. Material from these interviews was then edited to create a short film called ‘Mount Vernon; more than just a mural’ which is intended as a tool to open up further dialogue both in Mount Vernon and beyond.

Key to this approach is narrative. People were encouraged to tell stories about the area, their relationship to the area and also Mount Vernon’s relationship with Belfast and beyond. In one workshop which I observed participants created an image of Mount Vernon which almost seemed to become a character in its own right embodied in their stories.  Some described the Prepared for Peace: Ready for War mural as the ‘face’ of Mount Vernon and this opened up channels of discussion that might have been difficult to pursue outside the boundaries of the workshop.  The mural seemed to be regarded as a hugely ambivalent ‘living’ representation of desire and knowledge, either the embodiment or, more often, the antithesis of ideas and aspirations about identity, place and politics. One participant later stated in the film ‘The history of the mural has to be kept because it was out there at a time when a lot of people felt that it was right to be there, but now I think that time has gone’. Another commented I think the mural should be kept to remind [the young people] of their past [long pause] and not to go down that road again.’[75]

McCormick and Jarman talk about the life cycle or biography of objects in relation to the murals of Northern Ireland[76] after Koyptoff’s ideas about the biography of objects. Kopytoff asks:

What are the recognised “ages” or periods in the thing’s “life”, and what are the cultural markers for them? How does the thing’s use change with its age, and what happens to it when it reaches the end of its usefulness?[77]

In many ways the participants of the workshops were discussing where the Prepared for Peace: Ready for War mural might have reached in its life story. It began its ‘life’ in 1994 immediately after the Loyalist ceasefires when its ambiguous message was seen as audacious: on the one hand seeming to herald a new era but, at the same time, not representing an unconditional embracing of a new political order by any means. It remained in place until 2000 when the building on which it was painted was slated for demolition but it did not ‘die’ at this stage. An agreement was made with the architects charged with redeveloping the building on which it was first painted to build new wall on which it could be repainted. This new wall between two neighbouring buildings was specially built to resemble the traditional gable end of a house but it is, in fact, simply a wall which looks authentic from a certain distance but behind which lies a patch of waste ground. This explains the notoriety of the mural in terms of its location because the original was not so public or so large: it was the architect who pointed out the site and, it is implied, arranged for the bigger wall to be built on this new more public site so that he could build a new block of flats.

Ten or more years later, having escaped redevelopment, there are a number of directions in which the mural’s ‘life’ could now move. In common with all outdoor public art, murals are prone to the elements, to aging and decay which makes their permanence relative. The communities in which the murals are located make choices about their continuing function and purpose and, when their value and purpose come to an end, they may be ‘abandoned, ignored, defaced, destroyed, removed, replaced or redesigned’.[78] According to McCormick and Jarman’s classification one option is that the mural could be ‘retired’, simply allowed to fade away becoming illegible and unintelligible over the years. Alternatively, through repainting and maintenance it could be reclaimed, at the same time perhaps symbolically reclaiming the area as a paramilitary stronghold for the UVF. Alternatively, it could be restored in such a way as to give it greater commodity value, perhaps becoming part of the tourist trail of murals akin to the one at Free Derry Corner which is tended and maintained as a symbolic, but historic, artefact of the conflict. One option is recycling which is the process that the political murals have been through when they are repainted as part of the Re-imaging Communities programme. When I put this option to Billy Hutchinson he was dismissive.

Re-imaging is a very cheap shot at taking down the murals […] the people on this estate need to understand why people put the mural there in the first place, why they weren’t consulted about it and all those sorts of things […] I want to be part of how we interpret Loyalism and Loyalist murals […]. Re-imaging is just about changing, let’s get it done as quickly as possible.[79]

Hutchinson’s approach provides a different perspective by emphasising the time it takes to develop a deep understanding within the community about why things happen the way they do, why the stories that are told are presented in the way they are, why some interpretations of history are preferred to others. He talks about the need for the community to engage with the violent history of Mount Vernon and of Northern Ireland generally, and with those ex-combatants who still live there. Referring to the replacement of a Loyalist paramilitary mural in Ballymena with images of a butterfly Hutchinson commented that no one was explaining ‘the metamorphosis’.[80] Hutchinson implies that change has to come about through a cognitive process whereby people no longer feel the need for certain images because those images no longer represent their aspirations. This can be done partly by helping those who feel the need for these images to ‘feel confident about their views about the country’.[81] This more ambitious project involves discussion, archiving and interpretation and is clearly a much longer more complex project than simply repainting (or not) a mural. By creating a deeper understanding of everything that has happened and is still taking place around it enmeshes it in a shared story of Mount Vernon, its history and its future. In Hutchinson’s words

Whatever we do is about change. And people need to understand that change and what it is. For instance, the stuff that we’ve been doing with what we would call the ex-combatants is that anything they do they must do it for a reason and they must understand why they’re doing it. As well as understanding why they’re doing it presently, they also need to understand why they did it in the past. I don’t want people to take the murals down for the sake of taking them down […] the point is it needs to be interpreted; there needs to be a reason for bringing it down.[82]

The social archiving project in Mount Vernon recognises the power of narrative in creating this understanding. Instead of asking questions about people’s attitudes to the mural which might result in a static or calcified response, the social archiving project simply asks the people who live with the mural to tell stories about their lived experiences on Mount Vernon. In doing this people are encouraged to imagine, to create, to narrativise other possibilities: one participant to the workshops claims ’if this [social archiving project] had happened when we were growing up we might not have had thirty years of conflict’.[83] The potential of such initiatives might be seen in the recent agreement that two smaller paramilitary murals in Mount Vernon might be replaced and there will be a consultation into what, if anything, might replace these.[84] Other projects include the installation on the estate of a First World War memorial garden which is partly the work of the men’s history group. This group of men on the estate meet to learn about Irish history and to discuss ‘making sense of the past’[85] and who have made links with a group on New Lodge, a neighbouring Catholic area. The memorial garden acknowledges the sacrifice of the 16th Irish battalion from the South of Ireland alongside that of the young men from the North who were part of the 36th Ulster division. The significance of this acknowledgement cannot be underestimated in a history which is dominated by the story of the sacrifice of the young Protestant soldiers at the Battle of the Somme, usually read as a gesture that underlines the importance of the Union with Britain.

Galtung suggests that the main capacities needed for peace are imagination and perseverance.[86] Telling stories, creating narratives, placing things in an imaginary realm reveals aspects of the situation that might have passed unnoticed; it energises a situation so that people may emerge from conflict ‘with more mature selves and more mature social formulations’.[87] The imagineering behind the imposition of the monolithic two traditions model imposed by the Good Friday Agreement may have been a necessary stepping stone towards peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, providing a breathing space or moment of reflection. But it is just that, a moment, a pause. What takes place during that pause will influence what happens when that moment passes. Nobody wants to return to the levels of political violence that dominated life before the Agreement but perhaps one of the surest ways to avoid this is by creating situations now where people can tell new stories about themselves and each other and by starting to imagine how to re-imagine.


[1] Johnston, D., (2003) Imagination and Imagineering IN Carruthers, M., S. Douds and T. Loane, Re-imagining Belfast: a manifesto for the arts (Cultural Resolution: Belfast) p. 46.

[2] The population figure of Belfast in 1980. (accessed 11th March, 2011)

[3] Jarman, N., (1992) ‘Troubled Images’ Critique of Anthropology, 12: 2, p. 149.

[4] In Northern Ireland the term Nationalist is used to describe those who hold a long-term desire for the reunification of Ireland and the majority of the Catholic community would hold Nationalist views. The main aim of Republicans is the establishment of a United Ireland which includes the six counties that presently make up Northern Ireland and the term Republican is usually taken to imply tacit, or actual, support for the use of physical force by paramilitary groups with Republican aims. It should be noted that not all Nationalists support Republican groups. The term Unionist is used to describe those who wish to see the union with Britain maintained and the majority of people from the Protestant community would hold Unionist views. The term Loyalist is used by many commentators to imply that the person gives tacit, or actual, support to the use of force by paramilitary groups to defend the union with Britain; it should be noted that not all Unionists support Loyalist groups. Loyalism and Republicanism therefore are the stronger, some would say more extreme, manifestations of the desire to, respectively, maintain the Union with Britain (a view supported mostly by Protestants), and to sever it in order to set up a united, independent Ireland (a view supported mostly by Catholics). Information taken from The Conflict Archive on the Internet. (accessed 15th May, 2011)


[5] Deane, S. ‘Canon Fodder: literary mythologies in Ireland’ IN Lundy, J. and Aodan Mac Poilin (eds.) (1992) Styles of Belonging. The cultural identities of Ulster, (Belfast: Lagan Press), p. 29

[6] Nordstrom, C., (2004) Shadows of War. Violence, power and international profiteering in the twenty-first century, (Berkley and Los Angeles: University of California Press), p. 166

[7] Readers can take their own virtual tour on

[8] Carruthers, M., S. Douds and T. Loane (Eds.) (2003) Re-imagining Belfast. A manifesto for the arts, (Belfast: Cultural Resolution).

[9] Johnston, D. ’Imagination and Imagineering’ IN Carruthers, M., S. Douds and T. Loane (eds.) (2003) Re-imagining Belfast. A manifesto for the arts, (Belfast: Cultural Resolution).

[10] Independent Research Solutions (2009) Evaluation of Re-imaging Communities, (Arts Council Northern Ireland, Belfast).

[11] Jarman, N., Painting the landscapes: the place of murals in the symbolic construction of urban space IN Buckley, A.,(ed.) (1998) Symbols in Northern Ireland, (Institute of Irish Studies, Queens University of Belfast), p.84

[12] See Cox, M., Adrian Guelke and Fiona Stephen A Farewell to Arms? From long war to Long Peace (Manchester University Press, Manchester) for a full account of the peace process in Northern Ireland.

[13] Taafe, T. ‘Images of Peace: the news media, politics and the Good Friday Agreement’ IN Neuheiser, J. and Stefan Wolff (Eds.) (2003) Peace at Last? The impact of the Good Friday Agreement on Northern Ireland, (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books), p. 116

[14] Brown, K. and R. Mc Ginty, (2003) ‘Public Attitudes toward Partisan and Neutral Symbols in Post-Agreement Northern Ireland’ Identities, 10: 1, p. 84.

[15] Farry, S., ‘The Morning After: An Alliance Perspective on the Agreement’ IN Neuheiser, J. and Stefan Wolff (eds.) (2003) Peace at Last? The impact of the Good Friday Agreement on Northern Ireland, (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books), p. 25.

[16] Brown, K. and R. Mc Ginty, (2003) ‘Public Attitudes toward Partisan and Neutral Symbols in Post-Agreement Northern Ireland’ Identities, 10: 1, p. 86, emphasis added.

[17] Farry, S., ‘The Morning After: An Alliance Perspective on the Agreement’ IN Neuheiser, J. and Stefan Wolff (eds.) (2003) Peace at Last? The impact of the Good Friday Agreement on Northern Ireland, (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books), p. 26.

[18] Graham,B., Ulster: a representation of place yet to be imagined IN Shirlow, P. and Mark Mc Govern (Eds.) Who are the People? Unionism, Protestantism and Loyalism in Northern Ireland (London: Pluto Press), p. 52


[19] Graham,B., Ulster: a representation of place yet to be imagined IN Shirlow, P. and Mark Mc Govern (Eds.) Who are the People? Unionism, Protestantism and Loyalism in Northern Ireland (London: Pluto Press), p. 52.

[20] Neuheiser, J. and Stefan Wolff (Eds.) (2003) Peace at Last? The impact of the Good Friday Agreement on Northern Ireland, (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books), p. 18.

[21] O’Reilly, C. ‘The Politics of Culture in Northern Ireland’ IN Neuheiser, J. and Stefan Wolff (eds.) (2003) Peace at Last? The impact of the Good Friday Agreement on Northern Ireland, (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books), p. 169.

[22] O’Reilly, C. ‘The Politics of Culture in Northern Ireland’ IN Neuheiser, J. and Stefan Wolff (eds.) (2003) Peace at Last? The impact of the Good Friday Agreement on Northern Ireland, (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books),  p. 169

[23] Brown, K. and R. Mc Ginty, (2003) ‘Public Attitudes toward Partisan and Neutral Symbols in Post-Agreement Northern Ireland’ Identities, 10: 1, p. 89.

[24] Santino, J. (2001) Signs of War and Peace. Social conflict and the use of public symbols in Northern Ireland, (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan), p. 30.

[25] Patterson, H. (1999) ‘Party versus Order: Ulster Unionism and the Flags and Emblems Act’ Contemporary British History, 13: 4, (105-129).

[26] (accessed 17th March, 2011)

[27] B Brown, K. and R. Mc Ginty, (2003) ‘Public Attitudes toward Partisan and Neutral Symbols in Post-Agreement Northern Ireland’ Identities, 10: 1, (89)

[28] Santino, J. (2001) Signs of War and Peace. Social conflict and the use of public symbols in Northern Ireland, (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan) p.61

[29] Watt, N. (2001) ‘It looks like a simple bunch of lilies. But in Ulster nothing is that simple.’ The Guardian, 11th April, 2001 (accessed 18th March, 2011)

[30] Brown, K. and R. Mc Ginty, (2003) ‘Public Attitudes toward Partisan and Neutral Symbols in Post-Agreement Northern Ireland’ Identities, 10: 1, (87)

[31] Galtung, J., (1996) Peace by Peaceful Means. Peace and conflict, development and civilisation,( London: Sage) p. 292.

[32] Galting, J., (1996) Peace by Peaceful Means. Peace and conflict, development and civilisation,( London: Sage), p. 292.

[33] Buckley, A. (ed.) (1998) Symbols in Northern Ireland (Institute of Irish Studies, Queen’s University Belfast), p. 3


[34] McGinty, R., (2001)’ The Political Use of Symbols of Accord and Discord: Northern Ireland and South Africa’, Civil Wars, 4:1, p. 1-21

[35] Geisler, M. E., (ed.) (2005) National Symbols, Fractured Identities, (Middlebury College Press), p. xxxv)

[36] Jarman, N. (1992) ‘Troubled Images’, Critique of Anthropology, 12: 2, p. 145.

[37] See Brown, K. and R. Mc Ginty, (2003) ‘Public Attitudes toward Partisan and Neutral Symbols in Post-Agreement Northern Ireland’ Identities, 10: 1; Buckley, A. (ed.) (1998) Symbols in Northern Ireland (Institute of Irish Studies: Belfast) and Jarman, N. (1997) Material Conflicts, (Berg: Oxford and New York).

[38] Harrison, S., (1995) ’Four Types of Symbolic Conflict’, Journal of Royal Anthropological Institution, 1: 2, p.255.

[39] Harrison, S., (1995) ’Four Types of Symbolic Conflict’, Journal of Royal Anthropological Institution, 1: 2, p. 270

[40] Rolston, B., (1987) ‘Politics, painting and popular culture: the political wall murals of Northern Ireland’ Media, Culture Society, 9:5, p.15.

[41] Mccormack, J. and N. Jarman (2005) ‘Death of a mural’ Journal of Material Culture, 10: 1, p. 50

[42]  Rolston, B., (1987) ‘Politics, painting and popular culture: the political wall murals of Northern Ireland’ Media, Culture Society, 9:5, p. 19.


[43] Mccormack, J. and N. Jarman (2005) ‘Death of a mural’ Journal of Material Culture, 10: 1, (49-71)

[44] Adamson, I., (1991) The Cruthin: the ancient kindred, (Newtownards: Nosdama Books). See also Adamson, I., (1982) The Identity of Ulster: the land, the language, the people, (Bangor: Pretani Press).


[45] Harrison, S., (1995)’ Four Types of Symbolic Conflict’, Journal of Royal Anthropological Institution, 1: 2, p.261.

[46] Jarman, N., Painting the landscapes: the place of murals in the symbolic construction of urban space IN Buckley, A.,(ed.) (1998) Symbols in Northern Ireland, (Institute of Irish Studies, Queens University of Belfast), p. 87.

[47] Harrison, S., (1995)’ Four Types of Symbolic Conflict’, Journal of Royal Anthropological Institution, 1: 2, p.264.

[48] Jarman, N., (1992) ‘Troubled Images’ Critique of Anthropology. 12: 2, (p. 148)


[49] Brown, K. and R. Mc Ginty, (2003) ‘Public Attitudes toward Partisan and Neutral Symbols in Post-Agreement Northern Ireland’ Identities, 10: 1, p. 61.

[50] Bourdieu, P., (1989), ‘Social Space and Symbolic power’, Sociological Theory, 7: 1, p.23

[51] Bourdieu, P., (1989), ‘Social Space and Symbolic power’, Sociological Theory, 7: 1, p.23

[52] Jarman, N. (1997), Material Conflicts: parades and visual displays in Northern Ireland, (Oxford and New York, Berg), p. 50.

[53] Jarman, N., Painting the landscapes: the place of murals in the symbolic construction of urban space IN Buckley, A.,(ed.) (1998) Symbols in Northern Ireland, (Institute of Irish Studies, Queens University of Belfast), p.95. Newtownards Road has become an important site for the concentration of murals there that celebrate Loyalism and aspects of Protestant culture.

 [54]Independent Research Solutions (2009) Evaluation of the Re-imaging Communities Programme, Arts Council Northern Ireland: Belfast, p. 17


[55] Independent Research Solutions (2009) Evaluation of the Re-imaging Communities Programme, Arts Council Northern Ireland: Belfast, p. 17

[56] Readers can view some of the images on

[57] Independent Research Solutions (2009) Evaluation of the Re-imaging Communities Programme, Arts Council Northern Ireland: Belfast), p. 79

[58] Independent Research Solutions (2009) Evaluation of the Re-imaging Communities Programme, Arts Council Northern Ireland: Belfast), p. vii

[59] Independent Research Solutions (2009) Evaluation of the Re-imaging Communities Programme, Arts Council Northern Ireland: Belfast), p. 72

[60] Independent Research Solutions (2009) Evaluation of the Re-imaging Communities Programme, Arts Council Northern Ireland: Belfast), p. xvi

[61] McAleese, Deborah ‘Murals return to East Belfast and few welcome them’ Belfast Telegraph, 11th May, 2011.

[62] Rolston, B., (1995) ‘Selling Tourism in a Country at War’ Race and Class, 37:23 (p. 33). Rolston is quoting the authors of the Lonely Planet ‘survival guide’ to travelling in Ireland.

[63] McKay, S., (2000) Northern Protestants. An unsettled people, (Blackstaff Press, Belfast), p. 60.

[64] (accessed 21st April, 2011)

[65] Morisette, A., ‘Belfast’s Mount Vernon: community arts shapes a new vision’ room/archivefiles/2006/01/belfasts_mount.php (accessed 12th October, 2010)

[66] McKay, S., (2000) Northern Protestants. An unsettled people, (Blackstaff Press, Belfast), p. 91.

[67] Moriarty, G., ‘Mount Vernon: More than just a mural?’ (Unpub. ms). P. 2.

[68] Jarman, N., (1997) Material Conflicts, (Oxford and New York: Berg).

[69] Jarman, N., Painting Landscapes: the place of murals in the symbolic construction of urban space IN Buckley, A. (ed.) (1998) Symbols in Northern Ireland, (Institute of Irish Studies, Queens University of Belfast), p.87.

[70] Vannais, J., (2001) ‘Postcards from the Edge: reading political murals in the North of Ireland’ Irish Political Studies, 16: 1 (p. 142).

[71] Moriarty, G., ‘Mount Vernon: More than just a mural?’ ( P. 2.

[72] William Mitchell in a telephone interview with the author, 11th May 2011. Mitchell is completing PhD research in this subject at Queens University, Belfast.

[73] The research methodology that Mitchell is working with is developed from research methods which use personal narrative. See Wengraf, T., (2001) Qualitative Research Interviewing (London: Sage), for example, for more detail.

[74] Moriarty, G., ‘Mount Vernon: More than just a mural?’ ( P. 2.

[75] ‘Mount Vernon: more than just a mural’ (DVD) made by Richard Summerville (Pixelbrix)

[76] McCormick, J., and N. Jarman (2005) ‘Death of a Mural’, Journal of Material Culture, 10:1 (49-71)

[77] Kopytoff, I., ‘The Cultural biography of things: commoditization as a process’ IN Appadurai, A. (ed.) (1986) The Social Life of Things. Commodities in a cultural perspective, (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge) p. 66

[78] McCormick, J., and N. Jarman (2005) ‘Death of a Mural’, Journal of Material Culture, 10:1 (p. 69)

[79] Billy Hutchinson in interview with the author. Mount Vernon, 6th September, 2010.

[80] Billy Hutchinson in interview with the author. Mount Vernon, 6th September, 2010

[81] Billy Hutchinson in interview with the author. Mount Vernon, 6th September, 2010

[82] Billy Hutchinson in interview with the author. Mount Vernon, 6th September, 2010

[83] Interviewee on ‘Mount Vernon: more than just a mural’ (DVD) made by Richard Summerville (Pixelbrix)

[84] William Mitchell in telephone interview with the author 11th May 2011.

[85] Mount Vernon Community Development Forum booklet, 2010. (

[86] Galtung, J., (1996) Peace by Peaceful Means. Peace and conflict, development and civilisation, (London: Sage).

[87] Galtung, J., (1996) Peace by Peaceful Means. Peace and conflict, development and civilisation, (London: Sage) p. 272.


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