A £10 million Human Rights Fund is being established to continue peace building efforts in Northern Ireland over the next decade. The public appeal is just getting started and got a $10,000 boost from The Irish American Partnership, which presented a Nollaig na mBan (Women’s Christmas) breakfast Jan. 6 at the University Club of Washington, D.C.
The fund is a co-effort of The Atlantic Philanthropies and The Community Foundation for Northern Ireland, which have jointly committed £4 million toward the goal.
Avila Kilmurray, CFNI’s former director, said the fund will be used “to embed a culture of rights and peace building” in the North, where nearly 50 “peace walls” still divide Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. Some of the walls were erected since the Good Friday Agreement, Kilmurray said.
“There is still a danger of recourse to violence, especially among young men,” she said.
Kilmurray emphasized the role women have played in bridging the sectarian divide in the North since before the 1998 accord. She insisted that continuing to focus on human rights issues can move the region past the entrenched “politics of zero sum game.”
First U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer delivered the breakfast’s keynote address, focusing on her days as Assistant to President Bill Clinton and Chief of Staff to First Lady Hillary Clinton. She recalled their historic 1995 Christmastime visit to Belfast.
(Verveer now runs the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security here in Washington, where Hillary Clinton is Honorary Founding Chair. Though Verveer never shed her diplomat’s reserve, just a wee bit of “Ready for Hillary” enthusiasm seeped through her talk.)
Like Kilmurray, Verveer emphasized the positive role that women have played in peace building and politics. Yet fewer than 10 percent of peace negotiations include women, she said.
“So many places I have gone I have seen the influence of the women of Northern Ireland,” Verveer said. “Women are agents of peace, and agents of change and they should be equal partners.”