Stories from Northern Ireland

- October 31, 2014

Poster artwork from one of Hutchinson's sessions at Dal.
Poster artwork from one of Hutchinson's sessions at Dal.

A regular question Paul Hutchinson was asked earlier this month during his Dalhousie visit was, "Why Halifax?"

Arriving on campus from Northern Ireland, Hutchinson, director of Imagined Spaces, a company involved in creative community relations, spent a nearly an entire week (October 15-20) conducting workshops and lectures for the Dalhousie community as well as the general public.

This is his second series in Halifax in association with the Dalhousie Multifaith Centre focused on conflict resolution, student leadership and building healthy relationships. Engaging with a diversity of audiences including Dalhousie students, faculty and staff as well as local community and congregation members, Hutchinson sparked dialogue on the concept that “when you understand communication, you understand conflict.”

A filmmaker, Hutchinson shared his film Upstanding: Stories of Hope from Northern Ireland during Wednesday’s student workshop. Utilizing examples and experiences from Northern Ireland during what’s often referred to as “The Troubles,” Hutchinson believes people inherently respond to connections in stories, even when those stories do not directly relate to them.

“Some people have asked ‘why are you here, we’re not as bad as Northern Ireland ever was’, and I’m not trying to make a comparison,” he explains. “What I’ve learnt out of the exchange in Northern Ireland is the impact of conflicts on relationships, and [that] the whole of society is based on relationships. With politicians, with law and order, culture, education, economics… I know how conflict breaks relationships, and I have an experience of how to build those up.”

Hutchinson’s week at Dalhousie also included a coffee house at the Grad House, a guest lecture in an alternative dispute resolution course in the Schulich School of Law, and a special “lunch and learn” for faculty/staff titled “Conflict and the Healthy Workplace.”

Cross-cultural lessons

Hutchinson insists that the lessons garnered from the conflicts in Northern Ireland are transferable cross-culturally.

“Part of my learning is to go over here and go, ‘Does this work in this culture?’ he explains. “Whilst we speak a form of English we all recognize, there are differences. The scale of this place [Canada] changes the psychology and the relationships with people… I would never come and say, ‘This is how it’s done,’ because it’s not appropriate. It’s very obvious sometimes when you’re outside of a conflict… but people need to own it locally.”

Beyond his Dalhousie workshops and lectures, Hutchinson also interacted with groups through the Segelburg Trust, l’Arche and the Canadian Centre for Ethics and Public Affairs (CCEPA), discussing “Conflict and the Compassionate City – Creating Restorative Spaces.”

Martha Martin, United Church chaplain and the coordinator of the Dalhousie Multifaith Centre, met Hutchinson in 2011 when he was the director at the Corrymeela Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. Interested in the organization’s peacemaking activism in Northern Ireland, she built a connection between Halifax and Corrymeela through the formation of the Dalhousie Northern Ireland Dialogue for Peace Study trip.

“This trip is good for Halifax,” Hutchinson says. “They [the participants] get excited about Northern Ireland, they get to travel, they get to see new people, but also they get to think about what they’re coming home to.”

Civilly and peacefully

Bridget Graham, a fourth-year student in Sustainability and Canadian Studies and one of the student leaders for the trip, described how she took the lessons of Northern Ireland and applied it in a Canadian perspective, particularly with the reconciliation processes between indigenous-Canadians and non-indigenous Canadians.

“It’s something I want to work on… [and] coming together and living together civilly and peacefully,” she says. “It really helped me learn about my own country... I think a lot of people at Dalhousie are looking for that same sense of community and identity, which is what I found that the conflict in Northern Ireland is all about.”

Hoping to expand on the student interest during the workshops in cultivating upstanding (as opposed to bystanding) behaviour, Martin is currently in discussions to continue the dialogue in Halifax, possibly in the form of future workshops.

Aware that students are busy and cannot keep up with everything on campus, Hutchinson hopes that students will take an active interest in creating healthy dialogues for peace and reconciliation tactics.

“I hope that students see that they can make a difference… That [if] they talk to institutions at Dalhousie, and say help us make a difference, we can’t do it without you… You have an event, which becomes a pattern, which becomes an expectation. Suddenly you have a pioneering university.”

Students interested in learning more about upcoming workshops with the Multifath Centre can contact Martha Martin at or 902-440-2687.


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