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From very humble beginnings to global peace-building recognition

By Conor McParland

FORMED in 1995, the origins of North Belfast-based peace-building charity Intercomm are fascinating to say the least.
Take Liam Maskey on one hand – a republican former internee working in nationalist and republican areas.
On the other hand was Billy Mitchell – a loyalist with a background in the PUP who spent 17 years in jail for activity associated with the UVF.
Both men were on opposite sides of the local interface at a time when the peace process and Good Friday Agreement were still some years off but they were doing the same thing: running two identical community service provision organisations.
It was when the men were thrown together that Intercomm was born (an abbreviation of inter-community).
“The two men struck up a bit of a rapport with each other,” explained Conor Maskey, current Operations Manager of Intercomm.
“Back then, that was quite unique in itself. They realised their two organisations were doing similar stuff and agreed to combine their work and get people who were ex-combatants and ex-prisoners from both backgrounds working together on non-contentious issues
“They initially started off doing work around employment and other issues affecting working class areas .
“They started some on-the-ground work, interface mobile phone contacts and instinctive work to assist peace-building.
“Liam always said it was a blueprint, there was nothing written down on how to carry out this peace-building work.”
Since its humble origins, Intercomm has grown to become a model of peace-building globally. Indeed, that global work has included peace-building exercises in South Africa, Nepal, South Sudan and Israel/Palestine. Intercomm even delivered a programme to cadets in the US Army from some of the lessons they learnt from the streets of Belfast.
“At our height, we were employing around 18 people and delivering any number of programmes. Now, we are back to similar numbers from which we began due to issues to do with funding,” added Conor.
“At the minute, we employ five people. We are still working on huge projects and making a similar impact that we have always made.
“Today’s work includes our strategic good relations programme for North Belfast that has been in existence since the Holy Cross dispute in 2001. Directed by OFM/DFM, the programme is delivered every year locally. We also run various programmes to ensure people understand different cultural identities as well as shared history projects.
“Community safety is at the forefront of much of our local work in North Belfast. We have encouraged critical engagement with police and even educated police officers with a modern viewpoint on policing, from both republican and loyalist perspective.
“I have just returned recently from an event in New York which looked at the global status of women and women in conflict transformation.
“The initiative involved 540 women in 25 locations who are trained up in health and wellbeing and personal development.
“Perhaps one of our most recent pieces of work was with the 174 Trust charity at the Duncairn Centre.
“Our joint work in partnership with each other involved using the medium of arts and music to assist with peace-building.”
As for the future of Intercomm and its important peace-building work, Conor is aware that there is work to be done to ensure the years of hard work carried out to date are banked and do not count for nothing.
“Society deserves that we do not take our eye off the ball. There was a big space of time when there were no interface incidents. Just like when the British and Irish government take their eye off the peace process, problems can start again.
“We can’t take our eyes off anything at the interface because it could become very dangerous if we do.
“Nine years ago, Intercomm workers were out sorting out interface trouble 66 nights in a row. I don’t think we are at that stage now.
“We haven’t had a controversial Tour of the North in a while. Some of the local parading disputes have not gone away completely but it is a work in progress all the time.
“There has been significant tangible process that has been made overall.
“As for Intercomm as an organisation, we want to expand our service and work in areas like Larne, Carrickfergus and Portadown which all have their own unique challenges.
“We will be running more podcasts as an innovative way of engaging and reaching more people.
“We want to continue to change communities for the better.”

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BT15 3BG
Tel: 028 9035 2165

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