Graphic Novel

Peace for Northern Ireland – Monica McWilliams was the first woman to take part in negotiations

Monica McWilliams was one of the two women at the negotiating table to end the Northern Ireland conflict in 1996. In this graphic novel, she shares her memories.

Text
Stella Pfeifer
Illustrations
Carolin Löbbert
Date
July 01, 2024
Reading time
5 minutes

The Northern Ireland conflict has long divided the inhabitants of the island. It was not until 1998, 30 years after the first violent street clashes, that the government of the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the parties in Northern Ireland signed the Good Friday Agreement. This settled the armed conflict between the Irish Republicans, mostly Catholic, and the Ulster Loyalists, mostly Protestant.

Politician Monica McWilliams was one of the two women at the negotiating table and remembers what a first this was: a woman working with predominantly male colleagues to bring about peace – in a highly tense climate. Her story shows why it is essential for successful peace processes to involve female perspectives and people directly affected by the conflict.

Graphic novel about the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland: The Northern Ireland conflict divided the population
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Graphic novel about the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland: With Monica McWilliams and Pearl Sagar, women sat at the negotiating table for the first time
Graphic novel about the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland: With Monica McWilliams and Pearl Sagar, women sat at the negotiating table for the first time

The main task of the Northern Ireland Forum was to end the violent conflicts in which more than 3,000 people had died. But the peace agreement was also intended to find a political consensus on how the various groups could live together well. Even during the first few weeks, it became clear how differently the groups viewed each other.

Graphic novel on the Northern Ireland conflict: politician Monica McWilliams from the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition
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Graphic novel on the Northern Ireland conflict: Politicians from the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition prepare for the negotiations
Graphic novel on the Northern Ireland conflict: Female politicians from the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition stand out during the negotiations between the many men
Graphic novel about the Northern Ireland conflict: Monica McWilliams calls for equality between men and women

Before the actual negotiation talks could begin, a formal framework had to be set – including the election of a chairperson. And this in a climate in which the rifts between the negotiating parties seemed insurmountable. However, it became clear at a meeting on the first day of the Northern Ireland Forum just how important the talks were and how much hope the population placed in the committee.

Graphic novel about the Northern Ireland conflict: Politicians Monica McWilliams and Pearl Sagar feel vindicated in their mission
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Graphic novel about the Northern Ireland conflict: Even more women were involved in the peace process
Graphic novel about the Northern Ireland conflict: In the first few weeks there was a lot of conflict and disagreement outside the Women's Coalition
Graphic novel on the Northern Ireland conflict: There were many tensions in the peace talks
Graphic novel on the Northern Ireland conflict: Politicians Monica McWilliams missed empathy in the talks

It was because politicians suddenly understood that they were all part of the conflict – including the painful and traumatizing experiences – that it became possible to talk to each other in the first place. Nevertheless, the opposing parties had their own interests and goals. Monica McWilliams resorted to extraordinary measures to ensure that the negotiations made progress.

Graphic Novel zu den "Troubles" in Nordirland: Mit Monica McWilliams und Pearl Sagar saßen erstmals Frauen am Verhandlungstisch
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Graphic novel about the Northern Ireland conflict: Monica McWilliams wanted to listen and understand the other positions
Graphic novel about the Northern Ireland conflict: On 10 April 1998 there was an agreement
Graphic novel on the Northern Ireland conflict: Women played a key role in the Good Friday Agreement

Monica McWilliams has often experienced the important contribution that women make to peace processes – even after this political success. However, she was always aware that political success can only be achieved by working together. Even if certain individuals often take center stage, one should never forget that peace processes are supported and shaped by many people.

Graphic novel about the Northern Ireland conflict: Monica McWilliams was involved in many other peace talks
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Five people pull firmly on a long rope
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