Eye on Belfast
Chico State students create a documentary on the peace process currently unfolding in Northern Ireland
This summer a group of 15 Chico State students just happened to be in Belfast, Ireland making a documentary on the Northern Ireland peace process when the initial announcement to decommission arms was made on July 28.
“It was actually a couple days after we interviewed Gerry Adams,” said Julie Babcock, a graduate of the CSU Chico media arts program and member of the student film crew.
Yeah, that Gerry Adams, president of the Irish Republican Army’s political arm and one of the several high-profile people involved in the region’s peace process who were interviewed by the students.
Just this week, the IRA gave up its weapons. In the culmination of the process that began two months earlier, the announcement was made Monday, Sept. 26 that the IRA had officially finished the decommissioning of its entire arsenal.
“This can be the end of the use of the gun in Irish politics,” said John de Chastelain, the retired Canadian general who has been in charge of overseeing the decommissioning process in Northern Ireland for several years.
Though some union loyalists remain skeptical due to the limited transparency of the efforts, a Northern Ireland peace process minus the paramilitary activity of the IRA is a historically significant turn of events.
Chico State grad Kelly Candaele has been involved in the peace process in Northern Ireland for years. As contributor to the Los Angles Times, Candaele accompanied then-President Clinton to Northern Ireland three times in the mid-'90s and documented the peace efforts, so he knows exactly how big of a deal it was for the students from Chico to be there when the IRA made its announcement
‘They can’t even buy a beer in Chico,” Candaele said about the young students, ‘and now they’re witnessing this historic moment.”
It was Candaele’s urging that got the ball rolling, and he and Chico State Peace Institute members Cathy Growdon (who attended the university with Candaele in the late-'70s) and Ron Hirschbein, a Chico State philosophy professor, put together the three-week documentary program—which also included an Irish Studies program at Queens University in Belfast.
In addition to Adams, the students interviewed many of the key players involved in Northern Ireland’s peace process: former Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds, unionist leader David Ervine, former U.S. Senator and Good Friday Peace Agreement negotiator George J. Mitchell (interviewed in Los Angeles last spring) and Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume.
Now that the footage has been transferred to DVD, the immediate plan (in addition to finishing the tedious task of transcribing interviews) is to put together a 5-7 minute short to use for fund-raising. Eventually, the documentary, which will include archival footage to recount the history, will be used in university classes to help students understand the peace process.