The second workshop of the Tunisia young leaders programme took place on the 9th of December with the Rev Gary Mason, exploring the role of civil society in creating inclusive spaces for dialogue.

Gary spent 28 years as a clergy person in Belfast and was involved in the Northern Irish Peace Process. He has been and continues to be a close advisor to Protestant ex-combatants on the civilianisation efforts of paramilitaries. He holds a PhD from the school of Psychology at the University of Ulster. He was also awarded an honorary Doctorate in Divinity for his role in peace building in Ireland, from Florida Southern College.

In the meeting, Gary shared insights on how civil society groups were able to operate in the divided society of Northern Ireland and contribute to building peace. Johnny Armstrong from the NGO Alternatives was also present to share insights on alternative justice.

The participants’ interventions focused on several issues: increasing issue of identity in Tunisian; the corrosive impact that polarisation and division on effective government what role civil society can play in contributing to the political, economic and social transitions in the country.

Gary and Jonny described some of the soft skills that can be helpful in addressing these types of challenges: from the importance of non-judgemental listening to one another, identifying common ground as an antidote to toxic identify politics, inclusive engagement, strategy and prioritising goals, and an openness to finding constructive ideas from anywhere.