Keeping people at the heart of the conflict in charge

Although a one page bio can never do right to all the work Padraig O’Malley has done, and although he doesn’t easily fit into one category: O’Malley can be accurately described as a peacemaker, a practitioner and academic who has devoted his life and work to helping people make peace for themselves around the globe.

In a recent CBC radio show, O’Malley describes conflicts as “the narcissism of small differences”. His task is to gain trust of parties who would normally never talk to each other, let alone sit at the same table for hours – often because of the narcissism of small differences. He facilitates dialogues on peace and reconciliation between opposing parties.

Starting in the seventies at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, O’Malley has played an indispensable role as renown mediator in many of the most intractable conflicts around the world (South Africa and Northern Ireland to name two). He has also studied those conflicts as a leading academic in Conflict Resolution.

What’s happening now?

‘In the field’, he’s currently active in two of his larger projects: Forum for Cities in Transition (FCT), in which he unites divided cities to help each other on the road to peace and reconciliation, and Global Alliance for the Marginalized and Equity (GAME), with the mission to bring together marginal, underclass Muslim youth from across the globe to reinforce the conviction that their lives matter. Last year, an intimate documentary came out which portrays O’Malley and his work from day-to-day: The Peacemaker, made by James Demo. This documentary will have its Dutch premiere at the Conference on Friday, followed by a Q&A with O’Malley and the filmmaker. Check the trailer here:

The Peacemaker shows O’Malley’s daily life. We see his intense personal commitment to peace, as well as his internal conflicts and struggles, of which alcoholism is one. Although he is sober now for more than a decade, his addiction plays an important role in his work, and he has applied principles of addiction treatment to conflict mediation. Also, as the documentary shows, drinking has played an indispensable role for the Good Friday Agreement, in which O’Malley played a key role.

O’Malley writes about the GAME project: “We are bringing together 80 young Muslim men and women from cities around Europe – to create an empowerment project. They will draft a Charter of Rights that includes a commitment to non-violence and bring back projects to their communities. This is about inclusion. The idea is to give these young people a voice – and also counter more radical influences within their communities. They will create a counter narrative to the widely-held perceptions of Muslim youth as the unstated threat.”

In a short crowdfunding video O’Malley explains the GAME project, which is becoming a Europe wide movement:

The inaugural conference of GAME will take place at the Glencree reconciliation center in Ireland in October 2017.

The other big project Padraig O’Malley has initiated is the Forum for Cities in Transition (FCT). The FCT brings together protagonists from divided societies. Its guiding principle is that one divided society is in the best position to help another. From 2009 onwards, FCT brings together divided cities annually in meetings. As is written in an article in the Huffington Post about FCT: “O’Malley’s core idea is that divided cities have much to learn from each other. There are, he believes, shared patterns as well as political, social and psychological traits that perpetuate conflict. The best way to overcome these patterns and traits is through an intervention by those who have experienced them and have learned how to break the cycle.” There are 15 member cities of the Forum for Cities in Transition, among which are Sarajevo, Baghdad and Belfast.

Next to these projects, O’Malley is a professor at the McCormack Graduate School of Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Also, he’s a Visiting Professor of Political Studies at the University of the Western Cape, SA.

As a leading professor in the field of conflict resolution, peace and reconciliation, he’s the author of a number of prize winning books. His most recent book, “the Two State Delusion” (2015) deals with the Israel-Palestine conflict. The New York Times has called it an “impressive and frustrating book”, because the book doesn’t offer an alternative to the two-state solution for the country. O’Malley’s reply to people commenting on the fact that he doesn’t offer an alternative solution might be characteristic for his way of ‘making peace’: “Why should I be so presumptuous as to dare to provide a vision for people who refuse to provide one for themselves?” O’Malley brings people in the room and lets them talk, as he shows with the GAME project and FCT. What people want, they can decide for themselves, once they are convened around the table.


Padraig O’Malley was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1942. He was educated at Dublin University College, and the universities of Yale, Tufts and Harvard in the United States.

For most of his professional life he has been involved in the conflict in Northern Ireland. Working together with all political parties to the conflict, he convened the Amherst Conference on Northern Ireland (Massachusetts, 1975), the Airlie House Conference (Virginia, 1985) and co–convened the Arniston Conference with the government of South Africa (Western Cape, 1997). He was also a member of the Opshal Commission, which authored the report “Northern Ireland: A Citizens’ Inquiry” (Belfast, 1993).