This summer, Fordham Law students will carry on a proud tradition of learning from and engaging with legal, political, and academic leaders responsible for the peace process between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Started in 2001, the Belfast/Dublin Summer Program provides students invaluable firsthand experience into international law and dispute resolution via internships with the host nations’ highest courts, opportunities to study at prestigious universities, and meetings with leading government officials and civil rights activists. The program draws heavily on Fordham Law’s involvement with the Irish peace process.
In 1995, Dean John D. Feerick ’61 traveled with President Clinton to Belfast as part of the first-ever presidential visit to Northern Ireland. Challenged by the president to create opportunities that would help lift Northern Ireland politically and economically, Feerick established two Fordham programs in Northern Ireland. In 1996, he pioneered the Fordham-Ulster Conflict Resolution Program to provide training and consultation in Northern Ireland on the development of mediation programs with an employment and court-related focus. These programs integrated alternative dispute resolution principles that could be used to resolve the more pressing issues of violence and inequality in Northern Ireland.
By helping create a mediation culture in Northern Ireland, Feerick’s initiative provided momentum for a larger dispute resolution movement in Northern Ireland that helped end decades of violent struggle between those loyal to the United Kingdom, generally Protestants, and those seeking reunification with the Irish Republic, generally Catholics. For instance, mediation processes have been key to resolving local, yet long-simmering, inter- and intra-community disputes that policing and courts had not been historically successful in resolving. And Northern Ireland’s current government structure resulted from the mediated Belfast/Good Friday Agreement—an agreement signed by Northern Ireland’s multiple political parties and the British and Irish governments in 1998.
Fordham Law’s Belfast/Dublin Summer Program was Feerick’s next initiative to further the North’s peace process. Feerick partnered Fordham with Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) and University College Dublin (UCD), two leading universities in the north and south of Ireland that, despite geographic proximity, lacked any previous formal connection. In linking these two schools, the program has served to strengthen the critical north-south strand of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and has brought together at a formative moment in their careers future leaders of the bars and governments of the United States, the UK, and Ireland.
The program’s public law offerings focus on human rights and resolving international conflict, the latter of which is a present-day phenomenon in Northern Ireland, said Clinical Law Professor Michael W. Martin ’92, who serves as the program’s director. For instance, Northern Ireland has not had a government in place since January 2017, due to disagreements on several core issues, some of which predate the agreement.
“We take the students into this locale to see how, once the politicians leave and the documents are signed, the real process of peace building begins,” said Martin, noting this tends to be a generational process. In addition to political and civil rights leaders, students speak with paramilitaries on the Republican and Loyalist sides and dispute mediators to achieve a better understanding of how the peace process developed. In addition, they visit the neighborhoods and institutions where violence occurred and the peace process unfolded.
Fordham’s students also benefit from an unparalleled opportunity to learn under and with their host nations’ brightest legal minds—prominent political and legal professionals as well as top QUB and UCD law students.
Externship opportunities in Belfast and Dublin abound. Fordham is the only U.S. program to have ever produced interns in either the highest court in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. Among other placements, Fordham students have worked for the Queen’s Crown Solicitor and represented paramilitary members in civil actions.
“Those relationships speak to the strength of the program, and how it resonates with the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland,” Martin said.
Martin praised Feerick for laying the foundation for the program, both in strengthening the Law School’s ties to the host nations and providing them the tools to peacefully settle disagreements. Feerick, who has deep ancestral roots in Ireland’s County Mayo, played a “critical role” in teaching mediation and ADR skills to people in Northern Ireland “who desperately needed it to resolve daily violence,” Martin said.
“My friends in the North now travel the world teaching international dispute resolution,” Martin said. However, on-the-ground training alone did not make them experts, the professor noted. “In reality, they needed to be trained in these methods, and John played a huge role in doing this.”