Facilitating talks between the Orange Order and Garvaghy Road residents is not something many people would associate with local man Ian Milne, who is probably best known in his role as a funeral director.
However, another side to the Portadown businessman has been revealed with the launch of an exhibition featuring people who work quietly in the background to promote peace and reconciliation.
Ian is one of 32 people featured in ‘Quiet Peacemakers’ by artist Susan Hughes, and an accompanying book of the same name, launched at an event in Stormont’s Long Gallery.
The father-of-three’s interest in mediation developed with the start of the Drumcree dispute in the mid-1990s, when he and Peter Quinn, former president of the GAA, facilitated talks between the Orange Order and residents.
He also facilitated talks between both groups and the Prime Minister Tony Blair in an effort to reach a solution.
He explained, “My role was trying to get people to attend the meetings, which was very difficult, and then sitting in on them.”
Ian has also worked as a mediator, chairing politically delicate meetings between opposing parties such as the Orange Order and Gerry Adams and the Order and the Dublin Government, as well as trying to resolve intercommunal violence between paramilitary groups.
He did his mediation training with Mediation NI and, for someone who admits to not having a lot of formal qualifications, has almost completed a Master’s degree in Mediation and Work Based Learning through Queen’s University Belfast.
Central to his work is his personal conviction that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs. He said, “I have unionist beliefs but I can accept other people’s beliefs.
“If we all worked together to try and resolve issues we would find we have more in common together than we have apart. The pain of death is a great leveller. Everyone is equal then. All I have been doing is the moral and social obligation I feel as a human being.”
He said, “I am humbled to have been considered worthy of the honour, especially when I see some of the others who feature in the exhibition. Most people that I know who work in the field of mediation do so out of a genuine desire to help make things better for all parties.”
Artist Susan said, “My portraits are merely a tiny snap-shot, an impression of the unknowns, but I have been struck by how different our society would be without these humble people holding things together, taking action, mediating and praying,” she said.