16th May, 1995
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan.
Rev. Leslie Carroll (Presbyterian Minister, Tiger’s Bay, North Belfast)
Fr. Brian Lennon, SJ (Jesuit community, Portadown, author of After the Ceasefires – Catholics and the Future of Northern Ireland, Columba Press, 1995).
Rev. Timothy Kinahan (Church of Ireland Rector, Gilnahirk, East Belfast, author of: Where do we go from here? – Protestants and the Future of Northern Ireland, Columba Press, 1995)
Chaired by Maeve Lennan
Rev. Leslie Carroll
Fr. Brian Lennon
Rev. Timothy Kinahan
Questions and comments – summary .
Extracts from recent publications of Rev. Kinahan and Fr. Lennon
1. Rev. Leslie Carroll (Presbyterian Minister, Tiger’s Bay, North Belfast):
Time of crisis: “We live in a time of crisis – crisis of change and of identity, and also a time of joy and expectation as we wait to see what the outcome of the peace process will be; but I believe that we in the North and beyond must not only wait and see what will happen, but must also find ways with which to engage in the process at all levels, personal, emotional, political, community etc.”,
Stressing the need for the churches and ordinary people to be involved in the peace process, Rev. Carroll said “We must find ways with which to engage in the process at all levels. We have all played our part in the violence of the last 25 years, either by our disinterest or our sectarian interest, and some by active participation in sectarian violence. We have a responsibility to engage with other denominations in order that this time of hope cannot be lost”
Rev. Carroll explained that she worked in an inner city congregation in North Belfast, an area which had often been referred to as the “killing fields” of Belfast. Her church building is on one of the “peace lines” dividing the Protestant Tiger’s Bay and the Catholic New Lodge areas.
Perceptions of people in the Republic:
“As a Presbyterian I entertain the notion that generally speaking the people of the Republic are not particularly interested in what is happening in the North nor do they have any great understanding of the thoughts and feelings of the people who live there, and that is a particularly true perception of the unionist population.”
She quoted from a letter in the Irish Times (15th May) – “the Long Bore” – a letter expressing boredom with the “interminable peace process in Northern Ireland”. Such letters go a long way to “feed our insecurity”, she said.
“We in the North, or unionists at least, have yet to be convinced that people in the Republic are truly interested in us, as we have yet to be convinced by republicanism that there is room for us and for our Britishness.”
“Presbyterians and unionists in Northern Ireland are people who long to be understood, long to be listened to and to be taken seriously. It is our perception that the world has grasped republican and nationalist ideologies but has little sympathy or understanding of the unionist position.”
Unionist thinking: Unionist thinking was greatly influenced by the democratic structure of Presbyterianism, she explained, which is the largest denomination in Northern Ireland. At the annual Presbyterian assembly ministers and elders have equal number of votes. The business of the denomination throughout the year is carried out by boards and committees and within congregations there is shared responsibility. At every level, she said, decisions are made by groups which are accountable to the whole. Decisions are never made by individuals. Unionists, she said, find it difficult to accept things like the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Hume-Adams talks, the Downing Street Declaration and the Framework Documents.
“Documents and discussions given birth in secrecy give rise to deep suspicion…they represent hidden agendas and attempts to exclude us from the whole process.” As Garrett Fitzgerald said recently, “it is not always possible to know what is happening in the peace process”. It is certainly the unionist perception, she said, that others.. have been unwilling to show their full hand. There is a perception of secret deals being done. On the other hand, Unionists have always stated the case as they see it. “Part of our culture is not to negotiate but rather to state our case clearly and precisely as we see it. So we have come to be known as a suspicious and immovable people, hard-hearted and intransigent who care for the clarity of words more than we do for the process of negotiation.”
Some of this may be true, she said. But it is also true to say that the sense of alienation which Presbyterians feel from the process as a whole is “due to the fact that we are dependent on an entirely different system of government than the majority of people on this island.”
Presbyterian response in fragile time of hope:
Rev. Carroll went on to discuss how she saw Presbyterians responding to the issues which confront us in what is still a fragile time of hope: “As a denomination we have a responsibility to one another, both to challenge and support attitudes and thoughts, while at the same time engaging with other denominations, and indeed those of no denomination, in order that this time of hope, this Kairos moment might not be lost”.
“Presbyterians are people of the Word, that is the Word of God which is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. We have come to define ourselves in standards, most notably the Westminster Confession of Faith, which very clearly states what we are not. As Presbyterians in Ireland we are in search of a new identity or at least a revitalised identity which begins back at the Reformation…It is to this root that we must return, in order that we might become a people of positive and clear identity”, where the old insecurities might be swallowed up and people would feel free to enter negotiations.
Fear and insecurity:
“To exist by fear is to exist out of a profound sense of insecurity. That profound sense of insecurity comes our sense of being a minority on this island, a minority that wants to stay in the Union”. The unionist community have yet to move beyond their insecurity, she said, “so as no longer to be governed by the fear in which we exclude ourselves from the peace process”, and “the church in its various denominations has the duty to support, encourage and challenge.”
Quoting Cardinal Carlo Martini, she said there is fear of many things – fear of oneself, fear of exposing ourselves, fear of reciprocity which is at the root of all forms of paternalism and explicit and implicit possession of others, it produces an inability to enter into genuine dialogue. The unionist position, she said, is perhaps best understood in the words of Marcel Proust, “The true paradises are the paradises we have lost.” …”The lost paradise of the day when we knew ourselves to be a majority, still lives on in the minds of unionism“.
As Presbyterians and people of the Word, “we must also live with the words of Jesus”, she said, – “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” – and with the Psalmist – “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it”, which might be better written in our time “the earth is the Lord’s and everyone in it.”
“To live separate from one another is to live contrary to the Word and so we all, but particularly Presbyterians, must move away from concepts of winners and losers, defenders and aggressors, and move towards a concept of new community with shared expression and a shared experience of difference and hurt.” To return to the basic principle of the Reformation, she said, we must return to a commitment to being a people of the Word, made tangible in this day.
“To declare who we are and to speak into our differences, so that those differences no longer divide us but become the place of our meeting, and in this sense, our difference unites us.”
Individual conscience: Presbyterians uphold the right of individual conscience, she said. “This individualism has not however given us freedom in the political realm”, she said – the perception being typified by the question she was asked recently by a republican – “does one have to be a a unionist to be a Presbyterian?” It is the right of every individual to make their choice, and the “possibility for us to live in harmony despite our different choices.”
Time for courage and risk: “This is a time for courage, and also a time for risk. It is the time for the Church to declare its hand as an institution not of the present age, but of the age to come”. “For we are like no other institution in this society – our identity is not bound up with this age – our identity is ultimately bound up with the age that is yet to come and it is in this age that we find our fulfilment. So in this difficult and fragile time, we have the freedom to live beyond the identities which have trapped us and stifled us for the last 25 years and longer. We also have the responsibility to listen to others, and to listen in trust and expectation.”
Presbyterians have for too long been a suspicious people, Rev. Carroll said – “a people driven by fear.” “We have to learn to take the risk to trust, and to carefully challenge, in both love and trust, the words of people like Jim Gibney (SF) who wrote in the Irish News (May 15th) – ” We will consider any political models designed to accommodate the special characteristics of the Irish people which history has handed down to us. We must reassess our historical attitude to those almost 1m people who are of British origin and have lived on this island for several hundred years. They have carried their sense of Britishness with them during this time; while at one level it was a source of conflict, at another level, it has contributed to what constitutes the Irish nation today.”
“Until we change the dynamic of relationships from suspicion and fear to forgiveness and trust, we remain people of the past…We remain people paralysed, immobilised and disempowered”. Jesus was not in the business of paralysing individuals or communities, she said. “Jesus was in the business of setting free and empowering.” This clearly is the business of churches, and of us all.
Victims of violence: “It is time to move beyond the overwhelming sense of sacrifice while at the same time ministering to the needs of those who carry the deep wounds inflicted on them by the other community. They must not be forgotten in the struggle for a lasting peace in Ireland. Their loved ones will never come back, their injured bodies will not be made whole, their years in prison cannot be restored to them nor to their families…but to dwell on sacrifice with no sense of empowerment for the future is indeed to be paralysed, a sense of the sacrifices made can urge us on to something better”. “Too long a sacrifice will make a stone of the heart”, wrote W. B. Yeats.
The duty of every Christian and for the churches is as ever ” to allow theology to live”, difficult as that might be.
Rev. Carroll concluded: “We are left to wonder in the words of Robert Frost, whether it is true that “good fences make good neighbours” or if it is worth acknowledging and working with the notion that “something there is that doesn’t love a wall…”
2. Fr. Brian Lennon, SJ (Jesuit community, Portadown):
The ceasefires: “The ceasefires are a wonderful experience. They have transformed the situation, at a day-to-day level that I think is very difficult to imagine.” When the IRA ceasefire was announced, many people in Northern Ireland were not so euphoric as people in the South – at first they didn’t believe it. Even still “they are very very cautious.” Part of this was caution about what way they peace process might go and partly because the process of adjusting from a situation of violence, where actually there are certainties, to a situation of peace and where there is some uncertainty.
Confusion: But the ceasefires have produced enormous confusion in some people, he said. There is great bitterness and anger among many people, even among committed Christians – this is only human. “In reconciliation we confront confused feelings in ourselves and anger that may shock us in its intensity.”
Ambiguity and ambivalence: “The processes going on in the peace dialogue are ambiguous. There’s been an upsurge in street violence – and there may be more in coming months – for one reason that people will be less afraid of getting shot at.” The political gap between the parties involved is enormous, he said – between Sinn Fein and unionists on the arms issue, and the gap between Sinn Fein and both governments and all the other parties on this island, on the issue of consent. However he noted Sinn Fein’s participation in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, the outcome of which will be to accept the principle of consent.
Fr. Lennon referred to an article by Fintan O’Toole after the IRA ceasefire, which commented on the ambiguity in language. As Rev. Carroll had said, Protestants like clear definite language – and “the one thing that John Hume and Gerry Adams did not give for 2, if not 20, years before the ceasefires, was clear and definite language“. But, “there was a clear answer on the 1st September last year”.
With all the difficulties, the peace process is still a huge step forward, he said. The IRA ceasefire statement “is like a beacon of light in the whole history of Irish nationalism”, that is, the commitment to violence side of it.
Task of the church: What is the task of the church in this context? – “To witness to the presence of God’s community among us, and that is a community of divergence, a community of difference. It’s starting point is the Trinity, probably the most forgotten teaching of all Christian truths, and the Trinity is a teaching about community – 3 persons unique and diverse but who are also one.”
Reconciliation and justice: The most central task for all our churches, Fr. Lennon said, is to give total, if not exclusive priority to reconciliation. “There is no more important task facing the churches.” This is not accepted by the churches in practice. “If we are not committed to reconciliation as a priority we are not in touch with God”. This should be of some concern. There are models in the scriptures – the Pharisees – who kept to the law and put their faith in the law and believed themselves to be in touch with God. The law was put above all else as the means of getting in touch with God, and Jesus said “no – you are wrong, the only way you get in touch with God is through compassion”.
Jesus’s life was dedicated to breaking down the divisions between the self-righteous and the sinners, and the foreigners who were outside the covenant community, Fr. Lennon said. God’s call was not simply to a narrow Jewish community. The parallel for today, is that “We will not be in touch with God by being members of churches, we will not be in touch with God by religious observances, but we will only be in touch with God by committing ourselves to reconciliation.”
Justice must go along with reconciliation, he stressed – one form of reconciliation is really an attempt at politeness used as a means to block dialogue and to avoid tough questions of division between people. There are different concepts of “justice” – it is a very strong word in the Catholic community of Northern Ireland. For that reason, “Right relationships” might perhaps be a more appropriate term than justice, but he would prefer to use “justice”.
Different concepts of justice: Fr. Lennon explained the different understandings of justice – 1) you will treat me justly when you give me what you owe me (very much a 17th century understanding of individual rights); 2) the biblical concept shalom – community involved in right relationships with each other and involved in relationships with one another that are “mutual relationships”. The second, biblical form is particularly relevant in the whole context of reconciliation, he said.
Policing: Turning to the issue of policing, Fr. Lennon said that in some respects this is the most important of the issues that have to be faced – “it is the one that is really going to impact on the lives of people in more deprived areas.” Catholics/nationalists will have to face issues in relation to policing, he said. “There will be no settlement of the policing issue based on a concept of justice which demands rights for nationalists only. There will be no answer for the policing issue, until nationalists take responsibility for policing in the North.”
“If the Catholic nationalist community feel aggrieved, and if Sinn Fein particularly feel humiliated in many respects by the peace process, the unionist community feel threatened, feel they are facing the brink, feel they are facing an inevitable united Ireland”, something which always surprises him.
That issue of policing is a demand on nationalists -“they have to play a role in creating new structures in Northern Ireland and in joining and taking responsibility in those new structures.” This is enormously difficult for nationalists, who have been in opposition to the State since its foundation. “In the end those structures will have to be built using words that are explicit and are clear”. Unionists have to face the fact that a different police service in Northern Ireland will be one “where there is change in its identity and change in its accountability…where nationalist will have to take up a fair share of the number of jobs in policing”
Concept of Irishness: The term “Irishness” can be understood in a variety of different ways, he said. Protestants say it is an exclusive concept and they are basically right. “I don’t think we really allow for the Britishness of people in our concept of Irishness”. Within the UK framework there is a concept of Irishness that is different -there Irishness is parallel to Scottish or Welsh or English. He is not absolutely convinced how strong within the United Kingdom there is respect for that diversity and …clearly there is a drive within the UK to separate themselves from Ireland. “this can be difficult for an Irish person, within the UK concept, living in Northern Ireland, faced with an Irishness understood by the rest of the people that tends to exclude.”
Reconciliation: “If we are to take reconciliation seriously we must make space to listen to each other and spend time with each other as you are doing here tonight”, he said. Lay people will perform a whole series of activities as in Portadown. We will have to face issues about our individual denominational worship. We have a long way to go “if we are actually going to put reconciliation, rather than maintenance of our own communities, as a priority.”
Editor’s note: extracts from Brian Lennon’s book After the Ceasefires – Catholics and the Future of Northern Ireland (Columba Press, 1995) are reproduced at the end of this report.
3. Rev. Timothy Kinahan (Church of Ireland Rector, Gilnahirk, East Belfast)
“Things have changed a great deal up in the North. Life’s so much easier now…There are still a lot of problems but life has changed remarkably for everybody”.
Reaching out: “The air is full of words….There’s plenty of advice, plenty of thinking, plenty of ideas, plenty of challenges, but…for far too much of the case, these thoughts and challenges and words are falling on deaf ears. We speak to our own respective communities and reinforce the sense of identity of our own people. There is very little sign of trying to reach out – to speak to the other in a way that can really be heard and to listen to what others have to say. The guns have fallen silent but there is not yet a ceasefire in our attitudes and in our words.”
Understanding: He spoke of a recent meeting of the Interchurch group on Faith and Politics addressed by a Unionist MP, who was asked by a member of the nationalist community to put himself in the shoes of nationalists, to understand them – “I can only do that when I’ve come to an accommodation”, said the MP. But, said Rev. Kinahan, “we can’t come to a realistic accommodation until we understand the way the other feels”. The MP in question would be similar to most unionists in this.
The Presbyterian tradition is very dominant, Rev. Kinahan said. Many Unionists are quite content to see what the other wants – to face a list of demands, but they don’t ever want to get to the situation where they can see why the other person wants those things, why the other person disagrees. There’s very little will to move out. Many unionists disbelieve the accusations of unionist misrule in the past, he said. “There’s a block there. It’s an understandable block in the light of our polarised communities, in the light of our situation and the pain and suffering of the last 25 years. But “it’s very easy to pillory people because they don’t understand or don’t want to understand. The more you pillory people for that the more you reinforce them in their unwillingness to move“.
Need to move forward: Christian people need to move beyond this, Rev. Kinahan said – “We need to take risks – to move beyond the ghettoes of our own traditions, the ghettoes of our own minds, the ghettoes of place, the ghettoes of community, the ghettoes of our own religious denominations”.
Parishes are inward looking by their very nature, he said. We spend a lot of time with our own people doing our own things. For most people involved in parish life it’s a big effort to take an extra step, to take on an extra commitment which involves extra time. “The church really does need to lead in the process of trying to get people to seek to understand. That’s all too rare from all sides. He said that the “para” church groups – Corrymeela, Columbanus Community etc. are working at the edges of the churches – not disowned but not fully owned by the mainline churches who are “caught in their own traps”. The central bodies of the churches sometimes come out with very good statements – positive statements for reconciliation and understanding, he said, and he cited the work of the Presbyterian Church and Government Committee. But these statements don’t filter down, he said. Most people are comfortable in their pews. “We are comfortable in our prejudices, we know where we are and we are afraid to move onto strange and uncharted waters, despite the promise of Christ that He will be with us.”
Negative voices: Despite the positive statements, most voices are negative, he said. Pious vacuity – statements produced that don’t say much, and are not worth the paper they are written on. “We play safe” – again, very understandable.
He related how the Church of Ireland bishops in the North recently went to see the Prime Minister, John Major. The impression was given that they were representing the unionist position. This reinforced all the stereotyping of the church being the spiritual arm of unionism. Again at the Forum – they articulated unionist fears – echoing prejudice but not challenging the people to move forward. That takes risks. There are many clergy who want to move forward, to be ecumenical, but play it safe – they don’t want to rock the boat, he said. They were more concerned with the buildings of the church, and keeping the congregation numbers up. Secularisation is gathering pace fast – this will accelerate hugely. Churches are therefore very reluctant to offend anybody in the ranks, and move nowhere.
His recent book was very critical of current unionism. Some felt that he was doing great damage to the church. Perhaps he was doing damage to the institution of the church, but perhaps it needs to be damaged and may need to be radically altered and rebuilt from the ground.
Maybe people who want to move forward need to be a conscience, he said – “seeking to apply the word of God to ourselves instead of criticising others”. “We’re too busy pointing the finger at others – we have to see what we can do and not leave it to others to make the first move.”
Protestant community: The problems are deeper within the Protestant community, he felt. Greater signs of flexibility among Catholics. There were cultural reasons for this. Protestants prefer things to be clear and decisive. Any sense of frameworks without bricks is threatening. “We need to recognise we are prisoners within our own history.” He saw very little sign of Protestants moving forward to make a gesture of generosity.
Protestant churches were largely unable to see the other point of view. “We feel misunderstood but do not seem to want to understand others.”
The churches need to recognise they are not the mainstream of Irish life – we need to return to being a voice in the wilderness, he concluded. But “how can we do these things without going so far ahead of our community that we lose them completely?”
Editor’s Note: Extracts from Rev. Kinahan’s book Where Do We Go From Here? – Protestants and the Future of Northern Ireland (Columba Press, 1995) are reproduced at the end of this report.
Chair: Maeve Lennan thanked the speakers and summed up the key points emerging from the discussion and the contributions of the speakers:
- Time to take risk in trusting
- Fear in taking risks
- Trinity and community
- Communication. Too much secrecy
- Need to be involved in interchurch work
QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION – points raised
Integrated education; common religion taught to all children.
Catholics – time of crisis and time of conversion.
Reconciliation should be the first task of Christians.
Role of women – we must listen to the voice of women
Use of word “church” – should be “kingdom”
Divorce – how would change in the Republic affect North-South relations?
People are not listening to the churchmen. Bread and butter issues dominate.
Should we keep politics out of our interfaith dialogue?
Biographical notes on speakers:
Rev. Leslie Carroll has been minister in the Tiger’s Bay Presbyterian congregation, North Belfast, for the past 3 years. Before that she was assistant minister with the Rosemary congregation, also in North Belfast.
Rev. Timothy Kinahan is Church of Ireland Rector of Gilnahirk, East Belfast. From 1984-1990, Rev. Kinahan was Rector of St. Columba’s Whiterock, on the “Front Line” between the Falls and the Shankill. He is the author of a recent book Where do we go from here? – Protestants and the Future of Northern Ireland (Columba Press) which challenges many of the certainties that have dominated Northern Irish Protestantism for so long.
Fr. Brian Lennon S.J. has been living in a small Jesuit community in a working-class area of Portadown for the last fourteen years. He is the author of a recent book After the Ceasefires – Catholics and the Future of Northern Ireland (Columba Press) which examines the serious questions that have to be resolved from a nationalist point of view and analyses them in the light of major events in the history of nationalism.
Maeve Lennan is a counsellor psycho-therapist working in Navan and Dublin. She has considerable experience in ecumenical and interchurch work, having lived in Belgium for 20 years. She obtained a degree in theology in Louvain and worked in religious education for many years. Her ecumenical experiences range from religious education, ecumenical groups, pulpit exchange programmes, multidenominational prayer groups etc.
Editor’s note: Extracts from the recent books of Rev. Kinahan and Fr. Lennon follow:
APPENDIX – BOOKS:
1. Where do we go from here? – Protestants and the Future of Northern Ireland(Rev. T.C. Kinahan, Columba Press, 1995)
Starting from the assumption that the Ulster Protestant heritage is something to be proud of and is worthy of encouragement, Rev. Timothy Kinahan questions whether the best interests of the Protestant community are being well served by unionism as currently practised. He argues that the Ulster Protestant community has for too long been dominated by attitudes that are not consonant with their biblical faith and ideals. He feels that the best way for Protestants to preserve what is best and most positive in their culture is to talk, with an open agenda, to seek new paths, to take risks in the cause of greater peace, justice and prosperity for all.
Extracts and main points:
“It is a sad truth that the politics of the Northern Irish Protestant community as a whole are motivated by…narrow, tribally-based self interest, rather than by a broader feeling for the interests of the whole community….Yet gut reaction cannot just be dismissed. There are very good reasons (as well as very bad ones) why we Ulster Protestants have taken the political stances we have. We are an immigrant community, and immigrants are insecure, despite the centuries. We feel threatened…by the dominant Gaelic culture that surrounds us and are therefore reluctant to place too much trust in that community…We want to preserve our culture and identity which is a noble aim. Yet, we have hitched all our colours to one mast – the mast of unionism. This is very dangerous. Surely it would be safer, and wiser, to explore every honourable avenue to settlement, a settlement in which we all can feel secure.”(p. 53)
Writing in the immediate aftermath of the publication of the Framework Documents, Rev. Kinahan states that the negatives seem once again in the ascendant, and asks “where is the generosity of spirit that should be the hallmark of the Christian and the Protestant mind? Where is the real willingness to talk with an open agenda? Where is the willingness to admit that there is an Irish dimension… that needs more than toothless committees to give it life? Where is the willingness to take risks, to be bold for the sake of all?” (p. 56)
Reiterating the biblical challenge, Rev. Kinahan asks the following questions:
“Is it a Christian merit to cling to supposed privilege? Is it a Christian merit to refuse to talk with those enemies that Christ told us to love? Was it a Christian merit to dismiss, for seventy five years, the nationalist cries of alienation and pleas for justice?…Is it a Christian merit to seek for a return to Stormont-type “majority rule” while angrily denouncing any suggestion of a united Ireland?…Is it a Christian merit to seek a monopoly of political power when Christ regarded such power as a satanic delusion?” (p. 56) “A mutual recognition of the reality of fears, without necessarily accepting the validity of those fears, is vital for our future in Northern Ireland.”
Rev. Kinahan writes of the crisis in unionism and in Ulster Protestantism generally and hopes that the crisis “may yet force us to examine other options, and to begin to talk seriously and constructively with all comers. I hope that this will encourage us to seek new paths, to take risks for the cause of greater peace, justice and prosperity for all; to take risks to ensure that the society that arises out of our current chaos is one that respects and enhances both the identities and the cultures of all“ (p. 64)
Forgiveness: “Community forgiveness, by all sides, is desperately needed. If we refuse to forgive, or admit our own need of forgiveness, we condemn ourselves to live in a prison of bitterness from which there is no other escape.” (p. 66)
“A realistic, Christian input into the political and peacemaking process depends on the Christian churches and denominations getting their own houses in order.” (p. 74)
Christians in Northern Ireland today must ask many questions, the writer says. “They mustgrapple with them, difficult as they are, as individuals and as churches, at all levels. Theology of this importance cannot be left to the professionals or the synods: it must be done in the churches, in bible study groups, in the homes and bars and street corners of this land.” (p. 73)
“If we speak the truth to each other in love..instead of shouting our “truths” and refusing to listen or hear tell of any other “truth”, there is a chance that we might learn something from each other. If we have the courage to abandon the silly pretence that “our side” has a monopoly of truth, there is a chance that we might begin to have the riches of our own tradition enriched from the “other side”. If we can muster the courage to accept that we might be wrong…then there is a chance that a harmony might break out between our various church traditions.” (p. 81)
“Anyone who genuinely desires peace and justice in this land must seek them in both the political and religious spheres, at one and the same time. Even after the ceasefires there is no real shalom in our land. So long as we Ulster Protestants refuse to respect or even hear the political and religious opinions of our Roman Catholic neighbours, there will be division and hatred in our land.”(p.92)
2. After the Ceasefires – Catholics and the Future of Northern Ireland (Fr. Brian Lennon, SJ, Columba Press, 1995).
This book asks what tasks Catholics face in responding to the political and social realities of Northern Ireland and its relationship with both Britain and the south, in the aftermath of the 1994 ceasefires and the author approaches the issue from two different perspectives – the theological as well as the political. He looks critically, but constructively, at the Catholic/Nationalist community and offers not only criticisms but also shows possible alternatives.
Arguing that reconciliation and justice must go together, he goes on to outline the major concerns of Irish nationalism at the 1994 ceasefire, and examines topics such as the nation state, the issue of consent, political structures, security, the issue of minorities, pluralism and the treatment of economically deprived people.
Fr. Lennon poses the questions that remain to be resolved and analyses them in the light of major events in the recent history of nationalism: the Forum for a New Ireland (1984), the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985) and the Downing Street Declaration (1993):
– Do nationalists fully accept the principle that N.I. should remain part of the UK as long as the greater number of its people desire?
– How is the Irish identity of nationalists in N.I. to be recognised?
– What sort of structures should there be in policing in order to take proper account of nationalists as well as unionists?
Consent: Outlining the differences between the SDLP and Sinn Fein in their understanding of nationalism, Fr. Lennon states that the issue of consent has not yet been resolved. “There has been movement from 1980 so that now all the nationalist parties, with the exception of Sinn Fein, are committed to accepting the principle of consent as outlined in the DowningStreet Declaration.”
Faith: Behind the political and constitutional questions, he argues some faith questions: “What sort of faith do we bring to our political dilemmas? In what way do we view our political opponents?”
“Divisions among the churches reinforce the political and secular divisions that exist. We have inherited a tragic history in which our ancestors were divided across a range of issues, including religion. But because we have inherited these divisions we are faced with the task of responding to them. Our response can…continue and reinforce these divisions…or we can tackle the divisions and pass on interchurch relations radically different from those we have received.” (p. 92-3) “In Northern Ireland, people are divided in their housing, jobs, schools, interpretation of history, attitude to their state and political loyalties. This produces a separateness that is lethal.” (p. 93)
Community: “The degree to which the church responds to its calling to be a sign of God’s community in the world is the degree to which it will be in touch with God. It needs to make the building of community an absolute priority.”
Northern Ireland political identity: “There is a need for Catholics, out of their faith commitment, to contribute to a crucial task: helping to develop a Northern Ireland political identity…Whatever political settlement is arrived at in the future, the people of Northern Ireland will have to live with each other. In almost any political scenario, Northern Ireland is going to continue as a political entity, albeit as part of some wider structure. There is therefore a crucial need to encourage anything that helps the development of a positive Northern Ireland identity for both nationalists and unionists. If all the churches in Northern Ireland gave themselves seriously to the task of encouraging such a process, it could make a dramatic impact for good.” (pp. 114-115)
In the final two sections of his book, Fr. Lennon integrates the scriptural and political vision and suggests changes in the area of church and worship (looking particularly at issues such as intercommunion, ecumenism, interchurch marriages, role of clergy and the marginalisation of women), and secondly in the relationship between church and society (political issues, integrated education, divorce, cultural identity). He looks at the continuing theme in Irish nationalism that the British have been responsible for grave injustice against the Irish:
“The wrongs that the British have done to Irish people need to be acknowledged. This is crucial in the healing of memories… Because of wrongs committed in the past, and wrongs in the area of justice that are still being maintained by the British government, British people have a particular duty to be concerned about the well-being of Irish people. However…Irish people have also done great wrong to British people. The most obvious examples are the atrocities committed by the IRA..The IRA are part of the Irish people just as the Nazis were part of the German people. So it isat least appropriate that Irish people play a special role in seeking the welfare of British people as a result.” (p. 117)
“Forgiveness is part of reconciliation … it is the task of the victim to offer it. But there is no reconciliation until those who cause the suffering come to terms with what they have done and seek the forgiveness of those they have harmed.” (p. 160)
The book concludes with the author’s constitutional and political suggestions covering issues such as a Bill of Rights, Articles 2 and 3, Northern political structures, North-South structures and policing changes.
“Good states do not get built by accident. They come into existence because of hard political thinking and action. They depend on a vision. That vision has to take account of the needs both of individuals and groups within the body politic. It also has to deal with external relationships. The vision has to be inclusive. It has to balance power between different groups and classes. It has to protect minorities.. it has to be a dream to which all can relate. It has to be a means by which one can have pride in the state and identify with its people.” (p. 162)
Meath Peace Group report – May 1995. Compiled by Julitta Clancy
Contact names 1995: Anne Nolan, Gernonstown, Slane, Co. Meath; Julitta Clancy, Parsonstown, Batterstown, Co. Meath