MEATH PEACE GROUP TALKS
No. 42 – “North Belfast – Communities in Crisis: Challenges for the Belfast Agreement?”
Wednesday, 27th February 2002
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath
Rev. Norman Hamilton (Ballysillan Presbyterian Church, North Belfast)
Cllr. Martin Morgan (SDLP, North Belfast)
Roy Garland (Irish News columnist, Co-chair, Guild of Uriel)
Fr. Aidan Troy, C.P. (P.P., Holy Cross, Ardoyne, North Belfast)
Chaired by Brendan O’Brien
(Senior Reporter, RTE)
Introduction (Brendan O’Brien)
Questions and comments (summaries only)
Appendix: “The Makings of a Young Militant” (Rev. Robert Beckett – letter to editor, Nov. 2001)
Biographical notes on speakers
Maps: North Belfast ; Ardoyne area [not reproduced here]
©Meath Peace Group
Introduction – Brendan O’Brien:
“Good evening …I would just like to make one simple observation – as you know I work with RTE, current affairs programme, and at the moment I am in the middle of a major documentary on the Middle East – the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians – and people out there continually ask me how it is in Ireland, and they continually think the Irish situation is worse than theirs, despite the fact that theirs is really at a crux time… I remember being at a seminar something like this in the Glencree reconciliation centre … and the South African Ambassador to Ireland was chairing the meeting, and somebody asked him a question – “what is the difference between the apartheid problem you saw in South Africa and the conflict in Ireland?” and he said, much to everybody’s surprise, that the Irish situation was worse. He saw more hatred in the Irish situation than he did there, which I found very hard to understand…
“The topic of tonight’s discussion is “ North Belfast – Communities in Crisis: Challenges for the Belfast Agreement”. It doesn’t have to be said that North Belfast has come into the forefront of our living rooms in recent times for a variety of reasons, some of them negative reasons. It comes with a legacy of a part of Northern Ireland which has had more people dead than any other area – something like a third of all deaths in the conflict were from North Belfast. So there is a really deep and bitter legacy.
“The first speaker is Rev. Norman Hamilton…. Essentially he comes as a committed Christian, taking to the ministry later in life, and for the last 13 years has worked his mission in the Ardoyne…
1. Rev. Norman Hamilton (Presbyterian Minister, Ballysillan):
“… This is my first sortie into a group like this in the Republic. Thank you so much for the invitation. I genuinely regard it as a real privilege to be able to come and try to articulate some of the acute dilemmas that the Unionist and Protestant people feel in North Belfast.
Background: “Maybe I should say where I am coming from, because it has been desperately important to me over the past six months to try and position myself properly in all of this. If you wanted to know what sort of Presbyterian Minister I am, I am not in the mould of Ian Paisley, I am much more in the mould of Dr. Trevor Morrow from Lucan which will mean something to quite a number of you, so if you know Trevor and you know where he is, I am sort of in that same camp I was educated at Trinity. I am an economist by background. I then became a career civil servant, and, crucially for my involvement in the Ardoyne, I was involved for some time on the political side of the Stormont Government. So I have kept an interest in the political developments over the years, I have kept my contacts and my friends in the civil service, many of whom are now senior civil servants. I have kept those contacts and friendships alive and I hope that has been of some use in the last wee while. After being a career civil servant, I did sense a real vocation to leave that, though I was having a ball, I loved it, and worked for a while in Christian work in universities and colleges in England, then came back and did my training for the Presbyterian ministry in Belfast, was posted to a very affluent church in the south side of the city and then went up the scale and was posted to the Ardoyne area of North Belfast, and have been there for the last thirteen years…
“Can I say at the outset that I do not come as a politician under any guise. This is really important. I have tried over the last six months to honour the political leaders, and I would be happy to take questions on this. I think there is rather too much community activity which undermines political leadership, but that’s a bit of a mantra of mine. I come as a Christian minister, I hope one that is politically aware, both currently and from my background. I have lots of contact with all of the political parties, and I mean all of them, over the last number of years. I speak as someone who voted “yes” for the Belfast Agreement, and so what I see my role tonight is as to try to interpret as best I can what has been happening, particularly in the Ardoyne/Glenbryn area of North Belfast, to interpret, but. I want you to understand that some of the views I will be expresssing I personally do not hold. My task is to help you folks understand why the Protestant and loyalist folks in North Belfast think and behave the way they do. So I hope that you will not necessarily tar me with the stick that you may want to tar some of them with. I want to make that really clear. Equally I do not want to distance myself from the community in which I work and serve. So there is a tension here, and I hope that over the last number of months – and perhaps Fr. Aidan would be the right person to ask – I have tried to position myself in such a way so as to identify with the community but not identify with the protest, and to work quite hard at being accepted and trusted in both communities. That is what I have aimed to do and that is where I come from tonight
Holy Cross dispute: “As far as the Holy Cross dispute is concerned, I think I’ll leave that to the question and answer session, because I do not want to try to answer questions you are not asking. So I don’t want to comment on that directly. But I do want to say that I am quite happy to do my best to address any question about the Protestant, Unionist, Loyalist involvement in the Holy Cross dispute, to address that directly in the question and answer session…..
Geography and demography: “Perhaps the simplest place to start with my comments would be with a little diagrammatic map of Belfast, showing North, South East and West Forgive me if some of this is familiar to you, but I think it would be helpful if we all had a common understanding. The east is largely Orange, Protestant and Unionist, largely. The west, which is Gerry Adams’ constituency, is largely Green and Catholic. (It also includes the Shankill Road, but forget about that for the moment). The south of the city is the university and hospital area, very mixed, thousands and thousands of transient folk in terms of students, and relatively little civil unrest. The north of the city is where the majority of the trouble happens. Essentially it is Green, but with islands of Orange communities in it, roundabout a dozen to fifteen. Smallish threatened Protestant communities who see themselves in a sea of Green. So in that sense, North Belfast, in demographic terms, is the only part of the city which has lots and lots of interfaces, where the Orange dots and the larger Green community interact. To put that in another format, a diagrammatic map [Map 1, reproduced on page 2] that was published in the local newspaper last year in the middle of August, in what was actually a very important feature. You will see that these solid areas are largely Catholic, Nationalist or Republican, depending on the political voting patterns. The few mixed areas are striped [on the map], and the plain areas are largely Protestant, Loyalist or Unionist. One of the concerns of loyalism is that with these main arterial routes going into the centre of the city, it is almost impossible for loyalist people – I use that as a shorthand, people from the Orange community – to access the centre of the city without going through a Green community.
“Now that has a number of important implications for the marching season which is coming up soon. One of the reasons why there is so much potential for conflict in North Belfast … is that if Loyalists wish to march to the city centre almost certainly they will have to go through a Green community, or along a road that is on the edge of a Green community. Then the Ardoyne itself is this area here [map 1], and the particular area in question – Holy Cross – is here, the school is about here [map], and that distance is about 400 metres. The disputed area is about 400 metres. I live in this dot here [map] and that distance is 150 metres. So, rather like Fr. Aidan, the Holy Cross dispute was on my doorstep. So what we have here is a small Protestant community surrounded by, on the south-eastern side, this large expanding and vibrant Green Ardoyne community, the Deerpark area divided and becoming increasingly greener, and this area here comprises about 1500 people. I think this area of Ardoyne is around 6, 000….
General disenchantment with the Belfast Agreement: “So over the last couple of years, since the signing of the Belfast Agreement, I think it is fair to say that the smaller Protestant communities have been a microcosm of the general disenchantment with the Belfast Agreement that is right throughout much of the province. The pressure on these small communities, whether they be here, or some of the others down towards the Lough shore, the pressure that these communities have felt under has eventually erupted into the violence that you have seen rather too much of on your TV screens.
One-sided implementation of Agreement: “Why has that violence erupted? Depending on where you are coming from, let me offer a number of factors that have led to that. The first one is – and I think the underlying one that I want to articulate tonight – that the Orange community feels that in the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement … I quote “we have lost everything so what the hell? “ That was said to me by one of the leaders of the Holy Cross protest. So what have we lost, you might ask. The underlying disquiet that erupts in these small areas, but is actually, I think, reflected across the loyalist people in Northern Ireland, is the lack of a consistent moral basis for the implementation of the Belfast Agreement – that, having started down a route of trying to get to an end goal which is set out in the Belfast Agreement, there has been a complete breakdown of a moral framework, or an ethical framework, for doing so. Now, I am well aware of the difficulties that talking about morality poses, particularly for those from the Nationalist or Republican community. I have had this debate before, so I am not coming into this unaware of the difficulties that bringing a moral dimension poses. But fundamentally the Orange community feels that the implementation of the Agreement has been so one-sided as to make them the losers in a big way and the Green side the winners in a big way.
Let me give you someexamples – Tony Blair’s handwritten pledges before the referendum. The handwriting of the Prime Minister saying “there will be no terrorists in government”. This then is overturned and we have senior members of Sinn Fein in the Northern Ireland Executive.
Prisoner releases: “When we came to the Agreement itself, the early release of prisoners – over which there was much angst. Depending on where you stood, you were saying “why is it necessary to let thugs out on the street who have terrorised the community for thirty years, why is this a good thing?”
“On balance the majority of Unionist and Protestant/Loyalist people said “we can live with that, provided the peace and the win/win situation is delivered, but we are profoundly unhappy about this happening at all”.
Policing: “To move on since then – and Martin will no doubt have a very clear view on this – the Patton Report and the move from the Royal Ulster Constabulary to the Police Service of Northern Ireland was largely seen as rubbishing the sacrifice made by ordinary men and women in Northern Ireland over the years to defend them against terrorists. They were marginalized, set aside. And then a comparison is drawn between the 150 million that the Bloody Sunday Inquiry is expected to cost versus the lack of any significant ongoing public interest in, for example, the widows of the security forces. So you have this group of 13 who were massacred in Derry and they have a 150 million inquiry to ascertain the facts, while hundreds of police officers were murdered and nobody seems to care. “We’ve lost everything – we’ve lost our police service, we’ve lost the respect for their sacrifice, the whole thing is imbalanced”.
Political manipulation: “Then more recently, the granting of offices in London to Sinn Fein, and the charade over the re-election of David Trimble and Mark Durkan to head up the Northern Ireland Executive when the Alliance Party were encouraged and indeed played ball with the Secretary of State’s wish that they redesignate themselves for one day in order to provide a Unionist majority. In the loyalist community in Ardoyne that was greeted with complete derision, and an example of the way the political situation is used to achieve an end, simply manipulating the power manipulation of the system to get to a goal. And one civil servant I know said to the Minister that they were reporting to. “Minister, sometimes you would be better to let democracy take its own route.” Interesting comment, even at that sort of level.
Amnesty: “But finally the Weston Park Agreement, and the amnesty that is apparently being offered to terrorists on the run,is seen as the absolute pits of morality. Let me read a couple of comments from the Weston Park Agreement, and a comment from a Christian group on it and I will leave it at that. The Weston Park Agreement says: “Both governments also recognise that there is an issue to be addressed, with the completion of the early release scheme, about supporters of organisations now on ceasefire against whom there are outstanding prosecutions, and in some cases extradition proceedings, for offences committed before 10th April1998. Such people would, if convicted, stand to benefit from the early release scheme. The governments accept that it would be a natural development of the scheme for such prosecutions not to be pursued and will as soon as possible, and in any event before the end of the year  take such steps as are necessary to resolve this difficulty so that those concerned are no longer pursued”.
The moral problem for many people on the Unionist side is: that instead of those on the run being convicted and then released, that process is now being set aside. There is not even to be a conviction. Let me quote you from a Christian group commenting on this, which says it better than I could: “While the Weston Park document does not use the word “amnesty” what is on offer is clearly amnesty by any other name… The early release provisions of the Agreement were not offering prisoners an amnesty or a pardon. Central to the early release scheme was that they were getting neither an amnesty nor a pardon; they were being released on licence subsequent to conviction. It was on that basis, and on that basis alone, that we concluded that the early release of prisoners on licence was compatible with the biblical understanding of government and justice. We argued that the early release scheme was compatible with the Christian view of justice because those released were released from prison, but not from the judicial consequences of their actions. However it appears to us that the provisions of paragraph 20 of the Weston Park document have precisely the opposite effect. The only release is release from the judicial consequences of their actions and the just demand that they be called to account for their crimes against the community”. So, in other words, this is seen as rubbing salt in to the wounds by giving an amnesty to republican prisoners in particular.
North Belfast: “How does this play out in North Belfast? It plays out in the fact that you have small communities who feel that the Green community is getting all the goodies, the Green community apparently want to take over these smaller Protestant areas because the housing demand in the Green communities is so big, and that there is a conspiracy, a plot, a scheme to drive the Protestants out so that their areas can be used for Catholic housing. Very close to Glenbryn – Torrents, that little area here [map] – a quarter of a mile away, that area has virtually disappeared as a small Protestant group, virtually disappeared, and the Glenbryn community said “if things go on the way they are, we will go the way of Torrance, our community will reach the point where it is no longer viable. We have been saying this for the last four or five years. Nobody is listening, we have had enough and we are going to take action. We have lost everything so what the hell?” And the action that they took, you saw on your television screens. If you were to ask them was that action justified? I would think they would say yes it was, because the security people have now installed security cameras, there have been a series of measures designed to help the security of both communities, from being attacked by each other.
Hopes for the future: “Where do we go from this? I have really only one suggestion, one about which I feel passionately. Fr. Aidan may wish to comment on this, but the current state of community relations in North Belfast is the lowest I have ever known. It is complete stalemate. Nobody wants to talk to anybody else. There is singularly little political leadership to steer the communities towards sensible dialogue, and it does seem to me that we need to have a politically led programme of developing community relations. If we leave it to communities it simply won’t happen. And my hope is that in the not too distant future, the political representatives across the communities will actually decide that for the welfare of the whole community, they will lead us into a civilised engaged community relations programme. I think I’ll leave it at that, and no doubt I better put on my flak jacket for the questions later on!”
Chair: Brendan O’Brien: “Thank you very much indeed. That was very stimulating, very precise … it would concentrate the mind, because the very title of this discussion “Challenges for the Belfast Agreement” here in a Southern context, is in some ways a bit distant from the realities in the North for obvious reasons. There have been very few challenges in the South from the Belfast Agreement, because it has been more or less in tune with where people were at that time. It went through with a 95% clear “yes” vote, and the challenges really evaporated, there wasn’t even a challenge on Articles 2 and 3 in effect. And yet what we are hearing here is entirely the opposite in a place like North Belfast.
“And while there is an awful lot you can say about that on both sides… I would just make one observation which is this: I have been covering the Northern conflict for nearly 25 years, and the closer it got to a political agreement the more I wondered when there was going to be a reconciliation process – as distinct from a political agreement. The centre of the Belfast Agreement is that a line is drawn over the past, people move on. But the problem is that the past needs to be reconciled. What Rev. Hamilton is describing, it seems to me, comes from very deep roots of the past – death, policemen, people killed, conflict of all kinds. And in a way that is a major challenge for people in the Nationalist community to try to create some class of a comfort zone, because Nationalists are perceived as having done well out of the Belfast Agreement, partly because the republican movement was very adroit at moving in tune with the times, so that when the Agreement came about they could more or less fit in with it, and nearly claim it as their own, whereas they had abandoned very significant elements of their objectives in their armed campaign. And in a way the Loyalist community didn’t understand that – they didn’t see the concessions that the outer reaches of nationalism had made, for what it entailed, and you have some of the consequences in North Belfast.
“The second speaker comes from North Belfast, Martin Morgan of the SDLP, he was vice-chairman of the SDLP during the Good Friday Agreement negotiations, he has been a councillor for North Belfast for quite a number of years, he is also a child social worker, and he comes also from what we like to call the “coal face”…
2. Cllr. Martin Morgan (SDLP)
“Thank you. Just to echo what Rev. Hamilton said, I certainly appreciate the opportunity, as an SDLP councillor, but also as someone who was born and reared and still lives in North Belfast, to be here tonight to address you. I am here as a politician in North Belfast, but one of the biggest crises for everyone living in the North of the city – and Norman was quite right in pointing to the little pockets we have, probably 12 or 13 interfaces in North Belfast – one of the biggest crises that faced that part of the city was the Holy Cross dispute. I am not going to get into it.
“But if I can bring in a breath of fresh air – I was there in a political capacity, as were Sinn Fein politicians, as were Unionist and Loyalist politicians – but I think this group here, and me as well, has to pay tribute. Two central figures in giving hope to the communities, to helping those children and their families and to resolve that dispute, are sitting at either end of this table – Rev. Hamilton and Fr. Troy. [applause] Because certainly as politicians we couldn’t do what the religious leaders of those communities were able to do, even in simple terms, just listening to people, being with them, working with them and working through the problems. There is still residue but our religious leaders certainly showed great leadership – to us as politicians as well as to the people in that part of North Belfast.
Legacy of suffering in North Belfast. “It is a pity in some ways Billy Hutchinson wasn’t able to make it tonight because I was wanting to get into him in terms of talking about the Loyalist community…. It’s very easy to stand here and talk about the history. And what is the history of North Belfast? Norman has talked about it briefly. Twenty plus percentof all people murdered in what we call the “Troubles” died in that constituency. It’s not a very large area, but 20% plus, hundreds, about 800 plus people.
“We have 13 interfaces between what are described as Nationalist and Loyalist communities, more than any other area of the city put together. Sectarian violence – I am here tonight as other people from North Belfast are. We don’t know what is happening. There’s probably riots taking place as we speak here tonight, it’s a nightly event, that’s what you hear that’s what you see. And for outsiders it is certainly seen as a way of life… The conflict has broadened, as they would call it in traditional terms, because one of the things certainly I, as a politician, had hoped for was that the new generation, the children who even followed behind me, that they are the new beginning, because in the SDLP we believe we have the opportunity for a new beginning.
“But even the very children in our city are affected by this, and it is our duty, politically, at community level and at a religious level to show a leadership that can ensure that that new beginning starts today, tomorrow and on.
Fragmentation within loyalism: “If you look briefly at loyalism – and I’m no expert on it – but from a nationalist perspective, it is a fragmented community. If we look briefly at Ardoyne, there are two political parties who represent the Ardoyne area – Sinn Fein and the SDLP. But you can list five political groupings in the Glenbryn area on the Loyalist-Unionist side. When there are issues to be addressed in the Nationalist districts, I have no difficulty putting my signature to a piece of paper with a Sinn Fein councillor or politician. Because if an issue needs to be addressed, if needs have to be identified, Sinn Fein and the SDLP – whilst we are separate politically – but for the common purpose of our own distinct areas, we will work together. That has seen a confidence, it has seen a development within Nationalism and Nationalist districts that – and others can argue here – I would put ten to fifteen years ahead of development initiatives in Loyalist and Unionist districts. That is a sad fact, but it is an accurate fact, and I think that is part of the problem.
Moving forward: “Where do we move forward? Tonight it would be very very easy to say “this is what has happened to my community” and for somebody from a Unionist or Loyalist background to say, “well, this is what has happened to my community and this is why I act in a certain way”. But sure haven’t we been doing it for thirty years, and where really has it got us? We do have the Good Friday Agreement. It is the best thing yet that has happened to North Belfast and to the North of Ireland. But we still have sectarian conflict. Because in the past the conflict was defined in terms of paramilitary violence, and – from an SDLP perspective – State violence as well. Four years ago I and a number of other people were assaulted by the RUC in a peaceful demonstration, where I had a black eye, welts on the back, and welts on the legs, for standing with my hands in my pockets. But there is an important difference for some of us compared to others. And that difference is – I don’t bear hatred or anger towards those individuals, I wanted justice, but I wanted justice achieved through courts and through the due process of law.
Leadership challenge: “But the challenge today is for political, community and religious leaders – because leadership is lacking, and politicians, me included, are to blame for that. Community leaders have their own selfish interests, they’re to blame for it. And in many occasions – with due respect – religious leaders, have had what I would call the “ostrich syndrome” and ignored the issues.
“So we need a partnership, we need a partnership between the politicians, the community representatives and our church people, and together that leadership can have a great influence on our communities. Because it is very easy for me to talk for the next ten or twenty minutes about the past. We can’t be prisoners of the past – we have to move on.
“So how do we do that? I was talking to a Church of Ireland minister this morning in Belfast. He was giving me a Loyalist perspective, a Unionist perspective, of grievances, many of which Norman has outlined, where they’d look at the Good Friday Agreement, they’d look at issues such as policing and the release of prisoners – now I would argue that is a more Unionist perspective than a Loyalist perspective because Loyalists too are caught up in the policing and the prisoners issue. But what we talked about this morning was: maybe we should have the equivalent of a Good Friday Agreement for our communities in Belfast? But I have made one mistake in saying that. Because tonight is the first time in my notes I’ve stopped talking about communities and refer to community, because we are one community. I came from a family that didn’t earn much money, blocked-up houses, an area of high unemployment, low educational attainment, no training opportunities. I went to a secondary school where everybody ended up if they didn’t pass the 11 plus, and where two of us in my upper sixth class, two out of sixty, got to university. So life wasn’t going to be planned in colourful ribbons for you. But the same was in Loyalist areas – it wasn’t’ exclusive to Nationalist areas, it was exclusive to everybody. We need to redefine the situation, redefine how we can pull our community out of a state of crisis.
Common agenda: “And what I said to the minister this morning was – we need a common agenda. I don’t need an agenda from where I am a politician, if Billy Hutchinson were here, he doesn’t need an agenda for his area, because in our opinion there is far more that unites us than divides us. But people have ignored that – we look at division and not what unifies us, and that is what is needed – a common agenda with a common purpose. It can be the basics. What are the basics that people want? What I hear from the Loyalist community is: community development – non-existent or just beginning. High unemployment – we acknowledge that. Low educational attainment – we acknowledge that, poor housing – we acknowledge that. It’s the same in areas I represent. The unique difference is it is not a case of me, it is a case of us and we, and how we move that forward.
It’s a very important statement and I would have liked Billy to have been here to say “let’s be brave about it”, because the SDLP, Sinn Fein, Ulster Unionists, DUP, PUP, have operated in many ways on a narrow selfish political agenda. In the last month there were serious riots again in Ardoyne, beginning with the Holy Cross issue again. Traditionally I would have gone on the television and said: “I condemn the police, I condemn the loyalist rioters, oh my, my community is suffering”. But from where I was standing, there were Loyalists throwing petrol bombs, and when I looked over my shoulder, there were Nationalists throwing petrol bombs. And I thought “no, we can’t keep up this age-old tradition, I’ll condemn Unionism, I’ll condemn the police”. So I condemned everybody – whoever is throwing a petrol bomb here, “you’re wrong, you should be arrested, go home or be arrested”. In some ways that caused ripples in the community – how dare I criticize Nationalist rioters, how dare I?
“And that I think is part of the basis of our problem – we have to be able to share in our own common issues, create a common agenda, create a common purpose. About 3 years ago I had a conversation with someone in Dublin, and we were talking about the Tour of the North – a parade that passes every year but on alternative routes, an Orange parade and it’s controversial. So I was quite worried that it was going to lead to trouble, and the comment that was thrown back at me was “but sure it’s North Belfast, you might riot for a few days, but sure it will be over”. That disgusted me. I think Government has to take its responsibility in helping us as politicians, there’s church representatives and there’s community, and to work with us in partnership as well, because the issues are not unique, they cross the divide, and the grievances I hear as a Nationalist politician coming out of those Loyalist areas are the same issues I have. Where I represent used to be a strong Labour area. Labour doesn’t exist – we might be called the Social Democratic and Labour Party, but Labour doesn’t exist in its traditional form. But when it did exist, Catholics and Protestants voted for it, Catholics and Protestants were members, were representatives, and I think that’s the way forward.
“Today I had a request that the Loyalist Commission wants to meet the SDLP. My initial reaction was “no” – and this is the human side – because there are individuals in that who have attacked SDLP homes, have attacked SDLP politicians, have attacked Catholic homes. But isn’t that the age-old problem? Say “no”, bury your head in the sand. So we left the door open, we said we will arrange to meet you. Because what I am hearing from Loyalism is that my tradition doesn’t listen to them, I don’t listen to their grievances, I don’t listen to the issues, and the same could be said about Unionist politicians.
“So we must move away from our traditional political stance. The fragmentation in unionism may not be able to be resolved by unionism, but it may be able to be resolved by us all. The word “reconciliation” has been used by yourselves, it’s been used by us all, dialogue, trust-building, reconciliation. We will do that through a common purpose, through a common agenda, through what unites us and not what divides us.
Honesty: “And we begin by being honest. Not just standing in front of a television camera and giving a sound-bite for what will keep my voters happy, because that’s not good enough. I have lived in North Belfast all my life, and it’s no different, but I want it to be different . And I put that offer out to the politicians in other parties, to the community leaders and to the religious leaders.
Challenge to government: “Let’s move it forward, let’s identify the issues that unite us, let’s remove that fragmentation and put a challenge to government – to the Irish Government, to the British Government and to all the governments who are quite easily and happily commenting on North Belfast, a city in crisis, and the challenge is if we speak with one voice, if we start to address those issues as one body, then we should be given the respect that we deserve. Because life in North Belfast is good, people on the interfaces suffer, but they still have to in many ways get on with their lives. But what my voters want is what Billy Hutchinson’s voters want, is what Nigel Dodds’ voters want and that’s where we must move forward.
Evil of violence: “There is a great evil that exists in our society. I only got married last year. The night before I got married I was still on the Limestone Road at half-past four in the morning, my colleague Alex Attwood, who has spoken to this group, had the windows of his car smashed. We will give our commitment, we will give our time, and we expect the same of others. But there is an evil that does exist there. I may not get the source right for this, but I will leave you with a quote – “evil men prevail when good men do nothing”. The challenge is for the good people of North Belfast to begin in a new way to do something and ensure that the evil of violence no longer prevails. Thank you”.
Chair – Brendan O’Brien: “Thank you, Martin … I would just make one comment. Martin Morgan made a very strong appeal for common purpose, on the basis that there is one community. He followed Rev. Hamilton who told us his people felt they were living in a sea of Green, and their fear presumably would be that if there were one community it would be Green. So in effect there isn’t one community, there are two. And the fragmentation on the Loyalist side used to be a form of strength, because Protestantism, particularly fundamental Protestantism, believes in freedom of conscience and thought, and pragmatism inevitably grows from that, and that is a very healthy thing. Sometimes it becomes a divisive thing, because the other side is more united than you are, and you can’t get your unity together. But for many Protestants, from my observation, they like fragmentation, they don’t like unity, they see that as a Catholic thing, as a Nationalist thing, a triumphalist thing, and on their side it is free-thinking…
“Our next speaker is Roy Garland [replacing Billy Hutchinson who was unable to travel]. Roy Garland says modestly that he is a constituency worker for Michael McGimpsey. It is a very modest statement because actually Roy has lived through the Northern conflict almost from the beginning, if the beginning is around 1966, on the Loyalist side, close to the activist side on the Loyalist side. He has moved from being a very trenchant young unionist right-winger to a left-winger, progressive, in very simple terms. He has written a very fine book on Gusty Spence who within the Loyalist community was a very prime mover, a very prime mover, in moving that Loyalist paramilitary community to a position of political engagement with the other side, so to speak So Roy comes with very fine credentials and has an awful lot to say, and he is not going to have time to say it….
3. Roy Garland, member of UUP (replacing Billy Hutchinson)
“Thanks very much for having me here. Actually I didn’t know I was speaking here until I came down… Having said that, I feel very much at home here. I have worked very closely with Julitta and John and a number of people here, and enjoy that very much.
Background: “You might wonder how I got from being a hard-line right-wing young Unionist, which I was… I was born and reared in North Belfast, though I don’t live in North Belfast now. That part of North Belfast was on the Shankill (part of the Shankill is in West Belfast, and part in North Belfast). I also had very close contacts with the experience of North Belfast in that I had three uncles and a granny who lived in the Oldpark Road. The Oldpark Road was divided then, the left hand side going up was Catholic, the right-hand side was Protestant, and I remember saying once to my granny “isn’t that where the “fenians” live over there?” And my granny said “don’t say that, they just think they’re right and we think we’re right”.
“There’s a lot of wisdom in that, and my granny was less educated than I was. That was a profound thought, perhaps that is part of the thing that changed me…
Radical working-class unionism: “Strangely enough, my uncles – one claimed to be a socialist, one claimed to be a communist and was a shop steward in Shortts, and the other one claimed to be a Connolly socialist. These were people from the Unionist community! Outside of their small circle they probably didn’t talk too much about that in those days. But there was a sprinkling of radical thinking within the working-class Unionist community. Because of the trouble in the streets they moved to Ballynure Street. And in 1974 during the UWC strike, I remember them saying to me, “do you know who delivered the milk? – it was the Official IRA”. Trouble broke out again and my uncles moved again to Manor Street. They were not involved in the violence. They had more in common with their Nationalist neighbours, than with their Unionist neighbours, and they drank in Nationalist areas, including the Falls area. But underneath their socialism and communism there was a unionist streak which came out on at least two occasions. My uncle James, the socialist, a very intelligent man, very aware of Irish history, on one occasion he was in a Falls Road pub drinking, and a political discussion came up and the Ulster Covenant was mentioned in a degrading way, and my uncle said “my father signed the Covenant and I won’t hear a bad word about it”. He came out shaking from head to foot. But he was a socialist all his life. The communist ended up working in Oxford sharing the same flat with a Republican, and the Republican made some comment about this place and the Republican got a hiding because he got into a fight, and my uncle got a hiding, he was a communist who underneath had a sort of unionism… There is a Unionism there that is represented to some extent by Loyalists. David Ervine’s father was very left-wing in his views. There is a lot of that influence there.
“Cold house”: “We’re really talking about a “cold house” for some people. In my experience, for me personally, and for some Loyalists, it’s not so cold. In my early days, I remember going to the Falls baths, because they had better baths than we had in the Shankill. And when you went you were conscious from when you left to when you came back that you were in “enemy territory”, that’s the way you felt. Gusty Spence did the same thing. He had a Union Jack tattooed on his arm and when he went to the Falls baths he had it covered up with a plaster, and he had a friend from the Falls Road who had a Tricolour and he went to Petershill baths some times and he had it covered with a plaster…That’s the world that I grew up in. I can remember going into Ardoyne … and fearing for my life. In fact a friend of mine was attacked, because he lived in the Ardoyne. A lot of the Ardoyne was Unionist then. Areas shouldn’t be like this, but that is the reality… I remember as a young child being asked was I a Protestant or a Catholic – that’s the worst thing you could be asked in those days, because if you gave the wrong answer you were given a kicking. In fact these stories were passed on from generation to generation. My uncle Jamesy, the socialist, told of in the twenties being stopped by a crowd of Catholics and they asked him was he a Protestant or a Catholic, and he said he was a Catholic, which he wasn’t of course. And they asked him to repeat the “Hail Mary”, and he started to make a stab at it, and as he was talking he saw a tram going by and he just took to his heels and jumped on the tram and got away. That gives some idea of the feel of the situation in Belfast.
Change: “There’s always been these ghettoes, and I feel, for me personally, and for some Loyalists, and for some Unionists, I can go almost everywhere now. I was up with friends in the Falls Road recently. I drive up with no fear. In 1995 I was invited by Republicans – and they were shocked when I said “yes” – to speak in Conway Mill. Albert Reynolds was there, and Martin McGuinness was there, and I decided to go, and some Orangemen came with you. It was a room like this, bigger than this, every space was filled, and the welcome we received from the Republicans was absolutely electrifying. And I felt something dramatic happened in there, certainly for me personally. I felt, why have Unionists never done this before? In my view Unionists are not just here to look after Unionist people, but they’re here to look after all people. That’s the unionism I’ve developed. I didn’t always appreciate that view. But it was that sort of thing that broke that.
The South: “Coming down here, when I first came down here as a right-wing unionist – in fact I was a member of a paramilitary organisation. I remember taking part in a parade in Rockcurry in Co. Monaghan. When we came across the border, it was like going into the Falls Road, I felt I was in enemy territory, and felt around every corner we were going to get caught, the IRA was going to get us. That was the reality of how I felt. The big thing that changed it … one of the things that really opened things up for me was actually meeting people on a human level. I met Republicans, I met Nationalists, I met ordinary people down here, and seeing the humanity right across the board, and the welcome we received, changed things. ….
“My family actually comes from Co. Monaghan, almost two hundred years ago, and we have kept contact with the family who still live there….. It is my feeling that there are many Unionists down here, some of them Unionists, some with a British identity, down here, and my perception is – and certainly some of them would have told me this – that they feel that their position is not recognised down here. I think this has a play-off in the North. What can people do down here to help the situation up here in which people think it is a “cold house”? I don’t actually share that view, in fact I think Unionists need to be more confident in themselves, or it is like digging themselves into a hole. But the South has something to do to show that Britishness is acceptable, not just Protestantism, and I’ve met friends down here who seem almost frightened to stand up and be what they are. What can be done? I am in contact with a group called “Reform” in Dublin, and they want some sort of public acceptance of the British identity of a minority in the South. They want that reflected in changes in the Constitution, and even in the national anthem, and that sort of thing. The South has done a lot, you’ve done a lot to make Protestants and Unionists look to the South, and things are opening up. I’m involved in groups down here, we’re bringing Unionists, Nationalists and Republicans down here. It’s opening up a new world, and I think we have got to reach out to each other and do what you’re doing tonight, and what has been done for many years now. Once people cross that border – there was a man came down last week, he had spent years in the security forces, as a policeman, and he had gone through some absolutely horrendous experiences and is living to this day under threat from Republicans in West Tyrone. He came down here, and among the places he walked was the Battle of the Boyne site… and he told a friend of mine he felt he was walking on air. This is a man who hadn’t been down here since he was a child, many decades ago….Meeting you people here, and sharing things, it has begun to open up things for him He’s going back into a situation in which the sense of “cold house” and even threat, is still there. I think we’ve got to dispel that, and the only way I find of doing that is actually meeting people on the human level.
Hopes for the future: “There are massive problems, and, as Martin said, many of them are common to both communities. But there is this sense of alienation. Someone said that in the Good Friday Agreement, Unionists were successful, they were victorious but they turned victory into defeat, and the Republicans did the opposite – after the ceasefire, they had a parade up the Falls Road, waving Tricolours. They turned defeat into victory because they had given up their campaign and in a sense they had accepted consent and so on. Unionists need to be authenticated and accepted, and to move along that line, but I think it is a slow process, an individual process, step by step by step. I would hold out hope for the future. I am not lacking in confidence despite those grave issues and grave concerns. Thank you…”
Chair – Brendan O’Brien: “Thank you, Roy…. Roy talked about the baths. I remember as a journalist being in West Belfast in a strong Catholic Nationalist area, there were women there telling me how oppressed they were, and I said, sure, but around the corner you have one of the best leisure centres which we can’t match in the South. There was a pause and one of the women said, “ah, but it doesn’t have a sauna!”.. There are victims on both sides and some people have thrived on victim hood. Roy has said there are a lot of good things happening, a lot of positive things, and of course he’s right. The topic tonight is “Challenges for the Belfast Agreement”. The question is, is what’s happening in North Belfast… is the Belfast Agreement capable of dealing with that? Is it a challenge for the Belfast Agreement? Because everybody else has moved on, thinking everything is fine, and working the Belfast Agreement. And on the political level, on the Loyalist side, the Democratic Unionist Party are almost entirely inside the house at this point. They’re not outside trying to wreck it, they’re in the Assembly and they’re almost in the Executive and they’re grappling with whether they will go into North-South bodies. And that is on the Loyalist side, the Democratic Unionist side. They have found, I believe, during the referendum and the elections, that there were very few votes in portraying yourself as a wrecker even if you were saying you didn’t like the Belfast Agreement. So Ian Paisley and company had to say, “we are going to represent you inside, and look after your interests, and we will certainly take our two ministries because we are entitled to them. So that was a very positive thing. And on the other side we have people who were members of the IRA, senior members of the IRA, members of the army council of the IRA, and the brigade staffs of the IRA at all levels, who are now wearing suits and getting elected and they are in the election process. Out of the Belfast Agreement those things are extremely positive. And yet we are here tonight, and you’ve all turned up which I think is terrific, to deal with one unfinished legacy of the past, and the question is, “can the Belfast Agreement deal with that?” Fr. Aidan Troy is our final speaker….
4. Fr. Aidan Troy (Holy Cross Parish, Ardoyne):
“Thanks to everyone for the invitation. This very dynamic group in Meath invited me on a number of occasions, and unfortunately because of events I wasn’t able to come along, and I thought they would have got sense and given up asking me but they didn’t, and they kept phoning me and they kept asking me, so I ended up here tonight. Or I almost ended up here tonight… I missed the turn, ended up in Dunshaughlin….. I could find the Ardoyne Road all right, and now I can’t even find Dalgan Park! So thanks very much for your patience….
Background: “At this stage of the night we have heard three very very thorough and very full presentations, it would be rather stupid of me to try and add too much more… What I would like to try and do is just to give a little perspective from a southerner, from Bray, Co. Wicklow, who came into this scene in a rather unusual way. Without giving you my whole history it might be no harm to say a word or two about it. When I was ordained a priest in 1971, I was assigned to Crossgar in Co. Down. This was September, and in that August, internment had been introduced. I remember saying to the priest who assigned me, “could you not send me anywhere else?” because that was one place I certainly didn’t want to go. I can truthfully say I spent three of the happiest years of my life there in the North of Ireland at that time, which involved quite an amount of contact with Long Kesh, various places and particularly Derry when that whole Bogside and Creggan area was a “no go” area. I just say that as a very very potted and brief history,
Holy Cross dispute: “But to bring it up to date, and to show God does have a sense of humour – I spent seven years, from 1994 until 2001 living in Rome, and when I was in my last year again I got a phone call …. They rang me up and said “will you go to Belfast?” My first remark was “you must be joking”. But I have an old principle and that is that I’ve never asked to go anywhere and I’ve never refused to go anywhere. I was still in Rome at that time, that was November 2000, and I remember on the 19th June reading in the Internet how there was trouble on the Ardoyne Road to do with Holy Cross Girls’ School, and of course very foolishly I said to myself, “thank God, that will long be over and done with before I get there”. I arrived on the 27th July, 2001, and in case you think I was some sort of a special person, I am not. People say “were you sent there for that reason?” I wasn’t sent there for that reason at all. I think that’s important to say, some people think there was a connection when there wasn’t. I was going there anyway. But when I arrived on the 27th of July, that night I saw some very serious rioting. Three nights later, the back door of the monastery was broken in and it was set on fire. I realised I had arrived in a very serious, a very critical time. And I think it is good to remember, that this is post Belfast Agreement. I had, like everybody else, thanked God and applauded this. I was so delighted with the outcome of the referenda on this, and that so many people were taking such a strong stand on this situation. Then I became chairperson of the Board of Governors of Holy Cross Girls’ School on the 6th August. And one of the things that amazed me, because there is sometimes a perception that somehow the Nationalist side is so wholly organised – in fact we weren’t that well organised at all, not because things weren’t going my way, but because there was a very serious situation facing us. And it became clear to me within a few weeks that this situation was at least going to go down to the wire for resolution. And that was when I met Norman for the first time, and Martin very kindly mentioned the two of us. I think it is very important to say, that whatever might separate us theologically in other ways, I think it has been a tremendous experience for me – and I need to say this publicly – working with Norman.
“I would go so far as to say, not that we solved anything, but I think we may have prevented death. I do believe there was the potential for children to be killed. I think this needs to be said, not because anyone in Glenbryn set out to kill a child, but because the potential for violence, and for that violence to get totally out of hand, was there. And I am not going to portray all that happened, and again, with all due respects to Roy here, I think the role of Billy Hutchinson is also very interesting, the role of Martin is interesting, the role of Alban McGuinness, Gerry Kelly. I think the political role at that level is an absolutely fascinating study. Now that is not what I am going to develop in the next few minutes. I just wanted to paint a very brief background to where I come from.
Truth and Reconciliation: “I also want to try and be as truthful as I can and yet always speak the truth in love. I do believe it is important that we tell the truth as we see it, and I accept what has been said tonight because it has been said by people of integrity and of sincerity. The one thing I think that I must add – and maybe this is not so palatable – but I must add that I can never understand how children were caught in that protest.
“If I didn’t say that I would be cowardly, and in that I am not upping the ante on anyone to pick that up. But I do think this is terribly important. I was at a lecture last night in the Waterfront, one of the Lord Reith lectures, and there was a poll taken for Radio 4 among the audience, “how many people would want something similar to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, such as they had in South Africa?”….I had a little time in South Africa. I would have thought, and this has been raised already, that there is a tremendous need – without this “whataboutery” as John Reid says, like I say something and Norman will say the other and then we would spar off each other.
But I do think there is a need for us to be able to surface the truth with a view to reconciliation, yet at that gathering last night there was less than a third in favour of it. Now I am in favour of it, by the way. … I am not going to put that forward as a solution. But when I talk about any situation, and I do admit that I have the huge advantage of fresh eyes and all the disadvantages of not having a background just as you’ve heard. I am enormously excited about the prospect and I am enormously fearful at the same time. I truthfully believe that in many ways – and I regret saying this – North Belfast, if it is not dealt with in some of the ways we have heard, is almost like an x-ray of what can happen still, even with the Good Friday Agreement. What I would think is this, I think there is an illusion – and I would be one of the ones who suffered from this illusion – there can be an illusion that if you make the Good Friday Agreement, as it were, work in general where it is easy to work. For instance, if I live in an area of very high economic resources, if I have a push button on the end of my drive where you have to speak before I let you in, it doesn’t really matter who lives next door to you, it doesn’t really matter where your children go to school, it doesn’t really matter what uniform they wear. But you take where Norman and myself and Martin live, and what Roy was talking about, and when you take that at times we’re talking as near as I am to this loudspeaker, people of vastly different cultural, religious and every other view are living that close together, or should I say not together, and that’s the problem, but that’s another story. If we don’t take this enormously serious, and let me be truthful again, there is a great desire, I believe, in the North of Ireland at the moment, or Northern Ireland, to as it were push the Good Friday Agreement as a cloak in some way over the issues that remain, and let me say I believe in it totally.
“Can I say truthfully – the number of times I have been asked to keep quiet. Now you may be among the crowd that says you can’t turn on the blessed television without that guy being on saying something .I believe that the truth must be told. I have been asked at the highest level of the church not to speak, I have been asked by politicians not to speak – not Martin, not the SDLP, I am not going to name any further. There are people, I believe, who find the pain, and I believe this to be very fundamental, the pain of looking at our truth too much to take, …. and yet I believe it is terribly important that we have something – maybe it’s not the right model, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.. I believe we have to bring something up into the surface where – and again I would have to pay tribute to Norman in this – we are not united as Catholic and Presbyterian, but we are united at the level of humanity, we are united at the level of common interest which has already been spoken about, and we are united in a burning desire for peace and for reconciliation. Now, if we can’t get the politicians at that higher level to stand out in the street and say “sorry, this is not acceptable behaviour” – be that Nationalist or be that Loyalist – then I think Norman and myself can whistle till the cows come home and it will make very little difference. And there were times, and this is not, because I know the role that the Dublin Government played, I know the role that the President of Ireland played, I know the role that politicians at the level of councillors and Assembly played, there was a desperate silence at the level of the Member of Parliament in that area, but let’s say I think we are going to have to press much more vocally, much more strongly for a political action, and I think we also need to be very clear – and I know we have to be sensitive where the churches are concerned. – I think we have to be very clear that the churches, and particularly the leadership – I am enormously complimented when Norman and myself are called church leaders as you are and everybody here is in their own way,. but believe me there is a level of leadership above us that also needs to stand up and take its responsibility. Now I am not loved when I say that, but then I didn’t become a priest to be loved. We have to be very clear on that.
Conclusion: “Just to finish on a sad note but I believe a rather topical note…. I think it is very sad in the last few days that the enrolment at Holy Cross girls’ school has dropped from 34 last year to 17 this year. And I would have a feeling that the people of Glenbryn – and we haven’t touched on what makes up that community because there are some people who have come into Glenbryn who wouldn’t represent Glenbryn – I think we have to be very clear on that. Because I have been fortunate – you wouldn’t believe the number of people in Glenbryn that I now know, now they don’t agree with one word I say, well there’s few words they agree with, but the women there particularly are convinced that I am a constitutional liar, and they tell me that, but at least we’re saying it. But what I am convinced of is that if Holy Cross girls’ school comes into crisis and closes, we have all lost. And we have no intention of closing it, because that is not the issue. I think the issue is, whether we take it in terms of one community finding a way of living together, and let’s hope that the house will be warm for us all, or whether it’s two communities finding the way, I do believe that if something like Holy Cross which unfortunately has become a symbol of all that can go wrong —if it closes, then we have all lost. What I am saying tonight is this: let’s take the Good Friday Agreement out of Stormont and bring it up to the Ardoyne Road and make it work.”
Chair – Brendan O’Brien: “Courageous as always, willing to put it out there. Without naming names, I think he has named quite a few names of people who haven’t come forward and given the type of leadership that he is saying must be given….I am now going to ask for questions….
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS
(summaries of main points only):
Q.1: Re speech given by Prince Charles in Glencree. Did it make any difference? “I have non-Catholic relations and friends, but I believe that the loyalist “loyalism” has never been loyal to the Crown, rather it has been loyal to the half-crown.”
Rev. Norman Hamilton: “It didn’t make the slightest difference whatsoever. He was obviously a born optimist to think that his speech would have any noticeable effect.”
Roy Garland: “Having said that, I know a unionist who was there and met him, and he was very impressed by Charles’ concern for Northern Ireland, and he said to him “bring more of your people down here to meet Nationalists”, and this fellow was influenced by it. But I am not terribly sure what Prince Charles actually said. I’m not sure it’s loyalty to the half-crown, there is a sense of loyalty to the Queen for many, but for many it is loyalty to their community and to the welfare of their community, not in any sense that we’re going to get anything out of it. If Britain were to withdraw from the North tomorrow, it wouldn’t make any difference to the sense of loyalty, and the refusal to be, as they would see it, coerced into something they do not want. That is a big motivating factor. They will not go and they feel they are being pushed. Whether they are or not is another question…”
Q.2 . “Throughout our country, North, South, East and West, we’ve absolutely loads of churches. We’re a great church-going society. Maybe instead of being so diligent about attending church, maybe we should think about the future. .. I believe that Irish society is not a great thinking society … wouldn’t it be lovely if we could introduce into our country real patriotism and real Christianity?”
Rev. Hamilton: “I am much more fearful of patriotism than I am of citizenship”.
Fr. Troy: “…I take the point you’re making, but could I also say, without making special pleading, I didn’t realise how sensitive the territory of each church is until this dispute broke out on Ardoyne Road. As an example… there was another Christian minister who is not now speaking to me. I regret this, and I pray every night that this will end. Through a very tense situation he wasn’t present at an event that got a lot of attention, and he felt that I excluded him. The fact that I did or didn’t is not what I am talking about… I think your point is well made, it is the lack of us all living the fullness of Christianity, that is the problem. I could say to you now, I’d love to say that is easily done, but it is sad to say this, it is an absolute minefield. That doesn’t mean you run for cover into the bunker … but it is so so difficult, and yet it must be done and I agree with you.”
Roy Garland: “The church I was brought up in doesn’t exist any longer. I was brought up in the Church of God on the Shankill, it was a Holiness Church of God, it doesn’t actually exist. I wonder sometimes, is the insecurity, certainly among religious Protestants, a factor of the fact that they live in such vulnerable little churches. They’re little organisations… The other point I would make is: there is an awful lot of real Christianity in Northern Ireland despite the situation in which we live. If you lived in that situation in which the people across the street were seen as your enemies, and had actually shot your people, and some of your people had shot them, you’d find it very difficult, and yet people have reached out across that divide and an amazing amount of work has been done right across the board…”
Cllr. Martin Morgan: “I don’t want to comment on Christianity, but on the other point you made – patriotism. Certainly in the part of Belfast that I live in and represent, I don’t like seeing a Tricolour painted on a footpath, I don’t like seeing a half-torn Tricolour up a lamp-post, and the same goes for Union Jacks. There has been too much flag-waving and bunting waving, and that is part of our problem. I take Norman’s point, and I share it – I prefer to look at citizenship. And citizenship whether it is North Belfast or Belfast, but I can sit in City Hall with the likes of Billy Hutchinson, or members from other Unionist political parties, and we talk about how we have a common citizenship also, in being people of Belfast and being Ulster men and women.
Questioner: “I understand patriotism as being a love of your country…”
Q. 3: To Fr. Troy – “…You said that if the Holy Cross school were to close, you feel you would have lost something. What do you mean by lost? Do you not think it would be more appropriate for the community of North Belfast if they were to have a project school like we have created here in the South of Ireland, the “Educate Together” projects… where children – Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Moslem, can all go to school together, and they could start from scratch…. I just take exception with the word “loss” after all that has happened in the last thirty years…”
Q. 4: “I am a retired Columban priest. Over fifty years ago I was in the Philippines, I was stationed in the southern part, the island of Mindanao. A large part of the diocese was Muslim, the rest was Catholic. In one parish, the priest was shot by Moslems, in 1970… . Last September another priest was shot in the same parish… It was mentioned that people up above should be doing more. I would ask, what about those below? In that parish where the priest was shot, we have a high school, 60-70% Moslem, 30% Catholic, and it’s tremendous what is happening because of that. The parents come to meetings, sit down and talk with each other, the missionaries play no part in that, could that have happened in North Belfast?”
Q. 5: “I am a Northerner, of dual identity. I am British and also Irish…. First of all, to Fr. Troy, I found it as a Protestant, deplorable, the way in which the little children were treated. The next thing I want to say is that truth itself is not the danger, it is the ignorance. I find that after working thirty one years in Drumcree in another tradition I find that my Protestant people were left behind, they were not brought along. I am a grass-roots working-class woman.. What I noticed from the Catholics, when they got educated they came back into the community and brought their people along. My Protestant people were left floundering, they didn’t know how to express themselves, to express the anger and frustration….We have as working-class people more to unite us than to divide us. … We need to build up their self-esteem, their confidence, to know who they are. I found that being safe and secure in who I was allowed me to cross the divide, even though I was frowned on … considered a traitor for crossing the divide.. I found that the only way to find out what my neighbour was like.. to live, work, pray with them. I was sent to Coventry many years ago, by my own community, for doing that. All I wanted to do was to find out what it was that was dividing us. Our only way out of this is: we need reconciliation politically and religiously. Our political leaders have let us down by not listening to my people on the ground… as long as they were voted in, with the Orange card to keep the Green out, they excluded my people and my people now have resulted in this awful anger and if these are not addressed, take heed, we will have another civil war on our hands. The only way I see out of this is by educating my people in how to dialogue with people, talking to people to understand ….. Again I bring in the spiritual element, because without that nothing will work…”
Replies to Questions 3-5:
Brendan O’Brien: “… We have had questions about what would be lost if the Holy Cross school had to close, about people at a lower level doing more, and about alienated Protestant people feeling that they have been left behind…”
Fr. Troy: “Very briefly, I am sorry you take exception, but I have to stand where I stand in a truthful way. What I meant by “lost” was this – I felt that the Glenbryn people and the Ardoyne people would have driven a wedge between themselves that would create a legacy of bitterness if the school closed on the basis of the dispute. …If you are going a step further into the whole level of integrated education, a different way of seeing it, I couldn’t agree more that a sectarian type of education has no future, but I would still say … I have to be very careful that I don’t set up a system where I ask the children to integrate the society. I think integrated education will only become a reality when the society is more integrated. If we could have true Catholic schools, true Protestant schools, in the sense that they are open to the best in education, the best in citizenship, the best in culture, then I hope the day will come when people from Glenbryn would want to go to Holy Cross, just as I hope the day will come when Catholics from Ardoyne would want to go to Wheatfield which is as near as that door … I do take the point you are making. Certainly I am not saying that in one sense Holy Cross Girls’ School must stand almost like in a Drumcree situation “we’ll stand here, we will no other”. What I am saying is this: there’s too many good people in Glenbryn who would be very hurt if Holy Cross Girls’ School closed for that reason. Now if demographically in five years’ time or less, there are not the pupils, so be it, life moves on, that’s the only point I was trying to make…. I will just finish with one sentence – I remember one night at a meeting with Billy Hutchinson. Norman Hamilton was also there …I remember saying to Norman and Billy… “I would love to think the day would come when I would exercise a pastoral ministry in Glenbryn as much as I could exercise it in Holy Cross” – that’s the future.”
Roy Garland: “In one sense the Glenbryn people are scapegoats, because the society in which we live in in Northern Ireland is deeply divided and ghettoised. They are a remnant of a large community who feel they are being pushed out, and actually have been pushed further and further out. They’re a small enclave and there is a school within it which is a Catholic school, in this Protestant area. Now that’s regrettable, the school should be integrated, the area should be integrated, everybody should live together. But we are expecting a marginalized, scapegoated [community], feeling oppressed, feeling they are living in a “cold house” to accept this. They accepted it for years, but they feel that the school process was being used. You probably know all about that – the feeling that people are coming in with their children to spy out the community, and I think that because of the nature of the community with peace walls everywhere, to keep people out, and they do make a parallel with Drumcree and feel their people can’t walk down Garvaghy Road, but there’s a large number of people coming up into their school. And. they don’t trust the British, they don’t trust the Irish, they don’t trust their own politicians. They’re isolated, they’re uneducated, and they don’t have much of this world’s goods. And I think they need love and I don’t know how you can give it to them. I’ve condemned them for doing the terrible things they have said and done – I think it was unacceptable and deplorable and hurtful, to hear the words and the actions they took… At the same time there are two communities victimising each other and being victimised. I don’t know how you show them that love, but that’s what they need.”
Cllr. Martin Morgan: “In relation to the question on the Holy Cross school, I share the sentiments of Fr. Troy. On a personal level I am always very wary of the phrase “integrated education”. The SDLP supports integrated education where it is required and asked for, and the funding of it. My own view is, to move that on a stage further, we’re victims in some senses within the Catholic education system, the CCMS – there’s no equivalent within the Protestant school system, a very powerful body. My view is we need a national system of schools, not Catholic, not Protestant – integrated has a jaundiced view in sections of Northern Ireland society – but where we move to a process where all schools are not defined by religion, but anybody from whatever particular religion – not just Catholic or Protestant because there are other ethnic minorities in Belfast and further afield – that they can attend a non-identified school but still have access to culture, to citizenship and religion
“In terms of what this lady was saying, that’s part of what I was touching on earlier, about the community you came from. Brendan picked me up on the point I made about the fracture of political life within loyalist communities. I can only talk about the people I talk to, and they don’t see that as a healthy thing. They do look at the Catholic community. You were nodding when I was talking about community development initiatives, the Good Friday Agreement was only signed in 1998, community development initiatives in Catholic areas began in the late 1980s, years beforehand. But I think that if you are in a party which is either Nationalist or Republican, the best thing you can do.. Nigel Dodds was referred to by Fr. Troy, I think it is a disgrace, he shows no political leadership as the most senior politician, as M.P. The SDLP and other parties have gone to the senior man like Dodds, and have asked for meetings, asked ..”what can we do to help you if its in terms of using our experience, our knowledge, our education …[tape unclear] what can we do?” We’ve never had a meeting, we’ve asked five times for meetings with Loyalist and Unionist politicians. We might have nothing to offer, but if you’re not there, and you don’t meet face to face…
“But I have to make one point, on public record, whatever the fears, grievances – and they’re legitimate – and aspirations are within Loyalism, violence can never be the excuse for expressing those, and that is what is happening in North Belfast. The violence being manifested on our streets … whoever was the spin-doctor on this has used the very legitimate grievances that exist within Loyalism to justify violence.”
Rev. Norman Hamilton: Re Holy Cross school dispute: “Lest there be any ambiguity on this, I agree entirely about the total awfulness of what has gone on …
Re education: “On the issue of the educational system, I am a bit of an agnostic on this, because I have real fears about any society that says a State-based secular humanistic education is better than one based on Judaeo-Christian values. So I’m not buying the idea of a State system as apparently better than a religious one….”
Re identity: “On the question of identity, let me part company with many folks on this. This is part of my whole being as a Christian minister. I do believe that man does not live by politics or sociology or education alone. My own identity, my own security – and I hope you’ll not mind me saying this – lies in the fact of my relationship with Christ. I am first and foremost a Christian. Everything else flows from my citizenship, being human, and so forth But I do not want to assume that the State can provide the identity, or culture can provide the identity which satisfies people and helps them….. or, sorry, that they are the only contributors or even the major contributors to them becoming reconciled, there seems to me to be a huge spiritual dimension that has to be addressed. I do not expect the State to do that….”
Q. 6: Integrated education: “…I am not quite happy with the answers of any of the panellists. The Father at the back indicated a Muslim community and a Christian community could do wonderful things together in their own school. Fr. Troy expressed scepticism about the children having to solve the problem… I think the children would be the best instruments… If they got together they will dissipate a lot of the bitterness, a lot of the prejudices that operate… Most people’s experience, through even things like social clubs and youth clubs is that they are very wonderful instruments for bringing parents together… Martin expressed the philosophy of it being one community, well here is an opportunity: Fr. Troy said the school is down at the wire, it’s almost ready to close, and Norman says that the Loyalist community feels threatened…. So surely some kind of bullet should be bitten in relation to integrated education, even on some kind of experimental basis? …. The integrated system was, I understand, tried in the seventies and Bishop Philbin and some others threw cold water on it… I understand it fizzled out, but it should be tried. Here we have two Christian communities, very very close, and, as all the speakers expressed, when it comes down to the human level they are at idem together, so here is one wonderful opportunity… to put it back into the hands of the next generation starting off, put them together and see what happens…”
Q.7: “Congratulations on an excellent debate…. Rev. Norman outlined the grievances of the Unionists, but sadly in this country, and I think it’s on both sides, for every grievance he outlined for the Unionists, there would be similar grievances for the Nationalists… That’s something we have to put behind us if we want to move on. The young SDLP councillor said that he wanted to talk. I think that is the most important thing of all – until we all sit down at the table and talk, we’ll never have any resolution. Sadly, two or three weeks ago we heard Gerry Kelly say that Nigel Dodds wouldn’t talk to him – the two most senior politicians in your constituency and they’re not talking to each other. I was very disillusioned with that. Last Thursday, I went on a spin through the Ardoyne in the company of two Loyalist friends. They said, Norman, that you were a “decent man” and they said, Fr. Troy, that you were a “grand wee man”!. … But there are two things I still haven’t discovered ….two small questions:
The children have been going to that school for a long time now. … I saw the building and I hope it never closes … But what triggered that dispute? ….
We’ve had the sorrowful sights on TV of what happened to the children and everyone’s heart went out to them … The Taoiseach brought the children to Dublin, and I heard that two men were organising a weekend away for them – very honourable and Christian. But what I am wondering is – is there is a group of Loyalist children out there wondering what they did wrong? Is nobody addressing them? I would like to say to them come down …”
Q. 8: Ten years ago, five years ago this discussion wouldn’t have occurred. It’s much easier for us to accommodate the reasons of the people at the table, because, looking around here, it is mainly middle class. .. It seems to me that what is happening here is sadly a reflection on the lack of political ambition and will to recognise the plight of the most deprived people on this island – and there are some in the South as well… It seemed to me that every speaker at the table tonight shared one ambition, and that was to encourage the political representatives who have stepped outside and are comfortable, and like us, anaesthetised, because of the material gain that is afforded to many people in this nation, but those people, sadly, when they go into their cold homes, and enter the coldness of their hearts, and don’t have the lubrication that Roy and yourself were afforded, with an intellectual rationale that comes through debate and discussion to transcend the feelings of hurt and injustice. They don’t have it and it has to be given to them because they are, like all of us here, human beings who have the capacity to transcend, but the political representatives have to come behind you and stop paying lip-service or in some cases encouraging fear and hatred that perpetuates the hurt these people have….”
Replies to Questions 6-8:
Brendan O’Brien: “Thank you very much. The quality of the questions – as a journalist much of this seems to have gone off the agenda, and yet people is really engaged in it. Are there any on the panel who want to take up any of those points?
Rev. Norman Hamilton: Re what triggered the Holy Cross dispute: “Fundamentally, some people feeling that their territory was being taken over – a serious attempt to take over territory which resulted in a fight which resulted in a riot. Now it’s much more complicated than that, but the trigger point was a single incident about territory. Is that fair Fr. Aidan?”
Fr. Aidan Troy: “Yes, you could argue this all day and all night but I couldn’t disagree with that as a summary…”
Rev. Hamilton: Re issue of political representatives: “… It is a cliché that you get the political representatives you deserve, and I am nervous, I have to say, about putting all the responsibility onto political representatives. It does seem to me that, and we’ve already touched on this, that we do need to work together. I think it was Martin who used the phrase – a partnership between politicians, community leaders and church people. Those of us who do have some capacity to lead are charged under God with leading. And certainly it’s part of my daily routine, I have to say, to beaver away at this one. Only yesterday I was up in Stormont making this very point…”
Cllr. Martin Morgan: Re grievances: “The area I grew up in had until very recently 76% unemployed – just one statistic. It is a Nationalist/Republican area. I think the difficulty, when you were talking about the Unionist grievances, is that they haven’t really been aired before. So it’s not a case of competing.. It’s very easy for me to say “yes you may have your problems but I have mine”. That’s what I was trying to say, there’s a commonality there. Unemployment is high in Loyalist and Republican areas, educational attainment is low in both areas. I think that’s how we have to move it forward. It’s not trying to camouflage For the first time ever people are beginning to say “this is a problem in my area”.
Talking to each other: “In terms of the talking, what I left out when I was going to speak first of all – “why have we not had genuine trust-building and reconciliation?” … Firstly, the two sections of our divided community have suffered greatly. It may be a necessary starting point that Catholics and Protestants acknowledge the hurt caused to each other by each other, and this is a possible first step towards healing. It’s nearly along the lines of what Fr. Troy was saying about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa… But we have never done that …. I’m there as an SDLP councillor, maybe some day I will be up in the big white building as well, but it is very easy for me to ask somebody to engage with me. I’ve never had an army behind me, I’ve never had paramilitaries behind me. But if you look at the backgrounds of those two politicians you mentioned, I think until you can get into that process, and don’t forget the propaganda on the streets of Belfast and further afield has been a game. Parades are another issue. “Oh we’ll let that parade come down when they talk to us”. It is very easy to say that when you know fine rightly that they are never going to talk to you. It’s easy to call for talking – I’m not saying they are not genuine about it, but we’re putting the cart maybe before the horse, we’re not creating the conditions to make the likes of Gerry Kelly and Nigel Dodds talk to each other. The thing about lip-service, I agree with that man down there.. It is easy for certain people, I’m sitting here as a political representative, but, yes… people have to be brought up off their knees. And that’s where the people are in North Belfast and further afield. ..One of the things that is very lacking is that there is no proper movement to recognise the aspirations of those communities – or community – there is no proper acknowledgment about how to empower those people.”
Fr. Troy: Re integrated education: “I take the point about integrated education… In the terms of the group that is so vibrant here, it could be a very good topic, because I wouldn’t do it justice if I gave a quick comment.”
Re Loyalist children: “I just want to say to that man there, who made a fabulous observation about the children on the Loyalist side at school feeling “what did we do wrong?” I don’t think that can ever be justified, and in fact Basil Keogh, the owner of Peacock’s Hotel at Maam Cross phoned me up two or three weeks before the children went down from Holy Cross and asked what would the situation be. … It is not as easy doing that, but that is certainly the idea. There is no way that I would want to see the children of Holy Cross being rewarded in a way that made the others feel guilty, but it goes back… that there is no use in us artificially integrating until we are able to do it properly. The parents of Holy Cross would have had to pull their children out if they were going. It’s that raw at the moment. I believe it’s sad, it’s tragic, and that’s why we’re talking tonight…”
Roy Garland: Re integrated education: “There is an integrated education movement and it’s growing. And also further education, which I have taught in for over twenty years, is integrated. I taught religion to classes of all sides.”
Brendan O’Brien: “People who have been engaged in the multi-denominational drive in the South will tell you how much resistance they met by Catholic churches and other churches, and by the establishment and everything else in a time of peace and relative calm…”
Q. 9:Re SDLP voter transfers: “Just two questions: the first is for Cllr. Morgan: seeing he has the facility of the STV system occasionally, why does he and his party transfer their second preference to a fascist bigot, instead of to a man living next door who shares his own cultural and social and political and economic points of view?”
The future: “Secondly, down the road ten years from now, it is very probable that the majority of people in Northern Ireland will be Roman Catholic. I do not necessarily assume that because they are Roman Catholic they will vote themselves out of the UK, but they very well might and if they do, it will mean there’s a hard core, maybe 48%, in the North-East, around the Belfast area, who will not want to go, just as they didn’t want to in 1912. And they will resist, and they will fight, and even if they were pushed by the British Government or by any other medium, you’ll have a tiger by the tail. It’s just not possible. How are you going to resolve that? And that’ll mean the Belfast Agreement will mean nothing any more.”
Q. 10: Re integrated education: “I’m glad, Mr. Chairman, that you mentioned that in the South there has been quite a lot of resistance to integrated education…It would be true to say that in the North there is substantial resistance in the churches to integrated education? I see it as a way forward to get children together, and to put religion, not at the very centre, but having it as a subject in school…I was at Glencree recently and we were talking about this subject, and interestingly, Unionists felt threatened by integrated education and they said it would take away from their culture. I just wanted a comment from the panel on that. They felt that integrated education in the North at the moment is predominantly one culture, which was, if you like, Nationalist/Gaelic culture. I don’t know if that is true…”
Q. 11: “I saw the little girls going to school, and other girls blowing whistles at them, and what concerned me was, these are the future mothers of our country, those little girls from the two communities.”
Canadian evangelical initiative: “The main question I want to ask is directed to the two gentlemen of the cloth who are here tonight. I am referring to this evangelical movement which is coming from Canada, it is cross-border.. There was to be a media blitz in February or March concerning it but due to the silly season that we are having in the South – namely the referendum and the elections – this was postponed until September. I’d like to ask the two clerical gentlemen, can the churches or the clergy feel they can use this movement?… Several people have talked about humanity and Christianity and so on. …It worked terribly well in Canada, I’m wondering what your views would be on it working in Ireland?”
Brendan O’Brien: “We are over time and all those contributions have been very valuable. I can’t take any more, I’m going to wrap it up quickly..”
Rev. Hamilton: Re the future: “What will the world be in ten years’ time? I’m afraid I have no views on what might happen in ten years. “A week in politics is a very long time”, to quote Harold Wilson. Ten years is worse than eternity.”
Re Canadian evangelical initiative: “… The major challenge is for the local church to engage properly with the local community. And it does seem to me that many outside initiatives … distract attention and energy and resources away from the really hard task of community engagement and community leadership to an agenda that has been set, for the best of reasons, outside. ….”
Re Holy Cross and Wheatfield schools: [Referring to map of North Belfast] “This is the Ardoyne Road… this is Holy Cross Church here, this is the State school to which the Protestant children of this area go… The current situation is that there is almost no contact between the teachers, twenty years of cross-community work has gone down the tubes, and there is a crisis as to how even sensible contact is going to be restored… This distance between Holy Cross and Wheatfield Primary is the width of this room.. A good thing from Canada is not going to address this issue. Fr. Aidan has to address it, I have to address it, the principals have to address it….. We need to find ways of leading this community back into constructive productive sensible community relations. And that just breaks my heart that those two schools are further apart now than they were many years ago.”
Cllr. Martin Morgan: Re voting transfers: “…. You are quite correct in saying, in one sense, that a number of SDLP voters under STV do transfer to Sinn Fein immediately after voting for the SDLP – some of us would share the view as to how they operate. But the truth of the matter is, that in the lead up to the Assembly elections in 1998 – I was one of the two vice-chairpersons of the SDLP – Sinn Fein made overtures to the SDLP to enter into an electoral pact. It took a five minute discussion for us to tell them to clear off The SDLP is engaged in an electoral war with Sinn Fein. We have our policies, we believe they are the right policies, and we do not instruct our voters to transfer to Sinn Fein. The only time the SDLP gave an instruction, or a direction, as to who to vote for after you vote for an SDLP politician, was for the Northern Ireland Assembly elections in 1998 when Seamus Mallon, who was then deputy leader, said: “after you vote for the SDLP candidates, vote for pro-Agreement candidates”. That was the SDLP line and we haven’t moved from that. We will encourage people to transfer their votes under STV to those who support the Good Friday Agreement, we won’t specify a particular party.”
The future: “On the other point you were talking about – the future, whether it’s a united Ireland or what… The SDLP has adapted its Constitution to meet that need. In the original SDLP Constitution we talked about that we believe in a united Ireland by consent…. I’m an Irishman, I believe in a united Ireland. It’s an aspiration of mine, but here’s the essential difference: it’s not a thirty-two county all-Ireland socialist republic we believe in. We believe in a new agreed Ireland, and that’s so important. If there is ever going to be a closer relationship that’s developing between the northern and the southern parts of this island, we’ll do it by agreement, not through coercion. Because you’re quite right – all we’ll have is the reverse of the penny…So it’s through agreement, and a new Ireland in non-coercive ways.”
Roy Garland: Re the future: “… There are Unionists, quite a number of them, and Republicans, who believe a united Ireland is inevitable. Demographic change has been going on for a long time. It instigates a lot of insecurity among Unionists as well. In fact, in the very early days of the Troubles, the idea that Protestants were in decline, and Unionists were in decline and on the way out, was used to stimulate paramilitary activity and all the rest of it, because they felt they were being manipulated out. And I don’t think it is actually very helpful to talk about a united Ireland, that is a united territorial Ireland. I think it is more helpful for us to talk about a united people and try to understand each other and try to reach out to each other, and develop good relations North-South, East and West as well Of course that’s positive down here as well, with England, the more the whole islands are integrated the better for everyone.”
Re integrated education: “On the question – are Unionists threatened by integrated education? – Many of them are, and that is why Ian Paisley has set up his own church education system. But it is also true, I think, that the Catholic Church also feels threatened by integrated education. In the early days of the State it is my understanding that the Unionist Government was going to introduce a secular system. Now I actually would support a secular system in which religious education was taught, and people were educated in their religion. They wanted to introduce that sort of educational system but the Catholic Church and, I understand, the Orange Order and some elements within Unionism, opposed an integrated secular system of education. It’s not the sole answer to the problem, because the problem is multi-faceted, there are so many problems. If people can’t live together, it’s hard to see how they can go to school together, but at the same time you have to start somewhere. And bringing children together obviously would help to break down a lot of myths about the other community. The more we know about each other the better, and some people are knowing less and less while others are reaching out.”
Fr. Troy: “I’m only getting into my stride now, but we have a good chairman and he won’t let me go on too long. It’s most stimulating …Very briefly, I won’t say anything about a united Ireland, I think the comments expressed cover a very good point of view.
Integrated education: “I would love to be able to deal with integrated education a little bit better than I have, I still would hold out that it is not the answer. It has a place. I did a programme on BBC Radio Scotland at Queen’s University recently … Not that I know much about it, but I did have to read about it. I have gone into the study of the philosophy and the values of Catholic education. I am still convinced, but I’m not opposed to integrated education…. I want that to be very very clear. I would go to the wall for Catholic education. I believe it is essential to the solution, it’s not part of the problem, but I do believe there is a place for integrated education. Yesterday there was Confirmation in the parish I serve in – some of the children were from an integrated school. Thanks be to God they can now come to the Confirmation. I am not going to defend the time when they had to be confirmed on their own. I am not going to defend the sins of the past, but I am saying that we need a much bigger discussion.
“For instance, within the Catholic family there is this whole question of should we still be subsidising grammar schools with an iniquitous eleven-plus system? I say “no”. It is equal opportunity and we must revolutionise education. But I think it is a soft option. One very small example I saw the other day which was tragic. I think Martin mentioned the Limestone Road… I saw children coming home from an integrated school – and this is not a hit at integrated schools, it is a fact that I am very sad about – one group went off to one end of the road, and the other group went off to the other end of the road, and they joined in riots on opposite sides, in the same school uniform! Now please don’t say that I am having a cheap shot – I do believe you’re onto something crucial, and I do believe that the best of integrated education, the best of Catholic education, have all got a part to play in a new system.
Re Canadian evangelical initiative: “I don’t know an awful lot about the Canadian situation, but there is one thing I’ve learned because I belong to an international order and I have had a few experiences around the world – and that is if we don’t inculturate, never import. It has to become an Irish version of the Canadian experience.”
Brendan O’Brien: “Thank you very much for coming. I only want to say that your contributions here were terrific, your presence here was very valuable, the speakers from the table here were very stimulating because they all came from the reality, the coalface so to speak. The only last thought that I want to leave you with before you go is that I hope everybody listened – and I’m not being patronising – to what was being said on the Loyalist side of things, as well as obviously from the Nationalist/Catholic side of things. But we are in the South and some people have come the journey here, and it’s important to acknowledge that they did come the journey. And I heard words like “crisis”, “there will be a civil war”, people wondering if their Britishness is really accepted, all about territory, “sea of Green”. …I would just make a simple point that I hope that is heard. But I do think also – and I started with a reference to the Middle East – that people who feel as strongly as that also have to acknowledge that on the other side there is very deep hurt, and people come to a sense of confidence having travelled a very long road to get there with reasonable good will I think that does exist on the Nationalist side, sometimes accompanied by blindness, I think, about how the other side feels. And I would make a very small point – talk about “cold houses”, if you walk into the Dail, and you were a Loyalist or a Unionist, what you see in the opening foyer are two big pictures – Michael Collins and Cathal Brugha – both in uniforms of the Civil War. Now I’m not denigrating the War of Independence or the Civil War, but I often wonder, has anybody even thought of that small point, in modern Ireland, to make the Ireland of the Good Friday Agreement more inclusive in all its symbols, especially here. So thank you very much for coming, thank you very much indeed to the Meath Peace Group who make these kind of meetings possible, and organise them and they are very valuable. Sorry for keeping you later than I said, and thank you to the four speakers…”
Closing words: Julitta Clancy (Meath Peace Group): “I would like to reiterate what Brendan has just said. There is a big challenge for us in meeting the commitment to reconciliation that was in the Agreement but which seems to have often been left behind. Somebody said at the beginning that we weren’t challenged down here. We took the easy route – we aren’t actually challenging ourselves, we’re not actually looking and we’re not listening enough. In private and public meetings over the last few years we have heard the pain and the hurt of many in the Unionist community, and we have worried about it and made representations about it. … Also we need to face up to the hurts of the past, and I wonder often if we had done that at the very beginning of the Agreement, if we had looked more deeply at the hurts of the past and not tried to brush them aside, would things have gone better? I think that the Republican community particularly has to start facing up to that. But we all have to do it. Roy mentioned the group of victims – retired members of the security forces – that we brought around Meath and Louth last week. It was harrowing to hear their stories – as it was in listening to all victims. But they had the added problem of intimidation which they were suffering from Republicans still. And they have fears that – though they had voted “yes” for the Agreement – maybe the Agreement had left them behind. We need to face up to this and maybe now is the time, before we go on any further.
Meath Peace Group talk, April 2002. Compiled and edited by Julitta Clancy, from tapes recorded by Anne Nolan and Oliver Ward and notes compiled by John Keaveney. The Meath Peace Group is a totally voluntary group founded in April 1993 to promote peace and understanding and foster dialogue, trust and co-operation between people North and South.
APPENDIX: “The Makings of a Young Militant” by Rev. Dr. Robert Beckett, Newtownabbey [extract from letter to newspapers, 14 Nov. 2001, and part of address to Guild of Uriel meeting, Drogheda, 24 November 2001]
“Glen Branagh grew up in the Mountcollyer district of North Belfast, bordering Tiger’s Bay and I have known him from childhood. He was a highly intelligent lad, full of fun and energy and not aggressive by nature. He attended Sunday School and several different church-based youth clubs where he was regularly warned of the evils of violence and the need to live at peace with his neighbour. Yet he died last Sunday afternoon as the result of a blast bomb explosion as he engaged in the defence of his neighbourhood against an attack by several hundred nationalists.
“What were the factors which led to his death? I believe they are likely to be these:
“He heard the older members of his district tell how they had once lived peacefully with their Catholic neighbours in the New Lodge area but had been intimidated out of their homes by IRA threats in the 1970s. He remembered how the shops on the loyalist side of Duncairn Gardens had been forced to close and the streets behind them, after years of vicious attack, had been bulldozed down to provide an industrial buffer zone which had seemed to promise a peaceful future. He had watched the mobs of nationalists youths, orchestrated by older men, streaming out from Newington Street onto the Limestone Road to attack the homes of his friends on the other side of Tiger’s Bay and establish a new flashpoint. He knew they were being taxied in from other parts of Belfast and heard their taunts that they would soon take over his district.
“He had seen many times the security forces watch from the safety of their armoured landrovers as mobs of nationalists attacked the homes of his friends, only emerging as reinforcements arrived simultaneously with the men of the district. They then proceeded to engage in battle with the residents and the nationalists retreated unhindered. He noted that the same assailants appeared regularly and very little effort had been made to arrest them.
“He watched a friend being seriously wounded in his own area with three bullets from a pistol fired by what must have been a highly trained marksman. He listened with disbelief as the Divisional Police Commander stated that this and at least 5 other recent shootings in the area with automatic weapons could not be attributed to the IRA. He waited for several weeks for the result of a police investigation into the shootings to be made known – none was forthcoming.
“On the day his friend was almost killed, he was appalled by the failure of the media to give it adequate coverage, preferring to focus on the discomfort of two little girls shocked by a “supposedly loyalist” pipe bomb. He knew loyalists had not thrown this bomb and that police on the ground had confirmed this to be true. He was incensed by public statements on the same day by both the police sub-divisional commander and the Secretary of State castigating as “scum” the loyalists of Tiger’s Bay who dared to defend their homes from attack.
“He was aware that press reports of the disturbances in his area were failing repeatedly to give an accurate picture of the “turf-war” nature of events and suspected that censorship was being exercised by someone other than the reporters who covered the stories.
“He believed the police were being used in a cynical way by Westminster and Dublin politicians to pulverise loyalist paramilitaries who were opposed to a united Ireland. Sinn Fein/IRA was creating the operational conditions for this to take place.
“He was convinced, young as he was, that he could and must make a contribution to the defence of his neighbourhood, his home and his friends. His innate sense of justice told him he was justified in doing so and he became involved in the conflict.
“I do not agree with all of the assessments and decisions that Glen took but I can understand the forces which moulded him and contributed to his untimely death. The result is that we in the churches lost the battle to keep him out of trouble and his family and community lost a very talented young man. Relationships between the loyalist community, police and the nationalist community have reached an “all-time low”. Sinn Fein is one step closer to its goal of defeating the loyalist community and driving them out of their homes. Even more importantly, the cause of peace, justice and open and accountable government and policing is trampled deeper in the mud of duplicitous politics. Sadly, we can expect more young men to follow in Glen’s footsteps.”
“Where should we go from here to work for peace?
“Both the Secretary of State and the sub-divisional police commander should apologise for the unwarranted derogatory remarks made about people who were defending their homes against attack.
“The Chief Constable has had several weeks to investigate the history of the different automatic weapons used in at least six attacks from nationalists upon both the loyalist community and his own officers. The results of these investigations should immediately be made known, as well as the sources from which the gunmen emanated.
“Greater efforts should be made by the security forces to confront and arrest the instigators and perpetrators of the attacks upon both Catholic and Protestant homes.
“The junction of Newington Street with the Limestone Road should be sealed with an impassable barrier to safeguard the welfare of decent peace-loving citizens on both sides.
“Sinn Fein/IRA must stop organising attacks upon the loyalist community. Their own people have also been suffering the consequences and there is a distinct likelihood that the next young person to die will be one of the youths they are cynically exploiting.
“People on both sides of the community must marginalize the troublemakers, pray and redouble their efforts to bring the two communities together again in peace.”
[Rev. Dr. Robert C. Beckett, Newtownabbey]
MPG talk 42: Biographical Notes on speakers:
Roy Garland: Belfast teacher, Irish News columnist, and member of the Ulster Unionist Party, Roy is currently working as a researcher for Michael McGimpsey, MLA, Minister for Culture in the N.I. Executive. He is a founder member and co-chair (with Julitta Clancy) of the Louth-based reconciliation group, “The Guild of Ancient Uriel” whose members come from North and South. Since 1995 the Guild has been involved in dialogue with a wide variety of groups and individuals from all sides of the traditional divide in Northern Ireland, and from the Republic.
Rev. Norman Hamilton(Presbyterian Minister, Ballysillan). A graduate of Trinity College Dublin, Norman Hamilton became a career civil servant in Northern Ireland, and spent some time on the political side. Feeling a sense of vocation to the Christian Ministry, he worked for several years in England in Christian ministry in universities and colleges, before becoming a Presbyterian minister in 1980. He has served in several ministries in Belfast and has been ministering in the Ardoyne area for 13 years. Contact address: 564 Crumlin Road, Belfast BT14 7GL.
Cllr. Martin Morgan(SDLP) is a childcare social worker andhas been a member of the SDLP for fifteen years. A graduate of Queen’s University, Belfast, he was a member of the Executive of the SDLP for 6 years and was Vice-Chairperson of the party during the Good Friday negotiations 1997-98. He was the SDLP youth representative to ECOSY (Party of European Socialists) 1992-93, and has been a member of Belfast City Council, representing the Oldpark area from 1993 to the present. He was Leader and Deputy Leader of the SDLP in the Council, and was John Hume’s appointee to the Academy of Leadership, Washington DC, in 1997. Contact address: SDLP offices, 228 Antrim Road, Belfast 15. Telephone (from south): (048) 90 220520
Brendan O’Brien: A senior reporter with RTE current affairs, Brendan worked on Seven Days, Today Tonight and Prime Time. He won a Jacob’s Award for investigative journalism, notably for his work in the areas of drugs and serious crime. He has reported on all aspects of the Northern Ireland conflict since 1974 and is the author of two books on the IRA: The Long War and A Pocket History of the IRA. He has recently completed a major documentary on the Middle East conflict.
Fr. Aidan Troy: Born in 1945 in Bray, Co. Wicklow, Fr. Troy is a graduate of University College Dublin and Clonliffe College, Dublin. He was ordained a Passionist priest in 1970 and has ministered in Europe, Africa and America. He recently completed a Degree in Theology in Rome and was appointed parish priest of Holy Cross, Ardoyne, Belfast, in August 2001. Contact address: Holy Cross Retreat, 432 Crumlin Road, Belfast BT14 7GE.
© Meath Peace Group April 2002