Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Methodist Church in Ireland—Council on Social Responsibility (Northern Executive)


  1.1  The Methodist Church's concern for this world is grounded in the hope of the Gospel and is stimulated and encouraged by the words of Isaiah as used by Jesus, "He has chosen me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed." (Luke 4:18).

  1.2  Healing was central to the ministry of Jesus. It was a sign of God's Kingdom, bringing renewal and wholeness of life to those who turned to God in their need. Jesus sent out his disciples, "to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal" (Luke 8:2). In both Old and New Testaments, God seems to be supportive of those who are suffering. That the suffering often continues raises hard questions, but God's care and compassion are evident as an example for us to follow. "You hear, O Lord the desire of the afflicted; You encourage them, and listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man who is of the earth, may terrify no more" (Psalm 10 17-18).

  1.3  On the cross Jesus said, "Father, forgive them: they know not what they are doing" (Luke 23:34) and Paul indicates that, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself" (2 Cor 5:19). Paul reminds us that it was God who raised Christ from the dead. These points reinforce our understanding of reconciliation being experienced as resurrection through the grace of God. It makes Christian hope in the restoration of relationships ultimately dependent on the love and compassion of God.

  1.4  Remembering is about facing up to the past. It is about remembering terrible things; done to people we knew and loved. However, remembering such things means we must recall too the terrible things done in our name. Remembering has to be a means of respecting and honouring those who have died, and, at least, of reflecting upon what our fears and aspirations caused to be done in our name. As a Christian community we recall how we have been invited and challenged to the task of remembrance and action by Christ's words at the Last Supper, "Do this in remembrance" (Luke 22:19). The act of remembrance involved having a meal. Habit has dulled our minds to the incongruity of this; remembering by having a meal, by sharing food, in the company of others, by having a good time. The remembrance meal is undertaken now in most traditions with great reverence. So if we apply this analogy we may find equally imaginative and incongruent ways of remembering our shared tragedy. We can remember by doing.


  2.1  The main focus of the Council on Social Responsibility of the Methodist Church in Ireland recently has been to provide a Biblical reflection on the developments in the political and peace processes. Within the body of the Church itself, the principal role of the clergy, supported to one degree or another by lay members, has been to address the pastoral needs of those affected by the violence associated with the Troubles bringing a spiritual perspective and comfort where possible to individuals, families and communities.

  2.2  The Council has sought through statements and engagement to prevent violence and loss of life by challenging paramilitaries to desist from and renounce violence and to bring to bear influence upon associated political parties and representatives. Through dialogue, facilitation and interpretation, the Council has sought to bring about, and sustain, cease-fires and thus to prevent any further loss of life.

  2.3  Specific consideration has been given to victims' issues on a number of occasions through submission to the Bloomfield Report as well as reports to the Methodist Conference (2000 and 2004).

  2.4  As a result of the most recent report (2004), further work has been undertaken and a possible model for dealing with the past through acknowledgement and story-telling has been advanced and is in the process of refinement, through consultation with others. Some work has commenced on producing a liturgy of healing and reconciliation. It is very much our aspiration that building upon the work of the Methodist Church, a joint approach by the Churches may come to fruition.

  2.5  We recognise that in a community which has experienced deep trauma and, where the right to life has so often been taken away, we must acknowledge and accept our failure. As a Church, we have not lived up to either the personal or community ideal.


  3.1  The political process has been dealing with some of the causes and symptoms of our conflict. That work is all but complete, the conclusions of current deliberations will reveal whether they are consolidated by the restoration of the assembly, shared power, agreement on policing and the decommissioning of armaments, amongst other matters.

  3.2  Matters from the past reside in our collective memories resulting in sustained difficulties in our relationships, particularly the relationship between the two main traditions. We believe opportunities to address this underlying problem by demonstrating new and positive approaches have not been taken or have been lost through the political process. Progress through the political process has been slow, begrudging and the subject of political deals, hardly the basis for establishing confidence and trust. So, whilst the political process is an essential part of the task of building peace, and sets the conditions for further work, including the repair and establishments of relationships, politics has probably brought us as far as we can go (ie in terms of improving relationships). Sadly, with the emergence of very divided politics, and the institutionalisation of sectarianism in our political institutions and processes, the best we can hope for from current political progress is that each of the traditions will feel that its interests are, as a last resort, protected for example if violence were to break out again. That we can hope will create some stability and a basis for progress. In order to build on this position, if that is possible, the participation of other elements of civil society is essential. It has been further acknowledged that relationship is at the heart of the process of peace-building. Without this involvement and understanding, the opportunities to create the conditions for true peace and reconciliation fade away.

  3.3  But this process has not achieved what the churches refer to as healing. By healing we mean the restoration of broken relationships and positive adjustment to changed circumstances and realities. Healing is also the commencement of a new relationship between our traditions, one marked with understanding, mutual regret about the past and the intention to create a shared future. These attributes are reached through acknowledgement and taking heed of the humanity of those with whom we differ.


4.1  To resolve outstanding justice issues

  4.1.1  With over 1,800 unsolved murders, the status of the disappeared and allegations of state collusion the issue of justice is still very much alive and interpreted differently. Recognising the salience of the issue is one thing, resolving the issue in a way that commands widespread support is another matter completely.

  4.1.2  We are not sure that outstanding justice issues require extra-judicial measures (apart that is from those that have already been agreed ie Saville, Cory). Whilst it would be comforting to think that some super judicial commission could hear and satisfactorily dispose of outstanding judicial matters, we believe that the degree of agreement and support for such a process would not be found. We believe that there will be a sufficient number of people who have suffered through the violence who will want their loss and injury to be dealt with in at least a comparable manner as any crime, particularly those associated with the Troubles. A commission or such like, acting outside the scope of existent arrangements, will seem like a second-rate solution, particularly when viewed against the other option, of independent public enquiries. Also, we believe that it would be hard to make the case for disposing of such matters through some quasi-judicial commission, when enquiry, investigatory and prosecution systems are in place, and where some might feel, on the grounds of human rights, that their rights should have equal weight on such matters.

4.2  To allow individuals to tell their story and for that to be acknowledged

  4.2.1  There is a view that many affected by the Troubles have not had their experience acknowledged and that the overlooking of their accounts has in part been caused by, and increased by, the attention paid to the more controversial, dramatic and large scale events. Who remembers the mother of somebody shot along the border in the 1970's? It is reasonable to ask why it would be beneficial or desirable for anyone to "tell their story". Why would this be helpful in the circumstances of the Troubles, and not say, in the context of a non-Troubles related sudden death caused by suicide or a car accident? The answer is in the significance of the loss, because it has come about as the result of conflict that somebody thought some cause or duty sufficiently important to consider another human being to be dispensable; that some cause or duty was placed above the concerns and needs of a family. Telling the story is about remedying that distortion, at least in part. It is also about equal regard. Some victims of our troubles have had considerable acknowledgement through the media which forms and legitimises public views. Others have been all but disregarded. Telling the story is about raising all who have died and who have been bereaved to an equal level of significance as human beings, and bears witness to the human tragedy experienced by individuals. The BBC Legacy series conveyed this powerfully.

  4.2.2  In our view there is a distinction to be drawn between equal regard for another human being who has died or a family which has been bereaved, and efforts to confer some moral equality on the actions or circumstance in which the person who died, was killed. For example, we cannot accept that the actions of the person, who sets out, motivated by a cause that has no reasonable legitimacy or in an act that is illegal, to kill another in an offensive action, and in that action is killed, can be equated morally to the position of their victim. It is a gross distortion of a reasonable moral world view if we pretend there is no moral distinction. We believe that this is particularly so as we do not consider the violence associated with our Troubles to have been legitimate under, for example, the principles of a "just war". We do understand, however, that the world does not divide conveniently into those who are victims and perpetrators, but that many who have been responsible for violence have themselves been the victims of violence and threats of violence. Likewise, some of those who have died and been injured may themselves have been responsible for other acts of violence, deaths and injury. We are prepared to accept and indeed would advance the view, leaving aside the above argument, that we, as a community, need to embark upon a journey through which we lament the tragedy that has befallen us all, and in those circumstances to lament the loss and grief that members of the wider community from whatever tradition have suffered. That willingness to lament the death of others, and the grief of their families, should not be taken as conferring legitimacy upon any offensive actions they might have been involved with that visited death and injury on others.

4.3  To ensure that all can hear and acknowledge these stories

  4.3.1  The telling of the story spoken from all parts of the island and beyond is one thing; hearing and accepting the story is another. We believe that story-telling will best contribute to healing if it is done with reverence, that is if the stories are told and listened to in reverence. We would urge that this process is not seen and undertaken with political or judicial overtones. Rather we believe the means by which they are told and heard should be pastoral. We could not support a process that would involve combative and assertive claims being made or if the process was to become the subject of legal wrangles. That would discredit it and undermine its wider human significance. We would urge all concerned, if we embark upon such a process, to do so with these thoughts in mind. Further, we believe that a set of guiding principles, and a means by which issues of dispute can be addressed and resolved, should be developed to support the process. Finally, we believe individuals and families should have emotional and psychological care to hand should they need it in preparing for, and contributing to, such a process, and afterwards.

4.4  To provide for the telling of another story: of support offered, thus adding to a shared history

  4.4.1  While it is necessary for the stories of those affected by the Troubles to be told, heard and acknowledged there is also another story to be told. This additional story relates to those who have supported the victims during their grief, those who have shown compassion, those who have opened their heart and home, and of those who have been courageous enough to offer assistance to others, irrespective of their tradition. In this way, a collective story may be told of wider and deeper relationships than might have been expected or imagined. Stories of this nature also need to be acknowledged and will add immeasurably to a better and, perhaps, common understanding of our shared, if presently contested, history.

4.5  To offer the Church the opportunity to reflect critically on its role

  4.5.1  During (and prior to) the years of violence the churches endeavoured to play two roles which were at times in conflict with each other. The reality of embattled and suffering communities required the churches to play a strong pastoral and consoling role. However, this meant the churches slipped, unconsciously perhaps, into sectarian mode. Catholicism and Protestantism were consoling their respective tribes. Imperceptibly, and, at times, with striking vividness, the churches exchanged their eternal mission for one that was partial and temporal. The long term goal of witnessing to the world and bearing the good news became subsidiary to the immediate pastoral necessity. It is hard to see how it could have been otherwise. But our lack of attention to that greater task needs now to be rediscovered and reactivated, and done so in ways that speaks out against the sectarianism that lies at the heart of our tragedy and embedded in our society. It is not enough to pick up where we left off in 1968. The experience of the past 35 years, its lessons and tragic insights, to say nothing of the growth of secularism and scepticism (about both faith and the Church), require the church to reinterpret its eternal mission radically and to address it in new and dynamic ways.

  4.5.2  All this means that the churches together have contributed to our divisions, to their history and to the consequences of sectarianism that fuelled the violence. Most tragically, opportunities have been missed. We need to acknowledge that the practising of our beliefs and theology was flawed. Actions taken by the churches in the years before violence broke out, in both north and south, could have created a much better context.

4.6  To give the next generation, and future generations, sufficient information to make their own judgement

  4.6.1  It is for these reasons that the Methodist Church is willing to commit itself to finding a way of developing a process or series of processes that would contribute to healing as defined above (3.3). We believe that this generation should not miss the opportunity to create a context where the agony of these past years is addressed as best it can and that old enmities are consigned to the past. We cannot allow whatever opportunities exist in this generation to pass us by.

4.7  To facilitate the restoration, renewal and establishment of relationships

  4.7.1  Much of our theology is based on the idea of our relationship with God developing within the community of faith. This helps us understand that the healing process is ultimately a social process. Those affected by the violence, therefore, will find the fullest healing not in isolation but in re-building and potentially discovering a new relationship with God and with others including, possibly, the perpetrators of violence.



  5.1.1  The Psalms are full of heart-rending laments and cries from broken hearts of pain, hurt and loss beyond all knowing. Emotions, today, are still so raw when exposed, and time is not always the healer as can be commonly, and too easily, suggested. Feelings and emotions—perhaps disturbingly innate—of anger and maybe even revenge are deep human responses were heard in the Psalmist's day as they can be heard today. As in the past, God knows how to deal with these emotions when they are committed to Him.

5.2  Provision of the sanctity/refuge of the sanctuary—a sacred space

  5.2.1  When faced with danger, the Psalmist knew to look for God's comforting presence in the security and refuge of the sanctuary. The re-assurance of God's help through present trouble was evident (Psalm 46). The sanctuary of the high rock was a place of escape and safety for those who were troubled. It was a place where rest and healing could occur. People who have agonised and been traumatised by the events they have witnessed or the loss they have encountered may be more inclined to tell their story in an atmosphere that is free from fear, safe, intimate and personal. Victims need space to express the rage at the injustice done to them. God can offer his sanctuary.

  5.2.2  There is a therapy in telling, and listening to, a story, and story-telling runs deep in our collective cultural veins. Stories have been told, and re-told, for generations around the warmth and intimacy of the hearth. Culturally, there is more of an affinity with the welcoming parlour than the glare of the public stage. We must find the appropriate space for people to feel sufficiently at ease with themselves, their audience and their surroundings.

5.3  Healing of wounds

  5.3.1  There can be a healing of wounds when the past is told and explored. The degree and nature of the healing process may depend on what is offered, how it is offered and what follow-up support mechanisms are put in place. But healing might also depend on how receptive a person is to being healed in the first instance.

  5.3.2  The conversations that Jesus had with the man at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-9) and with Thomas (John 20: 19-29) are illustrative regarding the openness, courage and faith to be healed and changed. The Risen Christ conveys to us God's understanding of pain, hurt and suffering and the hope of God's transforming power. In the same way, there is the possibility that some who have suffered, having come to an understanding and some healing, can be the means of bringing healing to others.

5.4  Repentance

  5.4.1  As noted elsewhere (4.5.1), the churches have faced a difficult tension between promoting the values of the Gospel, on the one hand, and in consoling people in their own community, which often has been manifested by acts of community solidarity or by articulating a political analysis. The churches need to be open to the voices of pain, hurt and despair from those it sought to counsel and comfort and from those it could not, or did not, pastor to. The churches need to consider critically their role during the last 30 years or so and to find God's grace and be open to criticism. There have been many occasions when the churches have acted together to find a better way, and that story needs to be told as well, but they might need also to reflect on many missed opportunities or occasions where divisions were not bridged. In short, the churches need also to encounter—to hear and to feel—the pain of this period and to repent. For some, the churches may lack credibility. Any initiative—church sponsored or community based but supported by the churches should be undertaken with the greatest sensitivity and on the inclusive basis of respecting all religious beliefs and none equally and without judgement. Statements of regret and apologies should not be made in isolation from a thorough self-examination and acknowledgement of the role played in the past.

  5.4.2  Indeed, without determining or pre-judging any outcome, if the churches were courageous enough to embark on this self-examination, by hearing painful stories, a significant and potentially influential statement of honest leadership could be made. The work and spirituality of the churches is distorted by the hurt and pain of many of its people. Self-consciousness is one of the most significant aspects of positive change. This attempt to grapple with its past allows hope for redemption and repentance.

5.5  Affirmation of human dignity

  5.5.1  We have referred elsewhere (1.4) to the symbolic cultural importance of sharing a meal together. Respect and the conferring of dignity occurs when hospitality is offered and accepted. Sharing food is a sign of fellowship. Jesus had a particularly important ministry with the excluded, marginalised and forgotten. He affirmed their humanity and gave them their respect and dignity.

5.6  Reconciliation of self to God and others

  5.6.1  God reconciled himself to his created world through His son. Paul presents this case in his letter to the Christian community in Corinth (2 Cor 5:19). God has been able to transform the world through the Cross and in doing so shows a deep affinity and understanding of the pain experienced by humanity. Yet, through the resurrection, hope and love triumph and a new way or creation is revealed. We are shown that we are all made in one Christ and while we may have some re-assurance that some of our traditions or personal and community differences can remain as witnessed by Paul on his missionary journeys, they are, however, secondary to the love of God and expressed in action to others.

  5.6.2  The churches have much to do as agents of reconciliation.

5.7  Recovery of truth

  5.7.1  Listening to and hearing stories, especially difficult stories shows compassion, and an understanding of peoples stories brings out the truth for them, the telling of which can move people further on in their journey of truth seeking and ultimately to a more reconciled place. Such a place may be where, "Love and fidelity have come together; justice and peace join hands", (Psalm 85). Reverential listening and compassionate support are some of the ways the churches can enable people in the restoration and transformation of their relationships with others.


  6.1  This generation is in a unique position. It has lived through the violence of the past 35 years (perhaps even recalls the circumstances and events that preceded it) and is living through the transformation of political arrangements which we continue to hope and pray will ultimately bring us conditions of non-violence and ultimately peace between our traditions. We are faced, therefore, with a unique set of opportunities which no future generation is likely to face. Things that could only be done in this generation will be impossible for future generations to undertake. Implicit in this is the fact that actions taken now could contribute to the healing referred to earlier. Conversely, if we do not take such opportunities, or if we do the wrong things, then we might be worse off.

  6.2  So what might our options be? We believe they are as follows:

  6.2.2  Leave things as they are; do nothing in the short to medium term and leave any initiatives the determination of future generations. Therefore, in the foreseeable future we would have:

    —  No special regional processes.

    —  No actions to address outstanding or unresolved justice matters.

  6.2.3  Embark upon a range of actions as soon as is agreed and considered to be appropriate which could include one or more of the following:

    —  Processes of acknowledgement and remembrance.

    —  Chronicling personal experiences/story-telling; and/or,

    —  Pursue justice matters through normal investigative and judicial processes and enquiries.

  We believe it will be important for the British Government, in consultation with the Republic's Government, to inaugurate and support a wide consultation on these and other relevant ideas which will enable us to arrive not only at the best way forward, but also to take heed of specific issues and details that could assist in the construction of arrangements which would have the widest acceptance.

  6.3  In considering the role of the churches, we see possibilities in three directions.

  6.3.1  The first option is to join with other social partners, statutory agencies and voluntary groups, not least the victims' groups in a community-wide initiative, perhaps such as that being presently considered by the Secretary of State, the focus of which is very much on the healing of relationships, as well as acknowledging and chronicling of personal pain and loss.

  6.3.2  The second option is to invite other churches to join with us in a joint initiative. This could take the form of each church working singly but in unison with their members in a pastoral approach such as that described above. Alternatively, the churches could combine to provide a collective and co-ordinated response. We see this latter approach moving beyond the immediate pastoral reasons for an initiative having elements, and challenges, of reconciliation.

  6.3.3  Finally, as Methodists, we see possibilities in developing an internal pastoral response to our church members and others who would wish to be associated with the church's initiatives. To that end we have developed a series of ideas which amount to a programme of action which could be undertaken by the Methodist Church over the next two to three years. (10.1 & 10.2).

  6.3.4  A determination of which approach would be adopted by the Methodist Church would hinge upon any decisions concerning wider community initiatives that might be undertaken following consultations sponsored by the two Governments.


7.1  Outstanding judicial issues

  7.1.1.  We recognise that the very significant number of outstanding unresolved murder cases (not to forget the countless unresolved cases of assault and other incidents associated with the Troubles) represents a major challenge to the Governments, policing and judicial services, to say nothing of the huge resource implications. The idea of some quasi-judicial process that would address such matters seems to have been speculated upon, although whether this was precisely the intention of Government is unclear to us.

  7.1.2  However, as already indicated, we are inclined to conclude that unless there is widespread support to do otherwise, it would be better to approach such matters through the conventional enquiry and prosecution mechanisms, perhaps with external help and monitoring. It is hard to justify putting in place processes that could be deemed to be a lesser form of justice and which might therefore be challenged under human rights provisions.

  7.1.3  We do not support the notion of outstanding judicial matters being the subject of independent enquiries unless there are distinctive reasons for doing so. We would be critical of decisions about such matters continuing to be the subject of political deals, made in the context of trade-offs. This, in our view, brings the whole process into disrepute. It also leaves others, whose circumstances are perhaps equally worthy of such merit, yet whose interests are not being advocated by politicians in influential positions, being increasingly isolated and marginalised from a sense of justice and fair play. Clergy and church members will be very sensitive to the thought that the fellow adherents who have suffered through the Troubles and whom they seek to support pastorally are "special cases" even though in the vast majority of cases they have no public or political profile.

7.2  Acknowledging and chronicling

  7.2.1  We would encourage the two Governments to explore the possibilities of a process being developed that could respectfully and reverentially receive the personal testimonies of those who have been directly and adversely affected by the Troubles.

  7.2.2  We, therefore, propose that the voice of people affected by violence could be heard through a Forum. The purpose of the Forum for People Afflicted through Violence would be to allow people to tell the story of their suffering, to have that story accepted, understood and acknowledged by the Forum, on behalf of the total community. Through this process, the total community and its institutions would be enabled to recognise the consequences of violence. The Forum would depend upon some issues it could not handle being addressed through other processes (such as outstanding judicial issues discussed above).

  7.2.3  The Forum would be established with the support of the Governments, the political parties in Northern Ireland and the Churches, and legitimised and empowered to receive submissions from the victims of violence. It would be funded jointly by the two Governments and possibly with additional international funds. The Forum would be presided over by a person of high standing, held in esteem by the sponsoring Governments, parties and churches. The chairperson would be assisted by other members who would be drawn from interests to the conflict.

  7.2.4  The Forum would have a secretariat to support its business, and would be located at a designated place in Northern Ireland, with the freedom to convene at other locations, if desirable. It would be strictly non-political and would only receive evidence which articulates the human and personal pain and suffering. It will have no executive function other than to ultimately report to Government. Submissions could be received in person or in writing (or in other forms determined by, and acceptable, to the Forum). They would be recorded and placed on record in published form (with due account being taken of confidentiality where necessary).

  7.2.5  At the completion of its task, the Forum would issue a final report, with any observations and recommendations for the attention of the sponsoring Governments, parties and churches, on such matters as the overall impact and scale of violence, the nature and type of further help and support for victims, and on how we ought to remember in a sensitive and meaningful way. We accept that much has been done, and is being done, in this regard, to mention but two: the Bloomfield Report, "We will remember them", and the work of Healing Through Remembering.

  7.2.6  The Forum should initially convene for up to two years (and make recommendations after 18 months as to whether that should be extended).

7.3  A memorial?

  7.3.1  We believe that it is probably too soon to think in terms of formal memorials to those who have died. We believe that as it would be essential to take account of the views and feelings of those directly affected by the violence, most notable those who have been bereaved, it would be impossible to contemplate for the foreseeable future circumstances in which agreement would be reached on the form a memorial would take.

  7.3.2  However, we see potential for initiatives that would offer alternatives to a memorial but which could somehow represent some aspect of our collective experience. This could take the form of an expression of hope or commitment to a better future. Mindful that if we develop an archive of stories and other material then it might be appropriate to develop a repository which could accommodated this, and which could be held, and added to, with regard for the sensitivity and importance of the contents, making whatever can be made available for public reference and consultation. The archive and the building which contains it could become a tribute. This would seem to be in line with Bloomfield's beautiful house in a beautiful garden


  8.1  For such processes to be possible and for them to deliver the hoped for benefits to the community and especially for those who have been directly affected by violence, we believe a number of important conditions or requirements must be met.

8.2  A resolution of the present political impasse

  8.2.1  There must be a resolution of the present political impasse. Our concern would be that continued political uncertainty and squabbling could impact adversely on such processes as are being proposed.

8.3  Clear indication that violence is a thing of the past

  8.3.1  Whilst the fear, threat and potential of violence remain, it is difficult to think of how processes such as those being described here could work effectively. Having said that how can we ever be sure that the violence is at an end, particularly when renegade and criminally motivated persons and groups want it to continue? Nonetheless, we believe that it is possible to think of the community reaching conditions whereby there is sufficient confidence that the violence is a thing of the past to allow these healing processes to commence. Current efforts to bring about decommissioning of republican weapons (and hopefully loyalist weapons) and the engagement of the loyalist paramilitaries are welcomed and encouraged along with the continuing role of the IMC.

8.4  Governmental and broader support

  8.4.1  The support of the political parties would be essential. This would take the form of politicians and Governments lending their moral and practical support to initiatives such as those proposed above. At the same time, we believe that politicians would need to resist the temptation to control or unduly interfere with whatever processes are put in place. It would be helpful for politicians to give leadership and lend support to agreed initiatives. In short, for the proposals that will take us further and address divisions in relationships to work political support, political respect and leadership for processes will be essential with clear indications that these processes will not be hijacked and abused politically. This might seem like a lot of demands. However, we would offer the view that the politicians have had a key part to play up to now, and will continue to have such a role in delivering governance and meeting responsibilities. We see what is being proposed as a parallel process to the political process, which principally facilitates the engagement of wider civic society, and as such we believe, on this occasion, that politics should play a lesser part.

8.5  "Up-take": how many will come forward

  8.5.1  We believe it would be difficult to determine in advance how many people would take up the opportunity of participating in this process. This will depend upon a number of things including:

    —  Who initially would be interested?

    —  How much the work (and early success) of this process would encourage others to participate.

    —  The contribution of self help and other groups.

    —  The degree to which the process was seen to be appropriated by one political or sectional interest or another.

    —  The "tone" set by the people responsible for the process.

    —  How the Forum would address initial and on-going conflicts and divisive issues.

    —  The range of options for participation (ie personal appearance, written submissions etc).

  8.5.2  The positive support and involvement of victims groups will be critical both in terms of giving confidence for people to come forward to participate and in offering the support that is rightly recognised as vital.

8.6  Therapeutic value: the degree to which people will open themselves to possibilities for healing

  8.6.1  Whilst the Forum's role would not be directly to bring about psychological recovery and well-being, it would be intended that it would support such healing and assist individuals in securing services to address such needs, should that be indicated. A key intention would be that the Forum would set out to "do no harm" although given the complexity of the issues involved that could not be an assured objective. We believe that the tone of the process needs to be facilitative, reverential, and supportive. To do this it would reject adversarial or inquisitorial approaches in favour of discursive or therapeutic processes. Formal legal and political approaches would not be appropriate.

8.7  Post story-telling stage: the commitment to continue to offer support in all its facets

  8.7.1  As indicated above, at the completion of its work the Forum would publish and archive the personal accounts. Where possible each contributor would be provided with a record of their submission. We would hope and expect that the experience of sharing their personal account would be helpful whilst it might cause short-term distress. Through a combination of support from family, friends and other social and community means of support (including the churches), services (statutory and non-statutory) involved in caring and treating people affected by the violence and with support through the Forum, people would be assisted before, during and after their involvement with the Forum.


9.1  Politicisation

  9.1.1  We have mentioned above (8.4.1) that there is a concern that any healing process might be dominated by political parties with their respective agendas. There is, therefore, a wide-spread concern that any initiative in the realm of healing and/or truth recovery will perpetuate divisions and enmity. We believe that a pastoral and reverential process may just strike a chord with many as it seeks to avoid the pitfalls of party political perspectives, claims and counter claims. Critical to the satisfactory conclusion of such processes is the commitment by all political parties to, on the one hand, support the processes (and any bodies established to deliver on their objectives), whilst, at the same time, desisting from abusing and monopolising them for party or sectional interest. If such commitments are not forthcoming then it is hard to see how we could proceed.

  9.1.2  It is the view of the Methodist Church that politics has understandably been the focus of attention but at the expense of the engagement and imagination of the wider civic society. We see the process described here as being about the participation of wider society.

9.2  Legal issues and revenge

  9.2.1  A major concern of any truth recovery type process is that information gained through an open commission-type hearing or procedure may be abused to the point where revenge is actively sought by the former victim or by those purporting to be acting on behalf of that victim. Similarly, issues could arise which pose a legal jeopardy to another. We believe that due thought would need to be given to these areas both in the planning and undertaking of the process.

  9.2.2  The Forum as proposed above (7.2.2) may well operate for most of its hearings on a very quiet, intimate, personal level without the glare of media intrusion (the hearing may be sound recorded). Indeed, it would be for the victim to decide how their story is to be told. Therefore, it is more than possible for victim and perpetrator to hear each other's stories, or to respond to each other's questions, without breaking confidentiality. We believe that the wholesale recovery of the truth will be exceptionally difficult to achieve but that the church can act as a facilitator/honest broker, as it has in other circumstances. It must be said that the experience of other countries is instructive as they have tried to deal with their past. It would inform us that there is not much, if any, desire for revenge.

9.3  Timing

  9.3.1  When considering the checklist for considering the commencement of any truth and reconciliation type mechanism, appropriateness and timeliness stand out. We believe that any process in Northern Ireland has to be unique to the particular circumstances, conditions, culture and convictions of this place and its people who have suffered so much. In that regard, it is our humble but considered contention that our proposal meets the first of those two requirements. The imponderable issue concerns the critical question of timeliness. As with many things in Northern Ireland politics, the phrase, "too much, too soon; too little, too late" comes readily to mind.

  9.3.2  There is the valid claim that people will not be prepared to tell their stories until they are genuinely satisfied that violence is a thing of the past, clearly and demonstrably. Thus, the political deal has to be struck and a semblance of stability and normality need to follow before any proper exercise in dealing with the past can be fully and safely explored.

  9.3.3  There is, however, an alternative, and equally valid, argument which states that it will be for civil society and for ordinary people to lead the way before the politicians will have the confidence to copper-fasten any political agreement. Some would say that is the position now. We know of initiatives, already underway, where for example, those affected by violence are in dialogue with those they hold responsible for their losses and experiences.

  9.3.4  It is our feeling, as we encounter and engage, that the time is indeed fast approaching but a judgement about this is a matter for wider consideration across the community. There is, at present, a frustration held by many with the seemingly endless political wrangles and stop-go negotiations. Even if they do reach, as we hope, a successful conclusion, sooner than later, victims should never feel pressurised to tell their story—or forgive—just because society in general has moved on. In all likelihood, this will be a process which will take many, many years. Whilst we propose a definite life to the work of the proposed Forum, the archive collection (7.3.2) needs to be open-ended.

  9.3.5  It is the church's historic challenge to be prophetic. The church must always listen, and listen carefully, as well as to articulate honestly and accurately where its people are at, and it has not always done that. The church needs also to listen, and listen carefully, to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and there have been times when the church has been too timid. And, at times, it needs to provide clear leadership and to point the way.

9.4  Truth recovery—very difficult to achieve

  9.4.1  Given that all the major parties to the conflict are still in situ, with too much too lose, it would be our contention that a fully-charged, extensive truth recovery programme is most unlikely. The paramilitaries—or indeed former paramilitaries—are unlikely to endorse an exercise without full amnesty, and it is unlikely that the climate of opinion would welcome that. Also, the Early Release Scheme and the expected agreement concerning the `on the runs' means that there is likely to be no incentive (other than on the basis of humanity) for many who have been responsible for violence to assist and engage in such processes. Likewise, governments, north, south and across the water, are equally unlikely to be opening up the files for all to peruse. While wishing to get more information from opponents, there is far too much for too many vested interests to risk in a truth inquiry with full investigative, and perhaps judicial, powers.

  9.4.2  However, it may be possible for individual victims to explore, search and find more information through discreet and confidential facilitation and other lines of inquiry.

9.5  Psychological impact—re-opening of wounds

  9.5.1  Unquestionably, whether victims have come to terms with their loss or grief to the extent that they have been able to move on or not, any process which attempts to deal with the past, even no more than story-telling, risks the re-opening of wounds.

  9.5.2  What is essential, therefore, in any exercise is to provide sufficient support, skills and services at the appropriate level to meet the immediate needs of the individual and to continue to offer that support on an on-going basis.

  9.5.3  Looked at more positively, it would be hoped that for the majority of people this process will be, on balance, worth the effort, and that they would experience good personal and family outcomes.

  9.5.4  We believe it would be helpful to take advice from other countries that have used similar processes to determine what lessons could be learned.

9.6  Unreal expectations

  9.6.1  There must be an incentive in order to draw people in. Yet, there is always the danger that hopes and expectations are too grandiose in the first place and may not, therefore, be realised for truth, healing, closure, or reconciliation. The lesson from South Africa is pertinent over the scandal of the issue of reparations which have yet to be passed on to the victims.


  10.1  Clearly, as has been stated throughout this submission, it is the hope and desire of the Methodist Church in Ireland that a community wide initiative or series of initiatives will indeed be possible. If, for whatever reason or reasons, that, or a joint church approach, does not come about, then we would consider developing an internal pastoral response as already mentioned. (6.3.3)  

10.2  A general overview of a Methodist based initiative is as follows:

  10.2.1  To establish a process whereby all Methodists[2] who have been affected directly by "the Troubles" who wish may tell their story in a safe environment, where pain, hurt, anger, loss, despair and other understandable human emotions may be acknowledged, where a place for some healing of these wounds may be found, where those involved in past deeds of commission and omission may seek repentance and where forgiveness, if possible, may be offered, and through this where strength to move on in faith and hope may be found, where human dignity can be affirmed and where the possibility of reconciliation of self to God and to others may occur.

  10.2.2  To dedicate to God an archive of material (in all its variety of forms: story telling/narrative, poems, prayers, banners, paintings, music and other creative ways) and to produce (in a variety of ways: Book of Remembrance, web-site, publication, articles in the Methodist Newsletter, display material and as source material for worship) an account of the effect of "the Troubles" on the Methodist people as well as the contribution of Methodists to community relations, and equally importantly, the recognition and acknowledgement of how Methodists, and especially others, have helped Methodists who have suffered, and to offer this archive/chronicle, in reverence, as a Methodist contribution to a common understanding of this turbulent period.

2   Members of the Methodist Church, who worship or have worshipped with a Methodist society or whose only link with a church is through Methodism. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2005
Prepared 14 April 2005