Memorandum submitted by the Maranatha
1.1 We welcome the decision of the Northern
Ireland Affairs Committee to conduct an inquiry into the issue
of establishing reconciliation in communities and between individuals
who have been afflicted by terrorism.
1.2 We also welcome the Secretary of State's
programme of discussions about "ways of dealing with the
past which recognise the pain, grief and anger".
2. CHANGING THE
2.1 It has been our experience over many
years that attitudes which contribute to suspicion, division and
hatred, are invariably rooted in very powerful formative influences
which have been brought to bear on the young. These have been
sustained by peer group pressure in the context of involvement
in continuing confrontation. They have also been fed by a cultural
and religious inheritance from previous generations which has
often been deliberately and grossly distorted.
2.2 The long-term establishment of healthy
community relations will only occur when responsible citizens
ensure that children are set free from the myths, symbols and
language of bigotry with which they have been systematically imbued
over many years.
2.3 The visual environment of militarist
murals undoubtedly has a profound and lasting influence upon children.
The commitment of those, on both sides of the divide, to the complete
eradication of provocative murals, graffiti and other symbols
of confrontation, would be warmly welcomed by the wider community
upon whom they have been imposed. There are substantial numbers
who do not wish to perpetuate tribalism and would strongly support
a clean up of a disfigured environment which ties them to the
past. Perhaps sponsors could be found to fund displays and murals
proclaiming messages of peace and hope, rather than hatred and
despair. Imaginative schemes of neighbourhood regeneration would
encourage the young to escape from the shadows of the past.
2.4 Children and young people have rarely
met those who have been politically and militarily involved on
the other side of the divide. Our experience is that the most
effective way of dealing with a continuing situation of distrust
is for men and women who have been personally involved in violence
but who have given it up, to share with children and young people,
and present an attractive alternative for the future.
2.5 In this context we would specifically
draw the attention of the Committee to the work of public-spirited
people such as Tom Kelly and James Tate. Tom, a Catholic, was
very active in the Provisional IRA and James, a Protestant, was
very active in the IJVF. They both served long prison sentences
and renounced violence. They came together in the Maranatha Community
and now have an impressive record of faith-based joint work for
peace and reconciliation, especially among the young. Their impact
on students in schools has been profound and lasting. One of the
most effective ways of dealing with Northern Ireland's troubled
past would undoubtedly be to arrange for those with first-hand
experience of violence, such as Tom and James, to engage in a
long-term programme of education in reconciliation.
3.1 Many thousands of people in Northern
Ireland inevitably nurture painful memories of past hurts and
injustices in the troubles and also passed-on stories of atrocities
in their families.
3.2 Remembering can bring pain or healing,
depression or hope. Days of reflection and sharing can enable
hurting people to learn from one another and to make appropriate
commemorations of a past which can never be forgotten.
3.3 Our experience is that no amount of
counselling and teaching can ever substitute for a deep sharing
of pain followed by an exploration of the process of forgiveness
and the healing of memories.
3.4 This Community has arranged many meetings
in key areas of confrontation and violence in the Province when
former perpetrators of violent acts and their victims have been
brought together. The publicly declared sorrow of former paramilitaries
combined with the witness of victims has proved to be a major
factor in the reconciling process. These have included people
such as Bernadette Power and Christine McKay whose husbands were
gunned down and who have publicly forgiven those who murdered
their loved ones.
3.5 The sharing of guilt and pain has, in
the context of Christian faith, led to acts of repentance and
forgiveness. These have a profound and lasting influence on the
participants and also on the local community. They have had a
dynamic influence on the process of healing the past.
4. ENDING FEAR
4.1 The problem of creating community leadership
in many areas hinges on the fact that often those who emerge as
community leaders are themselves associated in the eyes of the
community with paramilitary groups which are still actively engaged
in bullying, extortion and violence. Thus, the confidence of ordinary
people who wish to escape from the past is immediately eroded.
4.2 The ties with the past can only be broken
if the local community is convinced that criminal acts by friends
and associates of community leaders, or community leaders themselves,
have totally and finally ceased. Tragically, at a time when the
peace process seems to be centred on the act of disarmament, the
fact remains that the most highly organised criminal groups still
active today are directly linked to the paramilitaries. It is
widely recognised that paramilitary criminal activity is continuing
unabated and even, perhaps, increasing in scale. Fear will only
be overcome when all criminal activity is publicly renounced by
politicians and paramilitaries alike. This is the essential pre-condition
for the continuation of the reconciliation process.
4.3 The honest sharing of ideas and views
can only take place if there are no repercussions. A higher degree
of mutual trust and respect is needed and sadly this is often
not found in some civic groupings.
5.1 Many excellent initiatives for reconciliation
have been taken by Christian groups in different parts of the
5.2 Over many years this Community has arranged
hundreds of meetings attended by Catholics and Protestants in
almost every centre of population in Northern Ireland. These have
borne rich fruit and have also generated an enormous caseload
of counselling and personal help. The process of reconciliation
is inevitably slow and the fear experienced by actual and potential
local community leaders to stand out against violence is still
5.3 Meetings between opposing interests
need not be politically confrontational if carried out in an atmosphere
of honesty and genuine care. This can best be achieved by joint
Protestant/Catholic sponsorship, with no political agenda.
5.4 Many sincere initiatives for reconciliation
have involved superficial and often short-lived gestures. It is
far more important to influence a small number of people deeply
than a large number superficially. Sharing personal life stories
is particularly valuable.
6.1 Much political vocabulary is exclusive
rather than inclusive. Often the words used are deeply embedded
in history. Genuine peacemakers on both sides will have to learn
a new sensitivity to reactions to certain words and phrases. In
particular, it should be recognised that the pain of history can
easily be perpetuated by emotive words, songs and images and by
the continuation of a mythology which is often sterile and artificial.
6.2 Urgent efforts should be made to avoid
provocative "patriotic" gestures which fuel old conflicts,
open old wounds, and cause deep offence to the other side. This
will require strong and imaginative leadership from both sides.
7. ROLE MODELS
7.1 It is vital for the young to have good
role models who they can respect.
7.2 Political leaders need to recognise
that one of the major problems is that in the areas of greatest
trouble the dominant local role models for children and young
people may be hard-line political activists and paramilitaries
renowned for their ruthlessness and corruption.
7.3 Those at the lower end of the educational
scale, especially facing the prospect of long-term unemployment,
are particularly vulnerable to the supposed glamour of association
with the paramilitaries and their "macho" image. Sadly,
many of those involved in paramilitary organisations have no trade,
no job and have known no other life than involvement in the troubles.
They move naturally from political to "military" activity
and then to criminal activity.
8.1 Young people who have not been drawn
into sectarian attitudes and acts and have gone forward to higher
education are often very reluctant to return permanently to their
home community. They frequently move elsewhere, even out of the
Province, thus robbing communities of future leaders. This trend
must be reversed.
8.2 There is an urgent need for authority
to be given back to general society from activist minorities and
for new local leaders to be empowered. If there is more than a
very small minority of former paramilitaries in local leadership,
there will inevitably be uneasiness and the emergence of strong
new leaders will be inhibited. People in some communities still
feel that grants made to various neighbourhood projects are used
to strengthen paramilitary penetration and control.
8.3 For many years the power-base of the
paramilitaries has been dependent upon maintaining division and
polarisation in the local community. Unless this is recognised,
no progress will be made.
8.4 It also needs to be recognised that
the power exercised by the paramilitaries has in many respects
grown rather than diminished during the years of the peace process.
Without a radical reversal of this trend little progress can be
9. THE ROLE
9.1 Churches on both sides of the divide
agree that Christians in Northern Ireland are the beneficiaries
of a great Christian inheritance which they treasure. They agree,
however, that we are all damaged by the pain, suffering, evil
and injustice of past years.
9.2 The churches are now in a unique position
and could play a key role in transformation and reconciliation
during the next few years. Many local churches have outstanding
records of work for reconciliation.
9.3 Local Protestant and Catholic churches
working together could, with Government and civic support extend
the process of community sharing. In particular, they could offer
hope of shared sorrow and repentance for the past and for an honest
and healthy consideration of basic personal questions by their
adherents. These could include:
Do I admit the reality of the pain
and unease, anger and even sense of injustice within me as I view
those of other traditions?'
Do I accept the reality and. legitimacy
of the pain, and unease, anger and injusttce of those in another
Am I prepared to accept the fault
in my own tradition and the good aspect of other traditions?
Am I ready to walk in the shoes of
those of other traditionsfeeling their pain and seeing
the present situation through their eyes?
Am I ready to admit that many of
my own attitudes, words, hopes and fears are rooted in and dictated
by my inherited tradition?
9.4 Simple acts of people coming together
from both sides of the divide with honesty and humility, but without
compromising fundamental beliefs, can play a major role in creating
an atmosphere of peace and justice. The initiative for these clearly
lies with Christian organisations and the institutional churches,
but with the active and enthusiastic support of government and
23 December 2004