From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Irish Presbyterian Leader Says U.s. Understanding

Date 04 May 1996 19:49:44


95419   Irish Presbyterian Leader Says U.s. Understanding 
                      Is Essential to Peace 
                      by Jerry L. Van Marter 
BELFAST, Northern Ireland--If there were a simple answer to "the troubles" 
in Northern Ireland, the problems in the violence-wracked province would 
have been solved long ago, says Presbyterian Church of Ireland (PCI) leader 
the Rev. John Dunlop. 
     Interviewed by the Presbyterian News Service in his modest but 
comfortable home here, Dunlop, who was moderator of the PCI General 
Assembly in 1992, said cooperation between U.S. and Irish Presbyterians is 
essential so that people in the U.S. "can understand the complexity of the 
situation in Northern Ireland," which until a year ago was plagued by 25 
years of internecine warfare between Roman Catholic and Protestant 
     He praised PC(USA) leader Josiah Beeman for "reestablishing 
relationships between Presbyterian and Catholic communities in Northern 
Ireland and in the States."  Beeman led the effort to create the Interfaith 
Committee on Northern Ireland (ICNI) six years ago.  Since then the group 
has fostered economic development in Belfast, fair employment practices 
throughout Northern Ireland and educational exchanges of religious leaders 
between the U.S. and Northern Ireland.  
     A cease-fire, declared by the Catholic Irish Republican Army (IRA) on 
Aug. 31, 1994, and agreed to a short time later by several Protestant 
militias, "is secure," Dunlop said, "but the cease-fire was the easy part." 
     During "the troubles" more than 3,200 persons were killed -- in 
shootings or bombings -- and thousands upon thousands of others wounded. 
The result, Dunlop said, "is that both communities [Catholic and 
Protestant] are traumatized by violence, so it is very difficult and 
requires a leap of imagination for each community to deal with the other's 
     Because of longstanding religious and economic ties, it is critical to 
the creation of a permanent peace in Northern Ireland that Americans, both 
Presbyterian and Catholic, develop a greater understanding of the 
underlying complexities of the centuries-old conflict between Protestants 
and Catholics in Northern Ireland. 
     Northern Ireland is about the size of Connecticut and has a population 
of 1.5 million, about two-thirds of them Protestant.  Most of the 
Protestants are Presbyterians.  "Unless people understand the ethos of the 
PCI, they don't understand Ireland," Dunlop said matter-of-factly.  And the 
tangled web of British involvement in Northern Ireland means that the 
conflict is really "between two minorities," he added. 
     On the one hand are the often violent tensions between the majority 
Protestants and the minority Catholics in Northern Ireland.  On the other 
are the equally contentious relations between the Irish and the English, 
who have tried to keep a lid on the violence, only to be criticized by both 
communities in Northern Ireland. 
     Though the spectrum of political opinion is wide, Northern Ireland's 
Catholics tend to prefer unification with the overwhelmingly Catholic 
Republic of Ireland to the south, an arrangement that would instantly 
transform them from the minority to a majority.  For the same reason, 
Northern Ireland's Protestants generally want to remain a British province. 
     The cease-fire was achieved, according to Dunlop, "when both sides 
became increasingly aware that they were not going to be able to win 
militarily."  But it has been 14 months now, and public peace talks among 
Northern Ireland's half-dozen or so major political parties have not begun.   
     Most politicians agree that some form of constitutional nationalism 
with built-in guarantees to protect abuses against minorities will be the 
eventual political resolution, but trust between the two communities is 
still so low that publicly stated positions remain intractable. 
     And so churches -- the strongest institutions in the province -- are 
the key to breaking the negotiating deadlock, Dunlop said.  And agencies 
such as ICNI are the primary movers behind getting American Presbyterians 
and Catholics and their counterparts in Northern Ireland to develop the 
kind of trusting relationships that can enable substantive peace talks. 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


Browse month . . . Browse month (sort by Source) . . . Advanced Search & Browse . . . WFN Home