From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Irish Presbyterian Leader Says U.s. Understanding
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 PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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