From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Churches Intensify Search For Economic Development,

Date 04 May 1996 20:55:54


95397  Churches Intensify Search For Economic Development,  
     Fair Employment in Northern Ireland as Cease-fire Holds 
                      by Jerry L. Van Marter 
BELFAST, Northern Ireland--While a tenuous, yearlong cease-fire holds in 
this troubled province, church leaders -- Protestant and Catholic -- are 
intensifying their efforts to promote economic development that all agree 
is the key to long-term peace here. 
     "Jobs is the cement that will bring permanent peace," Protestant 
community development leader Sammy Douglas told the Interchurch Committee 
on Northern Ireland (ICNI) at its annual meeting here Oct. 19-20. 
     Douglas, director of the East Belfast Development Agency, was one of a 
number of Protestant and Catholic economic developers who addressed ICNI, a 
six-year-old alliance of U.S. Presbyterians and Roman Catholics and their 
counterparts in Northern Ireland that is seeking to contribute to the 
long-term stability of the province.   
     Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) members of the committee are Josiah 
Beeman of Washington, D.C.; former General Assembly moderator the Rev. C. 
Kenneth Hall of Butler, Pa.; the Rev. Linda Owens of Liberty Corner, N.J.; 
and the Rev. Henry "Hank" Postel of Gaithersburg, Md. 
     Douglas described Protestant East Belfast as a former industrial hub 
for Ireland's shipbuilding and textile industries that has now dried up 
economically.  Unemployment, which has skyrocketed since "the troubles" 
(warfare between Catholic and Protestant paramilitaries) began in 1969, now 
hovers at somewhere between 40 and 70 percent. 
     Since the cease-fire was declared on Aug. 31, 1994, Douglas said, "the 
business climate in Belfast is booming, but the  peace dividend' has not 
reached the streets yet."  Small business development as well as industrial 
expansion show promise, but Douglas said he fears "there will be a peace 
deficit rather than a peace dividend" as security-related jobs are 
eliminated in the wake of the cease-fire.  "It's hard to retrain police 
officers for tourist industry jobs," he said. 
     Job training must be geared to jobs that actually exist for economic 
development programs to be effective, said Harry Coll, an attorney in 
Catholic West Belfast and chair of the board of directors of Springvale 
Training Center, a brand-new development program in that part of the city. 
"Training is all very well," Coll said, "but is nought if there is not the 
promise of work at the end of the day." 
     Coll, an ICNI member,  is one of a growing number of Protestant and 
Catholic religious and business leaders who believe that cross-community 
(Catholic and Protestant) cooperation is essential to the economic rebirth 
of Northern Ireland.  "We have to be cross-community because we are too 
small to be able to afford to mirror facilities in both communities," he 
     As Springvale was developed, Coll said, he experienced "lots of 
cooperation from local business as well as internationally -- there is a 
wealth of goodwill."  Springvale's inaugural group of trainees numbers 178. 
     But the problems remain daunting, according to Springvale director 
Mary Lyons.  Young males are the critical target group for community 
developers, and while the employment situation for them is gradually 
improving, Lyons said, "new jobs are primarily female, part-time and 
     Another crucial factor, said Lyons, "is where the jobs are being 
created."  She released statistics showing that fewer new jobs are 
available in West Belfast than East Belfast, a pattern that perpetuates 
historic employment discrimination against Catholics.  "Assurances are 
desperately needed that employment discrimination is being eliminated," she 
     ICNI has been at the forefront of efforts to eliminate employment 
discrimination in Northern Ireland.  The group spearheaded development of 
"A Call for Fair Employment and Investment in Northern Ireland," which was 
issued in January 1994 by ICNI member churches plus Anglicans and 
Methodists from Northern Ireland and the United States. 
     The call coincided with a statutory review of Northern Ireland's fair 
employment law, which was enacted in 1989.  President Clinton, British 
prime minister John Major, Irish foreign minister Dick Spring and a host of 
religious, community and labor groups on both sides of the Atlantic have 
endorsed the call. 
     In testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on 
International Relations in March of this year, Postel said, "Northern 
Ireland's relatively new fair employment law is a significant step forward, 
but Northern Ireland still suffers from historic discrimination in 
employment.  While Catholic unemployment is more than two times that of 
Protestants, both communities benefit from strong fair employment laws. 
That is why church leaders believe people in Northern Ireland need a better 
understanding of this law, the law must be vigorously enforced, and, where 
necessary, the law should be improved." 
     Fair employment policies coupled with new economic investment in 
Northern Ireland are essential, Postel continued.  "Without more jobs, fair 
employment could end up only redistributing unemployment in Northern 
Ireland," he explained.  "New jobs, fairly distributed, can be a source of 
cooperation between divided communities" and "can make a major contribution 
to peace in Northern Ireland." 
     The mandated review of the Fair Employment Act of 1989 is being 
conducted by the independent Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights 
(SACHR).  The results of its review are scheduled to be published in 
October 1996.  Between now and then SACHR will be gathering data and 
testimony in both Northern Ireland and the U.S.  The commission will travel 
to the U.S. in January for a series of seminars and hearings. 
     In preparation for that visit, a letter soliciting feedback will be 
sent to a large number of religious groups in the U.S. early in November. 
According to John Carr of the United States Catholic Conference, a joint 
statement from the Roman Catholic church and the Presbyterian Church 
(U.S.A.) will be given to SACHR. 
   Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Involvement in Northern Ireland 
     In addition to the Interchurch Committee on Northern Ireland, 
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) partnership with both Protestants and 
Catholics in Northern Ireland is facilitated through the Northern Ireland 
Working Group (NIWG). 
     Activities of these groups include: 
       ecumenical speaking tours, in which groups of church leaders from 
both the U.S. and Northern Ireland visit and help educate each other 
       the annual "Summer Institute in Northern Ireland," in which a group 
of U.S. Presbyterians spends a number of weeks in Northern Ireland 
        the Small Business Venture Fund, a $1 million investment fund that 
has created more than 150 private-sector jobs for both Protestants and 
Catholics in Northern Ireland since 1992 (another $300,000 from the PC(USA) 
has funded the Townsend Mothers and Toddlers Program, a project that 
straddles the "peace line" in Belfast) 
       the Business Education Initiative, a two-year-old program that this 
year has brought more than 125 Catholic and Protestant college students, 
mostly from disadvantaged backgrounds, to study business for one year in 
Presbyterian, Methodist and Catholic colleges throughout the U.S. 
       PC(USA) mission co-workers the Rev. Doug and Elaine Baker, assigned 
to Corrymeela, an ecumenical community founded in 1963 that organizes 
meetings and conferences to explore social, political and religious 
reconciliation in Northern Ireland and elsewhere 
       PC(USA) young adult volunteers Peter Worth and Doug Newton at The 
Bridge Community Center and Doug Keehn at The Cornerstone Community Center, 
two cross-community ministries in Belfast. 

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: 


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