From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Churches Intensify Search For Economic Development,
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 PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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