From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 04 May 1996 21:50:33


                      by Jerry L. Van Marter 
BELFAST, Northern Ireland--The cease-fire between the Catholic Irish 
Republican Army (IRA) and various Protestant militias is a little over a 
year old now, but the euphoria over the end of the violence is in danger of 
giving way to apathy as long-term political solutions to "the troubles" 
here fail to emerge. 
     "The euphoria after the cease-fire was wonderful," said David Stevens, 
a Presbyterian lay person who is executive director of the Irish Council of 
Churches, in an Oct. 18 interview with the Presbyterian News Service.  "But 
that is now creeping into stagnation and complacency and should not be the 
order of the day." 
     The range of options advocated by various parties in Northern Ireland 
is vast and the complexities of each option -- from unification with the 
Republic of Ireland (Republicanism) to union with Great Britain (Unionism) 
to various limited self-rule options in between -- are so tangled that 
"all-party" talks have not been agreed on as yet.   
     With the cease-fire holding but the political process stalled, Stevens 
said, sectarianism has become more overt.  "Protestants and Catholics alike 
feel freer to desecrate churches or burn Orange Halls (Protestant clubs 
similar to Masonic lodges) because they don't have to fear that the guns 
will come out." 
     People in "normal" societies take much for granted, Stevens said. 
Government, for example, transcends internal divisions among people to 
provide for the perceived "common good."  But in a divided society like 
Northern Ireland, "fear and threat overcome the common interest," further 
exacerbating the internal conflicts. 
     What people in Northern Ireland have to come to realize, Stevens 
continued, is that "compromise is not about loving your neighbor -- it's 
about conceding space to others in order to guarantee your own." 
     This inability to compromise for the common good extends to Northern 
Ireland's churches.  The Irish Council of Churches, founded in 1922, 
includes the Presbyerians, Anglicans and Methodists -- more than half the 
population of Northern Ireland, which is about 1.5 million.  "The 
question," said Stevens, "is whether we can create one body, including the 
     The burden for such cooperation falls most heavily on the Protestants, 
Stevens continued, who he described as having generally "strong 
anti-ecumenical, anti-Catholic feelings."  In contrast, he has not found 
Catholics to be particularly anti-Protestant. 
     "Presbyterians have made strong statements about particular instances 
of injustice in Northern Ireland," he said, "but have not been as insistent 
about addressing systematic patterns of injustice here." 
     Stevens said the key to long-term political solutions is the building 
up of trust between the Protestant and Catholic communities of Northern 
Ireland.  "With trust everything is possible," he said. "Without trust 
nothing is possible." 
     And so far  those politicians willing to take the first trusting steps 
toward reconciliation commit political suicide.  "History shows that voters 
will not support risk-takers," said Stevens wistfully. 
     "There are three motivators in human nature -- fear, self-interest and 
altruism," Stevens concluded, "and unfortunately altruism is the weakest." 

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