Tuesday, November 30, 2010

First Stepping Stones to Peace In Ireland

On a Monday May 10, 2010 our Volunteer In Missions group met at 3 pm with Reverend Harold Good who is a Winner of the World Methodist Peace Prize and was involved in decommissioning of IRA weapons. This is the sixth in a series relating his talk. In the prior blog posting we learned of indigenous and settler people in Ireland, who they were, and how they came into conflict. Next, he relates to us some of the stepping stones that led toward peace:

Two states were established in Ireland. The indigenous people, who historically were Catholic, formed a an independent republic in the south, and the settler people, who historically were Protestant, formed a government loyal to Great Britain in the north.

Over the years, an idealogical conflict broke out into cycles of violence, in the 1920s, 1930s, 1950s, and very seriously in the 1960s in these Irish states.

Republicans who were committed to a united Ireland felt unity could only be achieved through force. The Loyalists, who wanted to keep Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, felt justified in responding to the violence of the IRA (Irish Republican Army) with violence of their own kind.

Over the years these actions and events, these stumbling blocks: fear, mistrust, suspicion, separation, injustice, denial, violence, counter-violence, and the weapons that go along with these, had built walls.

He pointed out we were sitting right next to a wall, which was located outside the meeting room and at the far side of the passageway next to the community center. (This portion of the wall is at least ten feet high with a metal fence with sharp spikes atop it. Some walls near known trouble spots are 50 or 60 feet high. Reverend Good said the walls are symbolic of the divisions of the community and symbolic of all the stumbling blocks keeping the communities apart.

He turned to examining the stepping stones which help the communities come together.

First, there is reality. Reality helped various people enter wake up time, because they had lived in denial. He calls reality the first stepping stone.

As Protestants and Unionists, these people asked themselves “Why isn't everybody happy with the way things are? This is a good society. If people would just settle down, behave themselves, stop complaining, be happy.” Then, on the other hand, there were those on the Nationalist, Republican side who wanted to force everyone to their side, to a united Ireland, against the will of many others. There had to be a moment of reality for each of these groups.

There were two important realities.

There were years of violence and counter-violence. One of the realities was violence could not achieve the unity of the island. That was a very important reality for the Republican community and for the leaders of the Republican community to accept. An armed struggle was not going to achieve what they wanted to achieve. The loss of life, the letting of blood, the destruction of community, wasn't going to achieve unity.

The second reality was the one on the part of the British government in particular that there could not be a military solution to this problem. They were not going to solve the problem with all the might of the British Army and all the power available to it. This might be similar to the efforts of the a British Army in Afghanistan. This small island could not have its problems solved by an army. This is something which may have application to the world. There is something the world's peoples can learn from this. Are we ever going to solve Iraq or Afghanistan with a military solution? The answer was certainly a stepping stone of reality in Ireland.

The next stepping stone was what Reverend Good calls backstage and formal initiatives.

People who said, “We can't allow this to go on. Is there something from those in civil society or from the faith community, have to contribute?” And so began extraordinary behind the curtain meetings. Among these backstage and formal initiatives, notice some of them look large and some look smaller. Sometimes the small ones and even the large ones can seem inconsequential, but he thinks they have all contributed to this journey.

When you go to the theater, the curtain is pulled, the leading man and the leading lady come out, it looks all very simple. Yet, when you think about it, somebody has shifted the furniture, somebody helped to re-write the script, somebody adjusted the lighting to bring different perspectives to different corners of the stage, and it couldn't happen without all those people who you never see.

When he goes to the cinema, he likes to watch the credits at the end. You know, the second tea maker, the third tea maker. The first clapper board. Clapper board assistant. The credits go on and on. The interesting thing is all those people were necessary. You never remember their names. You only remember the stars who were center stage. But it took all of that behind the scenes effort to make the film.

In the same way, the peace process depends on a lot of unsung heroes talking and doing things behind the scenes.

Then we had offstage initiatives. These were very often state initiatives. For example the British government would not talk to the IRA. In 1993 a helicopter happened to land outside the Maze prison into which were ushered Jerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. That helicopter took off across the Irish sea and landed in some unknown location where they met with very high ranking British officials. Nobody was to know that. It wasn't Prime Ministers or known people coming up, yet it was the first step in the state, the government, saying, “We've got to talk.”

This talk is continued in the blog posting entitled "The Good Friday Agreement and Decommissioning of Weapons ".

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