Witness for Peace

Brings back memories.  Standing in the rubble of Portadown  after the bomb… around a lonely brazier at Alliance Avenue in Ardoyne in the ’70’s .. with Rev Joe Parker in the middle of the night outside the GPO in Dublin .. on peace marches up the Falls Road and across the bridge in Derry.  Just like the decent people who today came out in their thousands as a silent witness against the return of violence in Northern Ireland.

Looking back, it was all useless.  Because nothing will stop those who feel that historic injustice, political ideology, revenge .. entitles them to use violence.  And yet there is integrity and power in that dogged silent witness to better times.  What began in me as a soft-hearted idealism about reconciliation became an absolutely visceral distaste for all those who take to themselves an entitlement to bring suffering to others.

I’m right outside all this now.  But just a couple of things.

The new PSNI [police] is one of the unsung success stories of the new Northern Ireland.  It has balanced Protestant/Catholic recruiting and political support right across the community.

Northern Ireland has moved beyond violence but there is still a long way to go.  It’s an uneasy place still even if immeasurably better than it was.  The new institutions are working – if falteringly at times.  But the tasks involved in dismantling division are so daunting that they are hardly yet on the agenda – the need to integrate housing and to find a way of providing more shared education are only the most obvious.


  1. My family left N.I in June ’62, just as the troubles were starting to bubble up again, so my brother and I lived in the peaceful area of Bearsden near Glasgow, and so did not have to endure a youth growing up in the awful environment of sectarianism as was practised at that time across the Province. Our last few rcent visits to the old country have been wonderful, even to what was called Bandit Country, where we criss-crossed the border with equanimity. How sad now to see what is obviously a small group keen to upset the fragile peace. But, at long last, a unified objection to slipping back to the old ways may have a chance of success….may God bless them in their mission! And may God help us all if they fail!

  2. Of course all those vigils and marches were not useless – they were part of the glue that held together the fabric of Northern Ireland society, without such gestures the Province would have degenerated into inter-communal strife. The fact that terrorist incidents continued to be ‘news’ was a mark of a degree to which the middle ground managed to hold people together.

    The present murders would seem more analogous with the actions of European revolutionary Communist terrorist groups in the 1970s than with a return to former conflicts in Ulster.

  3. PSNI is now much more representative of the whole community, and can no longer be regarded as the arm of a sectarian government (if one must use this partisan terminology from the days of the RUC), so it is intolerable that it should be described as a ‘British police force’, and therefore a ‘legitimate target’. Not my words, but those of a young man from the Bogside, interviewed on BBC 1 last night. It’s encouraging that Sinn Fein is prepared to urge people to support the police, but the mindset of some parts of the Republican community is such that this will only confirm their suspicion that Sinn Fein has ‘sold out’. As you rightly say, +David, nothing will stop people who have persuaded themselves of their entitlement to engage in ‘armed struggle’. I only hope that there will now be an abandonment of the kind of equivocation we saw in the past from people who professed to decry violence, but had the same long-term goals as the paramilitaries.

  4. It has balanced Protestant/Catholic recruiting and political support right across the community.

    I find in this a glimmer of hope, coming from looking to the future, setting up “the next thing” (and a favourable next thing at that) in advance. Is it reasonable to think that this violence stems from living in the past?

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