We were all reminded by the BBC television programme on November 4th, 2013, of the cost of the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland.
The families of the ‘disappeared’ in the programme appealed to anyone with information on the ‘disappeared’ to come forward with information as to the whereabouts of their remains. Families remain in limbo and pain, still praying for a miracle that their family’s remains will be found in order to bury them. I hope that they will have their prayers answered and the Irish Republican Army, some of whose members carried out the ‘disappearances’ , have a special responsibility to help in these cases.
The ‘troubles’ held Northern Ireland in captivity for almost 40 years and although many people had the courage to cut the bonds of division, sectarianism and hatred, there are others who remain in darkness and would drag us all back into the captivity of divisions and ethnic violence. These divisions take a form of physical intimidation for all to see in our cities. A few weeks ago, I walked up the Newtownards Road, East Belfast, and up the Falls Road, West Belfast. It was in both cases, like walking back 30 years ago into the past. Nothing much has changed, these communities which appear to be trapped in the past, with flags, paramilitary murals, painted kerbstones, and street gravestones engraved with names of paramilitary dead. These areas, be they republican/nationalist/catholic or loyalist/unionist/Protestant, are still living in fear and intimidation of the extremists on both sides. There are some courageous residents,and more are needed, who dare challenge the paramilitary gable murals or flags – Irish or British – put up on the walls of their business premises, homes, and streets.
Although these two communities are different and have yet to learn how to celebrate their diversity, they have more in common that should unite them. Their common humanity, their need for jobs, their need for equality and human security, not austerity cuts, which are punishing the vulnerable and poor in areas such as those living near the heart of Belfast and other cities.
Another thing they share is a peace agreement and an elected power-sharing executive at Stormont parliament. Stormont, we can all agree is not perfect but as long as we have peace we can work on that. However, this peace is seriously being challenged by violence from several areas and I believe we need to refuse to remain silent and demand that those intent on taking us back to ‘the bad old days are challenged against doing so’. The violent republican ‘dissidents’ who continue to plant bombs, etc., and try to kill people, are wrong to do so. Violence, be it paramilitary or state is always wrong. They have no mandate from the people of Ireland – both North and South, to use violence. At the heart of their actions is the mistaken belief in a United Ireland and that violence will bring it about. They refuse to accept there will not be a united ireland and that violence is never acceptable. The people have spoken with the Good Friday agreement and their democratic wishes are paramount. The Republican movement needs also to be honest with their constituents and stop using the myth of a ‘United Ireland’ for electoral politics and power.
Loyalists Paramilitaries, who continue to use violence and intimidate their own, and other communities, need to stop the violence, take responsibility for their actions. Waving flags, chanting the rhetoric of hate and bigotry, and refusing to enter into dialogue in order to solve their problems and disputes over parades, flags, etc., they run the risk of arising the sleeping giant of ethnic hatred and communal violence, and the unwinding of the peace process which many northern irish people, and others worked so hard to achieve.
At the heart of loyalists’ sense of alienation is their need to be acknowledged and recognized, their fear of losing their British identity, fear of ethnic annihilation, the deepest fear of all. Yet, it does not have to be like this. In this small place we can share and live together for the sake of ourselves and our children, we don’t have to be afraid of ourselves, or each other, or losing our identities which are all the time changing.
In l976 hundreds of thousands of people marched for an end to violence and for peace. We called for a nonviolent solution, we called for a shared Northern Irish identity. We called for forgiveness and reconciliation.
This call is as fresh and necessary today as it was in l976 and it behoves us all to Be honest and face the realities that there will not be a united Ireland and we can together build a Northern Irish identity.
This reality will be painful to those whose dream of unity was not fulfilled but Situations, solutions change, what was called for 70 years ago, is not the answer For today’s generation. We are in a new Europe, a new united, interconnected, Inter-dependent world, calling for new structures, new institutions, which link us all together as the human family.
Forgiveness will be necessary to move us on so we don’t get trapped in the past.
We must continue to build on our peace process and the ability to forgive and move beyond our own pain, that demonstration of imagination to see the larger vision of what could be possible in human relations, outside the limitations of ‘Tribal politics’ and ‘enemy’ mentality.
Our peace process will be only as strong and safe as long as we all, particularly our political leaders, refuse to play politics with our volatile emotions, and use rhetoric that can move others to kill, and as long as we together continue to build a nonviolent truly democratic Northern Irish society for every one of us, and our children.
Mairead Corrigan Maguire won the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her work for peace in Northern Ireland. Her book The Vision of Peace (edited by John Dear, with a foreword by Desmond Tutu and a preface by the Dalai Lama) is available from www.wipfandstock.com. She lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Mairead is Co-founder of the peacepeople See: www.peacepeople.com.