This week Fr Martin Magill visited McCracken Memorial Presbyterian Church, where Trevor Ringland, former Irish and British Lion Rugby star and now Chairman of the Northern Ireland Conservatives, spoke on the courage needed for future Peace and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland.
Ringland’s remarks are detailed in today’s post. Check back tomorrow, when Fr Magill will share further reflections on the discussion that happened after the presentation, comparing this to the controversial ‘Listening to Your Enemies’ event with Pat Magee and Jo Berry at Skainos last month.
Fr Martin Magill’s Ecumenical Tithing: Trevor Ringland Speaks at McCracken on the Past, Future and Reconciliation
This weekend I went to McCracken Memorial Presbyterian Church on the Malone Road. It was my first time to visit the church. As a result of asking how it got its name, I was given a book with the story of the church.
The welcome to the evening was given by assistant minister Fiona Forbes. In her words of introduction, she acknowledged the reality of change which generates fear for many people. However, she connected this back to the disciples of Jesus and reminded us that Jesus prepared his disciples to face an unknown future. Fiona quoted the words of Jesus:
“Peace I give you…do not let your hearts be troubled”…
She told us that with Christ’s peace in our hearts, we face the future. This was followed by prayer in which she asked that churches would be places of peace and reconciliation.
Fiona then gave a detailed introduction for guest speaker Trevor Ringland. She also encouraged the audience or congregation to give our views after his presentation.
Trevor gave his presentation on what he saw as the way forward after the Haass/O’Sullivan Talks. I will focus on some of the points which struck me.
He stated that he didn’t believe we needed Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan to resolve our issues, we need to be able to resolve the outstanding issues ourselves. He expressed the view that we have gone from conflict to a cold peace. He believed that as a society avoided civil war thanks to the security forces and also due to many people maintaining relationships during the “Troubles,” our conflict could have been worse.
According to Ringland, after the Good Friday Agreement, we moved into a “cold” peace but with no reconciliation. He said we need to go to a “warm” peace and he believed we could manage this. The agreement allowed us to focus on building relationships and to overcome the danger of chill factors in Northern Ireland. He also saw fundamental flaws in the Haass-O’Sullivan approach, such as not building on key elements of the Good Friday Agreement.
Trevor spoke about the small steps that each of us can take, with the central point that these small steps are part of building better relationships.
Trevor then highlighted what is already happening, such as the Clonard/Fitzroy fellowship, Four Corners Festival and many examples of peace making. He believed we need to challenge our politicians to work for a shared future and not a shared out future. He expressed concern that this may not happen at this point with the elections ahead and he believed we need to let politicians know we want them to work together.
He suggested that the next 10 years would be crucial. Returning to the Haass-O’Sullivan talks he said there was a need to begin with respect for the flag, respect for what was agreed, and respect for the constitutional position. He suggested the need for new symbols such as a new flag and possibly a new anthem. He raised the issue of a united Ireland and suggested that it would be highly unlikely at the moment, because there is a 9 billion deficit in NI.
Instead he argued for doing politics differently.
He believed that Republicans and Nationalists needed to show they could make Northern Ireland work to make the case for a united Ireland and vice versa. For Ringland this would build relationships. He also believed sectarianism needed to be tackled, moving away from the simple boxes of green and orange. He gave examples of some of the language used in newspapers and argued we need to find a different way of being. He asked the question how we include people in sport, for example.
For Trevor, Christians should be at the forefront of building relationships.
He asked if Christians were promoting the Christian spirit, although he did acknowledge that many were taking up this challenge. He talked about the need to attempt shared housing estates around the interfaces with additional protection from the police. He believed sharing housing estates were capable of working.
He also talked about schooling and the need for integrated or shared education. He believed that educational under-achievement across the board needed to be addressed and suggested we could change many of the structures.
He asked how we allow for children to be friends at home. He believed we need to stop demonising the other and to stop putting people into simple boxes. He argued that the peace centre in Maze/Long Kesh had the potential to re-humanise individuals and could help many in our society. He also talked about parades, reminding us that the vast majority passed off without incident. He referred to the situation in North Belfast and the legacy from the past in this part of the city He believed it was very unfair to leave police in a very difficult position but he went on to suggest that all the issues were resolvable.
He then went on to argue for the need for a statement of wrongs from the past, more than a statement of regrets.
He expressed concern about the danger of young people getting “sucked” into some ideologies around today. He raised the issue of how we deal with the past? He asked was John Larkin right to suggest drawing a line? Or do we recognise that one possible situation is that some leaders who are in power at the moment would be sent to prison for what they have done?
He expressed doubt about whether Sinn Fein had really signed up to Haass, suggesting this was a tactical move on their part because they believed the Unionists would not sign up to Haass. He acknowledged how in the conflict damage was done to our society and people within it. There was so much hurt to so many people.
He argued that churches need to find ways to get around their differences and to model something new. He suggested the importance of friendship.
He believed we need to work hard so that the next generation wouldn’t take up the hatreds of the past. Returning to an earlier point he suggested we need to challenge people to stop pressing the old buttons of fear and hatred.
After Trevor had finished speaking, Fiona then opened the floor to questions or comment. This turned out to be very different to what I had been expecting and I will reflect on this in another place.