Northern Ireland: Finding Peace after 'The Troubles'

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Northern Ireland was once known as a place where Christians killed Christians in a decades-long feud between Catholics and Protestants. But a ceasefire in 1997 brought peace to the region. 

Recently, however, a new spate of killings has raised questions as to whether the time known as "The Troubles" is making a comeback.

Belfast Before 1997
 
Belfast is a busy industrial center and the capital of Northern Ireland. Today this bustling city is best known for its music and nightlife. But before 1997, the sound of gunfire was a nightly occurrence for almost three decades. Protestant and Catholic militias made war on each other, engaging in a tit-for-tat killing spree that left over 3,500 dead.
 
David Kidd is native to Belfast, and remembers The Troubles well.

"I've seen bombs go off. I've had guns pointed at me. I've had people hijack my car. I've had guns put in my mouth," he told CBN News.
 
Kidd said the war really was not about religion, contrary to popular belief.
 
"The conflict in Northern Ireland has always been described as a religious one," he added. "The tribal identities are religious, but the issue was about control of the land. It was about economic advantage. It wasn't about religious issues."
 
In many places around the city, remnants of those old rivalries still exist.

In West Belfast, murals commemorate the heroes from various militias. On the Catholic side, neighborhood cemeteries memorialize those killed in the conflict. And separating the two, this 40-foot barrier bears the graffiti of those unwilling to forget the past.
 
A CBN News team crossed from the Protestant side to the Catholic side of two neighborhoods in Belfast. They are separated by a wall that they call the "peace wall." 

The large metal gates are only open during the day, and one would think that since they have had peace since 1994, these remnants of The Troubles would be ready to come down.

But according to a recent survey, that is not the case.
 
Residents on both sides of the fence say they would prefer that it stay for now. Old wounds were torn open once again in March when a faction calling itself the Real IRA killed two British soldiers in a drive by shooting, then killed a policeman two days later.

Resurgence of Violence?

CBN News spoke with Major General Tim Cross, a retired British Army officer, who spent years in Northern Ireland. We asked him if he believes the recent killings signal a resurgence of sectarian violence there.
 
"I think that's an aberration in the sense that I don't think that it's a return to The Troubles," Cross said, shaking his head. "It's been a long haul. There's a generation, two generations, and the vast majority of the people in Northern Ireland do not want to go back to the 1970s."
 
Andrew Rodding, Another former British soldier in Belfast, agreed.
 
"Really there's no comparison between what it was like before and now," Rodding said. "Before there was a threat of violence, now there is no overt threat of violence."
 
Rodding lost a close friend to an IRA bomb in the 1990s. But he came back to Belfast to make peace with his former enemies. And he is sure things have changed for good.

Making Peace
 
"I'm full of enormous hope, despite recent killings here," Rodding added. "Because people have decided that they will not go back to what they had before, and for them and for their children, they want a new future of hope."
 
Kidd nodded in agreement and said that that fact is an answer to prayer.
 
"After the two soldiers were killed and the Catholic policeman, the first minister, who is a loyalist, the deputy first minister from Sinn Fein, and the head of the police force stood on the steps here," he said. "And they very strongly condemned the action. And as a result of that the loyalist paramilitaries did not retaliate for the deaths of the soldiers or the policemen."
 
Kidd has spent a lot of time studying the history underlying The Troubles, and believes that Christians have been instrumental in bringing about the peace they are seeing today.
 
"For the past 400 years, the tribal identity thing in Ireland has been Protestant and Catholic," he added. "And it's been the cause of many conflicts. We now have a political solution that brings those people together and that has happened because Christians have dealt with the issues and have prayed and made peace happen."
 
Kidd's church in Belfast, called City Church, is working hard to "make peace happen." 

City Church Ministry

City Church is a thriving body of believers that has grown up in the university district of the city. It is well-known for attracting new members by way of its award winning coffee shop.

When riots broke out on a street nearby during Saint Patrick's Day this year, the church decided to take an active role in making sure that history never repeats itself in Northern Ireland. 
 
After a Sunday service, we spoke to the co-pastors at City Church, Trish and Malcom Morgan.

"We thought, right, 'what shall we do?' So what we're going to be doing is, very shortly we're going to be engaging with every member in that street, knocking on their door and saying, 'Would you not like, now to just do something more positive, to give some more positive feedback into the community'?" Trish Morgan said.

"We're going to do clean streets. We're going to have music on the streets, just trying to change the negative imagery that often people associate with northern Ireland into one of positive celebration and joy," she added.
 
But almost as if to prove that there are still negative forces at work in the city, in the last week dozens of Romanian families were driven out of their homes. 

City Church stepped in to help by taking in over 100 displaced Romanians and then finding them homes to stay in where they would be safe. For their efforts, the church has received lots of attention but not all of it is good. 

On the night of June 22, vandals smashed the windows and doors of the church. Pastor Morgan found the mess when he came in the next morning.
 
Despite the violence, however, the church remains committed to doing everything they can to show love to their community. 
 
"I think that despite the tragic events that occurred, the mood of people is very optimistic," Kidd said. "It has actually brought everybody closer together, and they realized they cannot go back to that."
 
"Terrorism and violence cannot really work because an eye for an eye makes us all blind. And we have to find a way to live together in peace," he added. "And when we work for peace, pray for peace, and live for peace, then it is a better way."

*Originally published June 25, 2009

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Chuck Holton

Chuck Holton

CBN News Reporter

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