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15 November 2017

From deal-making to peace-making

From deal-making to peace-making

On Sunday morning people gathered across the UK to remember those who died in the Great War and other conflicts. In Omagh, the act of remembrance was delayed when a viable pipe-bomb was discovered at the cenotaph. The bomb was de-activated safely on this occasion, however the act was darkly symbolic. It happened in the town where 29 people were killed in 1998 in the single biggest terrorist atrocity in Northern Ireland and, in no coincidence, contained chilling echoes of the Enniskillen bombing which happened 30 years ago last week. The Enniskillen poppy day bomb killed 11 people in 1987 when it exploded beside the cenotaph as people gathered to remember.

Those who would try to justify republican violence would say that these events must be understood in the context of centuries of British occupation of Ireland. They may point to events like Bloody Sunday and the hunger strikes and argue the British state and its forces do not have clean hands in this dirty war. That said, the Enniskillen bomb was so widely condemned around the world that the IRA issued a statement the next day expressing ‘deep regret’.

One of the most poignant and well-known TV interviews to emerge from the Troubles came from Gordon Wilson in the aftermath. That day he held his daughter’s hand as she lay dying among the wreckage. He said:

“I have lost my daughter, and we shall miss her. But I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge. Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back to life. She was a great wee lassie, she loved her profession, she was a pet. She's dead, she's in heaven, and we'll meet again.” Wilson finished by saying that he forgave her killers and added: "I shall pray for those people tonight and every night."

These words of forgiveness in the raw face of death were difficult to understand for many people. It was a grace almost too great to bear. Given too quickly. Yet these simple words from a sincere Christian have opened hearts and minds to the transcendent possibility of forgiveness ever since.

Fast forward to today: the IRA and other paramilitaries have decommissioned their weapons and we find ourselves almost 20 years on from the Good Friday Agreement. The Democratic Unionists and Sinn Féin who were categorically and ideologically opposed have shared power for the past 10 years. But the road has been bumpy and today the two parties are in a stand-off in the shrinking space between devolution and direct rule. I wonder if amid all the focus on political deal-making, the vital but costly work of peace-making has being neglected.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peace-makers for they shall be called the sons of God” in Matthew 5:9. They are likely to be called other things as well, including naive and traitors but “Blessed are the peace makers” implies an ongoing endeavour, the seeking restored relationships while the conflict rages on around us. 

Today in 2017, the conflict of making peace continues for many. Cutting deals is part of politics, it’s important but making peace can transcend our politics. We are called to more and higher and yet the actions or inactions of people on the ‘other’ side can seem insurmountable. For children of God, we are not called to lay down our pursuit of justice but are called to simultaneously take up our pursuit of peace. The troubles have successfully raised a generation of political deal-makers, maybe now is the time for peace-makers.