METHODIST CHURCH IN IRELAND
Legacy paper (for NI Affairs Committee)
The Methodist Church in Ireland have always tried to play a constructive role in the complicated and contested space that is politics on this island.
We have always called our people to be prayerful and courageous. Our theological position drawn from Scripture and the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, challenges us to love our neighbor and even our enemy. A phrase of John Wesley’s, that trips easily off the tongue, but in truth is far from easy to enact, is that Methodists are called to be ‘the friends of all and the enemies of none.’
Throughout the Troubles and since the Good Friday Agreement this theological understanding has had a number of practical expressions.
Psalm 147:3 He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.
It is perhaps not for us to say how successful we have been in these endeavors, though some have kindly observed that the Methodists punch above their weight. In part, that may be because we are by far the smallest of the ‘four main churches’. As such we may be perceived as less of a threat and also, we may seem to hold the middle ground. It is surely true that, we have had over the decades a number of remarkable individuals, who have played significant roles in public and in private behind the scenes – folk like Sadie Patterson, Eric Gallagher and Harold Good. There have of course, been many others who have contributed faithfully and the value of their work is perhaps only known unto God.
LEGACY – DEALING WITH THE PAST
We feel it is always important in these discussions to be reminded of the scale of those who have suffered most and by whose hand this suffering was inflicted.
We want to remember all the 3,532 people who have died in the years of the Troubles 1968-2001 in Northern Ireland (Eames & Bradley 2009) that has affected so many families:
We also want to acknowledge the human suffering that lies behind those statistics. In addition to those who have died, almost 50,000 people have been physically wounded and there have been over 30,000 shootings. We have probably not been fully aware of how traumatic this has been for so many families living in Northern Ireland because it remains hidden or silent in each community. It is estimated that one in three people of all ages have been directly or indirectly affected and one third of survivors have spoken of serious suicidal thoughts. The political failure to agree a post-conflict reconciliation process means that much trauma continues unprocessed to this day and not talked about, both at an individual level for victims/survivors and at a collective societal level for each community. We don’t believe collective amnesia of what happened enables all of us to move on and lift the burden of the violent past. We simply must do it with urgency.
Before coming to some specific comments on the issues before the NI Select Affairs Committee, in the light of the Secretary of State’s statement of 18 March, it may be helpful to tease out a little the question – twenty two years after the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, who are the Legacy structures now designed for? Needs are changing in terms of who wants investigations because of their need for legal justice and who wants truth recovery to put their mind at rest or to achieve relational justice with combatants. To help our thinking, we have laid out the differing perspectives of the four main ‘groups’. Among them, many still have unmet needs which must be satisfied by an overarching institutional legacy framework.
→ Those who have ‘moved on’ / come to terms with loss / don’t want the past ‘dug up again’.
→ Those for whom legacy is a ‘live issue’.
→ want justice; full investigations; prosecutions - guilty in jail for as long as possible
→ accept that justice is almost impossible
→ content to leave the past alone (may need and want support in the present / future)
→ want truth / information about the past – prepared to engage with a truth recovery process
→ find truth that brings closure
→ find truth that opens up other issues (no closure)
→ LEGAL → did a difficult job within the law, need recognition for their service and suffering
→ may have bent or broken the rules (in what they regarded as a ‘dirty war’)
→ ILLEGAL → something to hide and not willing to co-operate with truth recovery
→ willing to tell truth to families? apology? immunity from prosecution
→ those who have never and will never support use of violence for political ends
→ those who supported use of violence in the past (? may do in some circumstances in the future)
→ the danger of re-writing history and avoiding responsibility
→ a new generation who are not interested in the past (? Danger of ignorance leading to complacency)
→ those who lived through the troubles
→ not deeply affected at the times and not so interested in legacy
→ still traumatized and in need of support - resolving legacy may be very helpful
→ seriously affected by the troubles, but in a better place now – may have various views on legacy (as victims above)
Whatever the experience of the troubles, surely all thoughtful people will be aware of the danger of history repeating itself and the risk of widespread violence in Ireland is a possibility we cannot ignore. Dealing well with legacy will be a vital part of averting that danger.
The layout above highlights not just the different groups that may have competing interests in the Legacy debate but also the differing and complex views within the same ‘category’.
With sensitivity to this background we would like to make the following observations and comments about dealing with the legacy of the past, particularly in light of the Secretary of State’s statement of 18 March.
In conclusion, we wish the committee well in their work and pray that it will contribute positively to an outcome that is sensitive to the needs of victims, enables truth to be told, helps to build lasting peace and reconciliation for our grandchildren. Dealing with the past well is important so that we can all embrace the future without rancor.
Reference: Kieran McEvoy et al. Prosecutions, Imprisonment and the Stormont House Agreement: A Critical Analysis of Proposals on Dealing with the Past (April 2020)