Statement on Northern Ireland, March 17, 2001

Year Published
  • 2013
  • English

Bernard Cardinal Law
Archbishop of Boston
Chairman of the Committee on International Policy
of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops 

Feast of Saint Patrick, March 17, 2001 

The Roman proverb, "Festina lente" comes to mind as we look at Northern Ireland this year. "Make haste with due deliberation" emphasizes both the urgency of the challenges and the need to address them with understanding and careful action. Certainly on this Saint Patrick's Day we acknowledge, with gratitude to God, the progress that has been made in cooperation and collaboration since the Good Friday Agreement. While there have been tensions and setbacks during the intervening period, the basics of that Agreement hold and the commitment to its full implementation remains real on the part of all the parties. 

The three areas that today are the focus of the attention and concern of all those committed to the peace process are the role of the police, decommissioning and the demilitarization of the North. Good faith and mutual understanding are essential in addressing these concerns. Each of the parties took risks in signing the Good Friday Agreement and, therefore, all the parties should continue to extend the hand of good faith to one another, conscious that only through mutual cooperation and understanding can confidence be built up and solidified over time. 

Such a commitment is aided by the real progress that has already been made. Northern Ireland is a far better, safer and more peaceful place than before. For the most part, the guns have been silent and bombs have been put away. New institutions of self-government have been established; local budgets are being developed; concrete decisions are being made. Increased investment and economic growth are offering greater opportunities for people in both communities. 

In that context, it is imperative to resolve the issue of policing. A police service that enjoys widespread public confidence and trust in the community is essential to the stability of the society as a whole as well as to the effective combating of crime. The vocation of the police is a noble one. The sooner steps are taken so that the police force is an attractive vocation to young women and men in both communities, the healthier will be the society as a whole. The recent attacks on homes, mostly Catholic, are a disturbing fact that underscores the need for everyone to condemn such brutality and to support the kind of police force that will be able to offer security and safety to every home in Northern Ireland. While this will take time, it is important to make haste. 

Decommissioning remains another of the tension points that affect the building up of mutual confidence. It is fair to say that Unionists should speak and act in ways that create the climate in which decommissioning can more readily be achieved. It is also most important that the IRA offer ready and full cooperation to the de Chastelain Commission by placing its arms completely and verifiably beyond use. Here again haste is most necessary. 

While in the past the overwhelming presence of British military might have been justified, that is not the case today. For many who live in the North the presence of the British military in places such as South Armagh has long been an irritant. Due consideration and good planning should be brought to bear on this issue so that the British military might be withdrawn from all those places where such presence is not absolutely necessary. 

We in the United States must continue to be deeply committed to the good of Northern Ireland and to be of whatever help we can in support of a just and lasting peace. United States industry and finance have become ever more involved in Ireland, both north and south, to the economic and social benefit of everyone. The Clinton administration exercised helpful leadership as a partner with Dublin and London in seeking to advance the peace process. I am happy to note that the Bush administration has continued that commitment and am particularly pleased that President Bush has invited this year to the White House representatives of all the parties who make up the Northern Assembly, including Reverend Ian Paisley. The more persons who disagree with the framework of the Good Friday Agreements are challenged to enter into dialogue, the greater is the hope for a resolution of disagreements and a new commitment to cooperation and mutual respect. I hope that President Bush will be an active partner with Dublin and London in the pursuit of peace and justice for all parties in Northern Ireland. 

On this Saint Patrick's Day, U.S. citizens, especially Irish Americans, must renew our solidarity with all those working for peace, and we must avoid support of those fringe groups committed to violence and division. We must stand with all those who choose dialogue over violence, progress over prejudice, peace over polarization. We must strongly support new risks for peace, new steps toward greater justice. We support those who clearly leave armed struggle behind for civil discourse, who work for a new police force representative of all in Northern Ireland, who promote secure fair employment and prosperity for all, and who pursue demilitarization with due deliberation but with haste.

The process of peace is wider than the Good Friday Agreements and, once begun, can never be allowed to stop. All parties should make haste toward the goal of true and lasting peace and do so with all the deliberation demanded by the realities that must be faced.

As the successor of Saint Patrick and as the Primate of all Ireland, Archbishop Sean Brady said in a homily several weeks ago: "Peace comes about when people know what they ought to do and also have the courage to do it fearlessly, despite all the obstacles." He went on to say, "If they do so, I believe they will find the Holy Spirit and a huge number of people once again very much on their side. Understanding and trust will grow. The search for a lasting peace to which the pro-Agreement parties have so courageously and so wisely committed themselves could once again breathe life and hope. I ask all who sincerely want peace to pray that this may happen – for the sake of us all and especially for the good of the young". (Homily, Holy Family Church, Coalisland, March 3, 2001)

We make Archbishop Brady's prayer our own as we urge all parties to make haste with due deliberation to that day of lasting peace, freedom and security for all in Northern Ireland. 

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