Statement on Northern Ireland, March 18, 2002

Year Published
  • 2013
  • English

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

Solemnity of Saint Patrick
Celebrated in Boston on March 18, 2002 

This is, perhaps, the most hope-filled Saint Patrick's Day in several years. Much progress has been made in implementing the Good Friday Agreement and replacing a politics of crisis with a politics of normalization. The Northern Ireland government is functioning with a relative degree of stability, police reforms are being implemented, the guns have largely been silenced, the IRA has taken an important step in decommissioning, and people are living their lives with a greater sense of hope for a future free of conflict and sectarian strife. Northern Ireland is a far better, safer and more peaceful place this Saint Patrick's Day. 

It is not a time for complacency, however, because much still needs to be done to build a Northern Ireland in which all people feel at home, respected in their traditions and legitimate aspirations. Some aspects of the Good Friday Agreement remain to be fully implemented. The new police service must continue to build broad public confidence and must include the support and participation of all. Further acts of decommissioning by all paramilitary organizations are necessary and would contribute immensely to confidence-building on all sides.  

As important as these and other steps are in cementing a just peace in Northern Ireland, much deeper changes are needed if a politics of exclusion is to be replaced by a politics of inclusion, and if a history of division is to be replaced by a coming together in mutual respect. While the peace process has moved forward, a deep-seated sectarianism remains, as evidenced by the sectarian strife in North Belfast, the annual confrontations during the marching season, and the increasing segregation in many areas of life. Archbishop Sean Brady, the successor of Saint Patrick and the Primate of all Ireland, points out that overcoming this sectarianism calls for embarking on a difficult, long-term process of healing and reconciliation. He said in a homily on January first of this year at Saint Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh:

In the search for peace the emphasis has always been on justice. However, concerns for a reconciled community are important.... Reconciliation is a task of building a new relationship with the estranged party, a relationship of understanding the hurt and the pain and the grievances. On this Saint Patrick's Day, it is appropriate for us as U.S. citizens, especially as Irish Americans, to renew our solidarity with all those who, like Archbishop Brady, are calling for replacing mutual suspicion, fear and hatred with mutual trust, respect and reconciliation. Support must be denied to those fringe groups committed to violence and division and opposed to reconciliation between the two communities. It is important that we stand with all those who choose dialogue over violence, progress over prejudice, peace over polarization. 

This feast of Saint Patrick calls to mind the many blessings with which God has graced Ireland, especially the blessing of real progress towards peace in Northern Ireland. It also affords us the opportunity to thank God for the gift that faith-filled immigrants from Ireland have brought to this Archdiocese, this Commonwealth, and this nation. May we recommit ourselves to use the historic bonds which link us to Ireland in support of the justice, peace and reconciliation for which so many in Northern Ireland have struggled, and which now seem within their grasp. 

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