Statement on Northern Ireland, March 2000
Bernard Cardinal Law
Archbishop of Boston
Chairman, International Policy Committee
U.S. Catholic Conference
The Feast of St. Patrick, 2000
Despite the new crisis in Northern Ireland, we celebrate the feast of Ireland's Patron Saint in a spirit of hope and thanksgiving. Our Church and our nation have been enriched by the sons and daughters of Ireland who have come and are still coming to the United States.
While attention is rightly focused on the political impasse in Northern Ireland, we must not forget how far along the road of peace the people of Northern Ireland have traveled in recent years. We can be thankful for the historic Good Friday Agreement, which reflects the complex reality in Northern Ireland and remains the best hope for a just peace. We can be thankful for the progress that has been made in implementing that agreement, especially the period when all parties were putting aside their differences to work together on the common problems facing Northern Ireland. We can also be thankful that, with a few exceptions, the violence has ceased.
We must remember the important strides that have been taken as we join Northern Ireland's religious leaders in urging that no opportunity be missed to break the current political impasse. While much progress has been made, crucial steps toward peace remain to be taken. The promise of peace has come to an impasse on process. It is unfortunate that Unionists imposed unilateral conditions on the peace process and that the British government felt it had no alternative but to suspend the institutions that are so important to confidence building in Northern Ireland. It is unfortunate that the new collaboration exhibited in these institutions has been interrupted by old divisions and mutual recrimination. It is unfortunate that while the cease-fires have held, the paramilitaries have not contributed to confidence building by making evident progress on the decommissioning that is called for in the Good Friday Agreement. It is unfortunate that a sense of hope is giving way to a fear of failure.
The current crisis may be understandable, but it remains intolerable. While it can be understood why each side insists on more from its new partners in government, it is intolerable that the leaders of Northern Ireland have not found the way to respect the vote and respond to the will of their people for peace, democracy, and reconciliation. Northern Ireland has come too far toward peace to allow this courageous effort to fail now. A way must be found soon to fill a dangerous void with a return to implementing all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement. Disputes over implementing the agreement must be replaced by genuine confidence building on the part of both communities. Each side should examine what it can do to move the process forward and engender the trust of others. This will require political risks, but ultimately these are risks for peace.
All of the parties need to be clearer about what they, themselves, must do rather than what their political adversaries must do. Now is a crucial moment for all factions to act responsibly, for every party to reach out to others, and for each community to seek reconciliation with the other. In accord with the text of the Good Friday Agreement, now is the time for the necessary steps on decommissioning, for a way to be found to reestablish quickly local political institutions, for serious progress on police reform, for a sustained commitment to cross border institutions, for more progress on fair employment, and above all, for a new politics of accommodation and cooperation in the pursuit of the common good for all the people of Northern Ireland.
While the issue of decommissioning must be resolved, it should find its proper place within the context of all the commitments made in the Good Friday Agreement. A revival and clarification of the IRA's commitments made in February might be a basis for further progress on this critical issue. Further progress also requires moving forward on restoring the local institutions, which have won such broad popular support.
This feast of St. Patrick calls to mind the many blessings with which God has graced Ireland, and invites us to celebrate the many ties which bind our nation to that beautiful island of saints and scholars. May we recommit ourselves to use these bonds to support that just peace and reconciliation for which so many in Northern Ireland have worked, and which seem within our grasp. May God grant that the gains that have already been achieved not be lost, but that they may be the foundation of a dream fulfilled for all who love Ireland.