Words and Silence
Today the Trade Unions arranged a silent protest in the centre of Belfast in response to the murders by dissident republicans of Sappers Mark Quinsey and Patrick Azimkar, and Constable Stephen Paul Carroll. It was only one of a range of protest rallies making clear to those responsible that they do not have the backing of the vast majority of the population of this province.
Leading political figures from across Britain and Ireland have spoken out clearly in condemnation of these attacks, including some very clear, but measured words from our own First Minister, noting that this was not a time for party politicking, and a clear condemnation from the Deputy First Minister and his own party leader. Those latter statements, and some other forthright condemnations by other members of Sinn Fein, notably John O'Dowd, may not have been in language that the Unionist community would have wished for, but are a quantum leap from the historic position of mainstream republicanism, against a background where they still have some distance to go to wholy convince their constituency of their current democratic path.
Then, last night I was at our own Belfast Synod, an experience which generally fills me with great joy... But under the business of the Council on Social Responsibility, the synod heard that mainstream loyalist leaders had given an undertaking that they would sanction no acts of retaliation for these attacks. Not only was the synod pleased to hear this, they also incorporated an endorsement of this undertaking into their prepared statement, a statement which didn't merely condemn the attacks but called on the dissidents to seek a peaceful way to achieve their desired ends. There are many who will find it uncomfortable that the church has endorsed the words of loyalist paramilitaries or addressed the murderers behind these attacks in any way other than to condemn their actions, but personally, I have never been as proud of our synod. I'm naturally cynical and grumpy, and intolerant of empty gestures, and we may be fooling ourselves in thinking that anyone, least of all the loyalists or the republican dissidents will ever listen to our words one way or another, but it sets a context in which we now need to put those words into action... Incarnate them...
Words or silences are only the beginning... We need to work together across all sectors... Church, trade unions, political parties, business, community sector, public sector... to make sure that we do not get sucked back into the cycle of violence and condemnation, retaliation and recrimination... But create a hope-filled future for all our children.