Friday, November 28, 2008

Hard Gospel project looks beyond divisions in Northern Ireland

The people of Northern Ireland need to hear a message of hope, says the director of the Church of Ireland's Hard Gospel initiative to heal sectarian divides in the country.

The Hard Gospel project will host a seminar just off Belfast's Shankill Road on Thursday exploring how Northern Ireland's so-called "peace walls" might be brought down.

The walls were originally barbed wire coils erected on the streets of Belfast, Londonderry, Portadown and Lurgan as a temporary response to rioting during the Troubles. They soon became permanent steel and brick walls, some reaching over 20 feet high and stretching a combined length of 13 miles, designed to prevent inter-community violence between Catholic and Protestant communities.

Thursday's event is the latest in a series of “Beyond the Box” seminars run by Hard Gospel to stimulate fresh thinking and a new approach to sectarianism, racism and difference in Northern Ireland.

The keynote speaker will be Independent development and management consultant Tony Macaulay, who has 25 years of experience in community and reconciliation groups in interface areas.

The peace walls were erected when he was a child growing up in the Shankill Road area of Belfast in the 1970s. He later lived for three years beside a peace wall in North Belfast in the 1980s.

He has written extensively about the impact of peace walls, including a discussion paper on how the barriers might be removed within the context of Northern Ireland’s changing political landscape.

“The erection of peace walls has been sustained through the paramilitary ceasefires, the ten years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and the establishment of a devolved government in 2007,” said Mr Macaulay. “However, in recent years, community initiatives have resulted in a decrease in the number of serious violent interface incidents.”

He added: “Removing the peace walls will be an enormous challenge, but I think we can do it. I firmly believe that the peace walls that went up in my youth will come down in my lifetime.”

The Rev Earl Storey, Director of the Hard Gospel Project, said, “One of the key messages that Northern Ireland needs to hear is hope – hope that we will find a new way of living together in our community.

"We recognise the tremendous work that goes on at ground level to bring down divisions.

"This seminar is a way of the Church asking what contribution it can make to that process.”

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(Source: CT )