Peace Really is a Process

News from Northern Ireland has been fairly disconcerting of late.  I just returned from there a little over a week ago, so perhaps it’s just on my mind.  Still, it’s hard to ignore the recent shootings directed against the police.

In 1998, Ulster Protestants and Nationalists sat down and agreed to work through their differences within the political process instead of through the violence that had claimed over 3,000 lives on the relatively small island.  In 2005, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) turned in its guns, and everyone breathed a deep sigh of relief.  Well, almost everyone.  It would seem that a few splinter groups had different ideas.
This week’s murders were carried out by two splinter groups: the Real IRA (RIRA) and the oddly named Continuity IRA (CIRA).  The CIRA seems much more in the shadows than the RIRA whose graffiti is found all over Bogside in the City of Derry.  While both organizations are claiming responsibility for various attacks, neither seem to be making specific demands beyond the usual, and hopefully rather outmoded, “unite or die” comments.  
Meanwhile, the citizens of Northern Ireland are watching with baited breath to see what happens next.  Will the terrorists gain momentum?  Will British troops get involved?  Will violence escalate until it finally spirals out of control as it has in the past?  Peace is a process.  Thirty years of violence does not end over night.  Psychologists say that it takes 9 years (on average) to break a long-term habit.  The Good Friday agreement was signed 10 years ago.  The IRA disarmed three years ago.  The peace process for Northern Ireland is really just in its toddlerhood.  
The reality of the situation, however, is that it is not the RIRA or CIRA that could bury the peace.  Rather it is the average citizen who responds to these attacks in fear and anger who can do the greatest damage to the process. If the average person further segregates herself from her catholic or protestant neighbors out of fear or anger, the peace process will fail.  However, if people use these incidents to shore up the bridge spanning the ulster vs. nationalist divide, then the peace process will be stronger than ever.
I know that this is a simplistic diagnosis and prescription .  I know that the depressed economy is exacerbating an already tense situation.  It is not a coincidence that much of the violence resurfaced as legitimate jobs became harder to find and families became harder to feed.  I also realize that it is much easier to write these things, and believe them, from across the pond.  I haven’t lived with large scale violence out my front door for the last 30 years.  Still, I humbly exhort my Irish friends to remember that peace really is a process, and that it takes grit and determination and faith to see it through. 
Bail o Dhia ort

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