‘Miracles’ Behind Northern Ireland’s Peace Settlement
12 May 2007
Dr Roddy Evans, with a background in the Protestant Ascendancy, and Jim Lynn, a Roman Catholic born and brought up on the Falls Road, speak about some of the behind-the-scenes ‘miracles’ which played a part in the peace process.
‘The miracle of Belfast’ headlined The Independent, London, while the The Irish Independent, Dublin, declared, ‘Happy are the peacemakers’. It was the day after the Rev Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party and Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin formed an historic power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, 8 May, putting to an end 40 years of civil war that cost 3,700 lives.
The same day, two Belfast peacemakers brought a message of faith and hope to the Initiatives of Change centre in London. Dr Roddy Evans, with a background in the Protestant Ascendancy, and Jim Lynn, a Roman Catholic born and brought up on the Falls Road, spoke about some of the behind-the-scenes ‘miracles’ which played a part in the peace process:
- Catholics and Protestants meeting together in regular Bible studies at the Clonard Redemptorist Monastery in Belfast, described by a Belfast journalist as ‘the cradle of the peace process’; and the support they received from Rev John Austin Baker. As Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons he had given a powerful sermon, reported in the Irish press, acknowledging the sins of the English in Ireland. Later, as Bishop of Salisbury, he was the first Church of England bishop to preach in the monastery and in Armagh Catholic Cathedral.
- The comment of Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams which changed the focus of their work. On seeing the film Belfast Report, which documented MRA’s trust-building work between Catholics and Protestants, he said that it was one of the best presentations of its kind he had seen but that it missed out the fundamental issue: the relationship between the two nations, Ireland and England.
- Roddy Evans’ willingness with three others to make a public statement, admitting the sins of the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland. This was widely reported in the Irish media—and led him to be initially ostracised in his own circles.
- Clonard priest Fr Alec Reid CSsR meeting with Dr Martin Mansergh, advisor to the Irish Taoiseach, Charles Haughey. Mansergh, an Oxford historian from an Anglo-Irish family, became the principle link between the Irish government, the North and successive British governments.
- The commitment throughout their 10 years in office of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Prime Minister Tony Blair, who had become known in the province as Tony ‘stickability’ Blair, for his determination to reach a settlement.
- The intervention of US President Bill Clinton, including his appointment of Senator George Mitchell to oversee the peace process and his granting of a visa to Gerry Adams to visit the USA, against the wishes of the British government. This had helped to break the impasse in the stalled relations between all the sides involved in the peace process.
Roddy Evans, a surgeon, and Jim Lynn, a watchmaker, have been unlikely partners in the peace process. ‘Roddy and I have nothing in common whatsoever,’ said Lynn. Yet he sensed the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing them and others together through the Clonard Bible studies under the supervision of Fr Christopher McCarthy. Lynn paid tribute to two other Belfast Protestants, Bill Porter and Eric Turpin—‘two of the most wonderful men I’ve ever met’—as well as the Presbyterian Dr George Dallas and London accountant Leslie Fox, all of whom had taken part in the Bible studies.
Evans and Lynn both declared that England and Ireland should now work together towards offering a message of peace for other conflict situations around the world. ‘It is my hope that what we have experienced will be used in the world, including in the Middle East,’ Lynn said. ‘Can England and Ireland do something for the world? The answer is yes.’ Sinn Féin leaders and the Redemptorist priest Fr Alec Reid already had links with the Spanish government and the Basque separatists, while Sinn Féin had also met the Sri Lankan Prime Minister and the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.