Former hostage Terry Waite shines light on path to reconciliation
An international conference organised by the Irish Churches’ Peace Project (ICPP) in Belfast has called for more work to be done to develop “the significant untapped potential for the development of new relationships across Northern Ireland and the border,” and heard former peace envoy and hostage Terry Waite underline the barriers that must be overcome in order to build lasting reconciliation between former foes.
The ICPP event came as concern grows that political leaders are growing complacent over the peace process, and in particular the economic dividend that an end to hostility across Northern Ireland has brought.
The faith leaders further urged local leaders to continue to build trust and overcome obstacles remaining in the way of building peace in our society.”
In their official communique, the ICPP said: “Notwithstanding the considerable achievements of the peace process, 17 years on from the Good Friday Agreement there is still significant untapped potential for the development of new relationships in local communities across Northern Ireland and the border region.
“We welcome the commitment of the European Union to further peace funding, as advocated by the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government.
“Our pastoral experience makes us acutely aware that we cannot afford to be complacent about the enduring impact of division in our society, which manifests in multiple, often inter-connected, forms of exclusion. The threat to social cohesion arising from growing socio-economic inequality is a particular concern, notably in its implications for the younger generations.”
The ICPP added that the work of local community and Church leaders and groups was the bedrock on which the peace process was building: “We have been greatly encouraged by the enthusiasm and openness local churches have brought to this project, building on existing models of good practice in partnership with statutory agencies, the community and voluntary sector and political leaders.
“With funding for peace-building work increasingly scarce, the time and energy of volunteers can make a crucial difference.
The conference heard an address by former peace envoy and Middle East hostage Terry Waite, on the subject of Reconciliation – a challenge to, and central calling for, the Churches.
Mr Waite drew on his extensive experience as both a diplomat and a humanitarian to deliver this address.
Throughout he highlighted both his work in the 1980s as a special envoy to the Archbishop of Canterbury, during which he successfully negotiated the release of hostages in Iran and Libya, and his time in captivity himself after being taken prisoner in 1987 while negotiating the release of more hostages in Beirut.
He spent a total of 1,763 days in captivity, two-thirds of which were spent in solitary confinement.
Other representatives at the conference included the Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin.
PICTURE: Richard Clarke, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, with Terry Waite CBE, keynote spearker at the International Conference of the Irish Churches Peace Project