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Holy Cross left me close to tears, says Presbyterian Moderator

The incoming Presbyterian Moderator has said he was “close to tears” at the Holy Cross school protest by loyalists in 2001.

The Rev Norman Hamilton, who was elected to lead the Presbyterian Church in Ireland on Tuesday night, said that it will take decades to heal Northern Ireland’s divisions after years of violence

The incoming Moderator played a key role in ending the north Belfast dispute in 2001 when Catholic children on their way to class were subjected to sectarian abuse.

The minister at Ballysillan Presbyterian Church in north Belfast helped mediate an end to the Holy Cross dispute.

“My abiding memory is one of intense distress, I remember many times walking those 400 yards and being close to tears,” he recalled.

“I was relieved in the sense that the protest was ended, the violence was stopped, but it left a legacy within the community that has still not healed and in that sense I feel it is a microcosm of what is going on in wider society — we are in a very long-term process here.”

He added that the Government needs to come clean on proposals for uniting our divided society.

Mr Hamilton said: “Government needs to come clean and spell out what its understanding is of sharing and integration because, unless that is clear, it is really difficult for local community leaders to get a handle on what is trying to be achieved.”

Last month the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) announced that it had agreed a programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI). It is due to go for consultation and further discussion within and outside Government.

Mr Hamilton said: “The work of community activists and community leaders must be actively supported from wider society in developing policy, measuring any new CSI strategy by, for example, putting real meaning on the terms sharing and integration.”

He added human relationships need to be supported by substantial public investment.

“We are probably heading towards 10, 20 or 30 years of society peacemaking because you can't fix broken relationships overnight or even in a matter of months,” he warned.

Rev Hamilton also said parades remained a difficult issue to resolve.

The Lurgan-born cleric was nominated by 11 out of the 19 Presbyteries who met throughout Ireland on Tuesday.

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