Belfast Telegraph

Bishop issues sectarianism warning

Northern Ireland risks being dragged back into a past of sectarianism and religious leaders need to respond, a Church of Ireland bishop has warned.

Creating a shared future is an important piece of unfinished and contested business and efforts to address the problem have been unfairly discredited, Bishop of Clogher Michael Jackson added.

A Consultative Group on the Past headed by former Church of Ireland primate Lord Robin Eames and ex-Policing Board vice-chairman Denis Bradley recommended a legacy commission to help victims of past atrocities obtain information.

But the idea was overshadowed by the outcry which followed its suggestion that £12,000 be paid to all victims' relatives, including bombers killed by their own hand.

Bishop Jackson told a Dublin interface conference: "Vast tracts of our country and people are constantly and continually in danger of being taken back into sectarianism, whether polite or less polite, from a vacuum to a vortex.

"The political and social theory has moved ahead of the church's response in terms of words, ideas, activities but still the philosophy of a shared future remains unfinished and contested business in Northern Ireland.

"The findings and recommendations of the Consultative Group on the Past - alias The Eames-Bradley Commission - despite already being used as a template in sophisticated conflict resolution internationally, found its impact whittled away almost to nothing in the minds of so many because of the specific £12,000 payment suggested to families of victims."

Presbyterian Moderator Norman Hamilton has also warned of the need to make progress on creating a shared future. His north Belfast Ballysillan congregation is at the centre of one of the most divided parts of Northern Ireland. Division erupted into violence at Ardoyne in July with days of rioting between police and nationalists.

Bishop Jackson said the church needed to promote equality of opportunity as outlined in Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

"Would it not be something rather wonderful were the Church of Ireland to grapple creatively, compassionately and courageously with the spirit contained within the letter of Section 75, rather than, perhaps, looking quizzically at it over our half-moon glasses, and looking to see what of ourselves as we are we can safeguard as we pick through it?" he asked.

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