Belfast Telegraph

A candle of hope still flickers, but sadly this remains a deeply divided society

By Alf McCreary

Two events in the past week weighed heavily on my mind and made me wonder how long it would take for all our people to have a sufficient change of heart to make a lasting peace possible.

Last Saturday I called in to the Corrymeela centre in Ballycastle, where a charming voluntary worker from Holland asked me: "Have you been here before?"

Her question made me smile. How could she possibly have known I had written two books on Corrymeela and have been a supporter of this remarkable reconciliation centre almost from its very start?

Memories of the past swirled around me and I noticed a picture of the late Reverend Dr Ray Davey, who founded Corrymeela, with the Dalai Lama, who visited the centre.

I was at that historic meeting. Dr Davey was one of the most significant Irish Presbyterians in 20th century Ireland, and the Dalai Lama was then, and still is, a world religious leader.

Ray Davey had experienced the horrors of battle in the Second World War, and incarceration in Italian and German prisoner of war camps.

He had also experienced the destruction of Dresden by Allied bombers.

He knew at first hand, and long before the outbreak of the Troubles, the need for reconciliation and for a shared community spirit.

As I looked at his picture, I asked myself, what has gone wrong since Ray and so many others from all church and non-church backgrounds put forward their vision of peace?.

Today, we still have divided communities, people wanting more peace walls, sporadic violence by dissidents and mutual loathing between the two main political parties.

However, we are the people who elect them and the people who stand glumly by while they refuse to do their job properly.

Long ago, thousands of people joined marches for civil rights, but why are we not all marching today to campaign for a working government, which is a very basic civil right?

The other event which moved me deeply was the 20th commemoration of the Omagh bomb, which killed 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins.

The dignified inter-community service on Wednesday, and that of last Sunday, brought home to all of us the utter horror of the deaths and injuries of so many innocent people and the long suffering of the survivors and families.

If anything could unite the entire island against violence, surely it was the ghastly murders at Omagh? Sadly, however, we continually to lapse into the whataboutery of blaming each other and electing politicians who are unwilling or unable to heal the wounds.

There is still speculation as to whether or not the Omagh bombing could have been prevented.

The former Police Ombudsman Baroness O'Loan is of course entitled to her opinion on that subject, but her comments were inappropriately made on the anniversary of the bombing.

The real horror is that there are people still alive who know who planted that bomb, but the truth remains buried under the evil of militant republicanism.

So at the end of a very sad week, I am still asking the question, what happened to the vision of good people like Ray Davey, who pointed the way to a hard-won peace?

We like to think that we are a kind and peace-loving community - and many of us are.

But why are some of the divisions still so deep and why are political and community relationships still so toxic?

The answer, partly, is the harsh reality that too many of the extremes still want to win, and too many of the rest of the population do not want to give in to the 'other side'.

Sadly, until we do and begin to work together, politically and socially, for a shared peace, we will continue to live under the shadow of past wrongs and the selfishness and injustices of the present day.

Over half a century ago, Corrymeela bravely proclaimed, "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness".

That candle is still flickering, but unfortunately the darkness is still all around us.

Belfast Telegraph

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