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Irish Methodists welcome IRA peace moves

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A UMNS photo by Kathleen LaCamera

Peace can only be built with trust in place, says the Rev. Gary Mason, a Methodist minister in Belfast.
Sept. 12, 2005

A UMNS Report
By Kathleen LaCamera*

Methodists are waiting for concrete results from recent statements by the Irish Republican Army, the paramilitary group, regarding the end to its armed campaign in Northern Ireland.

"The IRA announcement is a very positive move forward and the most generous response we have had so far," observed the Rev. Jim Rea, former president of the Irish Methodist Church and superintendent minister of the Portadown Circuit. "However, it must be backed with actions that are clearly verifiable, and until this happens, trust will not be cemented."

Irish Methodist minister Gary Mason has worked for years in Belfast communities living with a strong paramilitary presence. Mason said he was glad to learn of the IRA's July 28 statement that it had ended its armed struggle, but he echoed Rea's feelings that action is the key to progress.

"If the IRA is genuine about peace, they need to show their enemies a major act of decommissioning that can be verifiable or they won't be able to build peace. … That can only be built with trust in place," Mason told the United Methodist News Service.

British news media are reporting that the IRA will soon begin decommissioning its weapons. The Sept. 3 Guardian newspaper, quoting sources close to the British and Irish governments, said "decommissioning should be completed within weeks."

In the past, when the IRA put a number of weapons "beyond use," it required confidentiality from official observers, which left the observers virtually barred from reporting any meaningful description of what they had seen.

The Guardian reported that the upcoming process will include not only an inventory of specific decommissioned weapons but the presence of "two clergymen, one Protestant and one Catholic, (who) will be invited to witness the final disarmament process." The two clergy representatives will be invited to tell the public what they observed.

Within the Protestant Unionist community, people are still wondering why the IRA did not make this move two or three years ago. Mason said it is easy to see this latest move as one motivated by self-serving politics. He believes that bad press from a high-profile bank robbery, pub murder and terrorist training charges all linked to the IRA in recent months have contributed to the timing of this latest announcement.

In October, Mason and members of his East Belfast Mission team will travel to Florida to talk with U.S. United Methodists about the complex challenges of ministry in Northern Ireland's divided community.

The Rev. Desmond Bain, president of the Irish Methodist Church, said he too awaits the early reports and verification of complete disarmament as pledged in the IRA statement.

"I am glad to see a complete end to the IRA's activities and the commitment to a peace strategy within purely democratic lines," he added.

He called on members of the Irish Methodist Church to continue to work and pray for a future in which sectarianism is ended and the hurts, past and present, are healed.

"Terrorism is no longer acceptable," said Rea, whose seven congregations lie in an area that has been a flash point for conflict during the contentious summer Marching Season. "Many of us believe people like Gerry Adams are sincere in attempting to bring an end to violence, but they too find it difficult to bring their communities with them." Adams is a leader of Sinn Fein, the political party affiliated with the IRA.

The Methodist Church has a "positive role" to play by helping the Protestant community, particularly Unionist politicians, engage with this latest development in the peace process, according to Rea.

Meanwhile, Protestant riots broke out in Belfast Sept. 10-11, as paramilitaries and armed mobs fired on police and destroyed property. Causes cited by news reports included Protestant frustration with the British government's handling of security concerns and anger at police for barring a Protestant march near a Catholic area of Belfast.

*LaCamera is a United Methodist News Service correspondent based in Manchester, England.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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