Gamblers and Swimmers

On February 9, a huge bomb exploded in London's dockland, marking the end of the "total cessation of all military activities" declared by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) at the end of August 1994. Northern Ireland was bad news once more.

We in Northern Ireland are locked together in destructive relationships that are shaped and expressed by ideologies that have a clear religious content and are themselves products of the long and bitter history of religious conflict. We "myth-understand" one another and our history in the light of these ideologies.

When the cease-fire was first declared, there were high hopes that a final end to our conflict was at hand. There was talk of peace dividends, economic revival, and as always in Ireland of money from America. It did not take long for things to begin to go wrong. Most of the problems revolved around the willingness of the British government, and more important the Northern Ireland Unionist parties, to trust the IRA. What they wanted was the IRA to say some words or make some gesture to the effect that violence was over, permanently.

With its roots in the tradition articulated by Patrick Pearse's oath, "That we will free our race from bondage, or that we will fall fighting hand to hand"-the IRA could do no such thing. The Ulster Protestants, with their long tradition of mistrust of all things Irish and Catholic, could make no move to accommodate themselves to the olive branch on offer, flimsy and insubstantial as it might have been.

Our hearts are too possessed by our myths of redemptive violence for us to give up their ways easily, too inured to the human and economic costs. Even that bomb and the breakdown in the cease-fire had more to do with the fact that our mutual misunderstanding continues to enslave us than with the intransigence of the British government. It is we, in our mutual mistrust, who will not sit down to talk with one another.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1996
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