Recent election results suggest that Northern Ireland's fragile peace process is on the verge of shattering.
In November 26 elections for control of the 108-seat Northern Ireland Assembly, the hardline Protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein, the Irish Catholic nationalist party linked to the terrorist Irish Republican Army, picked up the most seats. DUP won 30 and Sinn Fein 24. Observers say the results reflect disillusionment with implementation of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
The DUP refuses to work with Sinn Fein. DUP leader Ian Paisley sees the Good Friday pact as a deal with terrorists.
"There will never be any conditions that we will sit in government with any body of people … who have any army and that army is being used against democracy or democratic principles," Paisley said. Emphasizing the point, the dup website displays the 1998 Good Friday Agreement in trash cans. Paisley wants to renegotiate the pact, but without Sinn Fein and its leader, Gerry Adams.
The Evangelical Contribution on Northern Ireland (ECONI) warned in January 2003 about Protestant dissatisfaction: "The continuance of military activities … has severely damaged any trust that may have been built with many Protestants and unionists, including evangelicals." After the moderate Protestant Ulster Unionist Party failed to convince ira leaders to lay down their arms, many Protestants voted for the dup.
Many evangelicals, however, still support the agreement, seeing only a return to violence if it is abandoned. ECONI Director David Porter told CT, "The current process is about people repairing relationships and building trust."
Ronald Wells, a Calvin College history professor and author of People Behind the Peace, told CT that "I fear that a lot of Christians in Northern Ireland will mistakenly weigh in on Paisley's side to try to modify the terms of the 1998 Agreement."
Belfast's Fitzroy Presbyterian minister Ken Newell said, "The church is always preaching for political parties to be constructive." But he said only 20 percent of local congregations are active in reconciliation.
Government officials welcome the church's involvement. A spokeswoman for the Northern Ireland Office told ct, "We have always valued the church's … assistance in progressing the peace process."
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Earlier Christianity Today articles on the Ireland peace process include:
Protests Cease; Alienation Continues | Evangelicals warn that peace process is in trouble. (Dec. 21. 2001)
Beneath the Orange and Green | A survey shows Northern Ireland's hope lies in its churchgoers. (June 5, 2000)
New Stabs at Old Wounds | Why Northern Ireland doesn't always love a parade. (July 7, 2000)
Peacemaking in Northern Ireland | Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell considers the long, often painful process (May 15, 2000)
Fellowship Without Borders | In Northern Ireland, a Catholic monk and a Presbyterian pastor learn to work together for peace. (Dec. 1, 2000)
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