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November 9, 2005

Perspectives on Northern Ireland

Living Room Dialogue with Sr. Marion Fahey

Our CIEE (Council on International Education Exchange) trip to Northern Ireland,Su.'05 was truly amazing as it afforded us so many opportunities to meet and mingle with a diversity of people whose lives were affected either directly or indirectly by the thirty years of violence known as "The Troubles".This conflict was essentially a political one which quickly became identified as a "tug of war" between the Protestants, who for the most part, wanted to remain loyal to the British Crown, and the Catholics, interested in self rule ,and more than the great majority of whom wanted to be united with the Republic of Ireland.

The Seminar located at three different sites; i.e., Coleraine and Belfast in Northern Ireland, and Dublin in the Republic, allowed us to hear from a great variety of people whose personal experiences and different perspectives contributed to our growing awareness of the complexity of the conflict.The academicians who came from the host institution, the University of Ulster, as well as those from the Dublin Business Institute were extremely knowledgeable,gave excellent presentations, and invited questions which led to very lively discussions.Our day long session at Stormont, the National Assembly (powers suspended until reactivation of the Good Friday Agreement) in Belfast, put us in contact with quite a number of legislators from a wide variety of political parties whose views no doubt represented every constituency.Likewise, our meeting with two Mayors, one of Derry, and the other of Coleraine, made clear very different viewpoints, and our first time seminar visit to the Ulster Police Headquarters in Belfast where we met the Chief Constable gave us first hand information on the changing role of the police to a "peace" force, and the challenges facing them in this time of transition from conflict to a much hoped for peace. Also a very unique opportunity was afforded us when we heard from a few victims whose tales of horror were heart-wrenching,and a perpertrator who had a "conversion experience". Happily, we listened to awe-inspiring stories of not only physical recovery, but of emotional as well. We were particularly struck by those who were transformed from a life of violence to one of pursuing peace. We also heard from representatives of a volunteer help organization that counsels all those affected by the violence, including children. Some of the volunteers had been involved in the conflict, and their lives had been changed, and now they wanted to give back by helping others to be reconciled.This service is free and open to all. We were also encouraged in our free time and in our couple of side trips to mingle with the locals which was indeed fun and enlightening as we could readily see that not all Protestants and Catholics necessarily think alike. This was refreshing, and opened our minds once again to the complexity of the situation.

Lastly, we had a very wonderful opportunity to visit our Sisters (RSHM-Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary) in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, most of whom we had never met before, and where we had a most enjoyable time sharing our experience of the seminar and exchanging our stories with one another.A few of them captivated our interest as they related some incidents of how they and/or a family member were affected by "TheTroubles". They, like the many people we met in the seminar and in our travels, all want peace, and they have begun to see hopeful signs that peace is on the horizon.


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