Good afternoon. It is very good to be here with you to participate in the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of Corrymeela. This property where you now sit was purchased by the Rev Ray Davey and his QUB students for £7,000 in early 1965. That money, which was a mighty sum in those days, about ten times the annual salary, was raised within 10 days: testament to the courage and determination of those involved.

I read that Corrymeela has three possible meanings: “Hill of Harmony,” “Hill of Honeysuckle,” and “Lumpy Crossroads.” Hill of Harmony is attractive but my guess is that Corrymeela has seen much more than harmony in those 50 years, constructive though that may have been. Honeysuckle is lovely but I didn’t see any on the way up. Lumpy Crossroads is probably the most appealing, suggestive as it is of the pot holes, the bad corners, the diminished visibility and comprehension which have been so much part of our journey. There is a suggestion of humour too! I like that. I am sure that Corrymeela has seen many moments of fun and laughter over those five decades.

respite from the violence of those days: the holidays, weekends, summer breaks, camps which were so much part of life here at the time

I came to Northern Ireland in 1976, when times were pretty bad and I fairly quickly became aware of Corrymeela, firstly in terms of what I understood as respite from the violence of those days: the holidays, weekends, summer breaks, camps which were so much part of life here at the time. So many of you know so much more than I do about those days, about this place you describe as one of gathering, work, faith and discussion; about the bringing together of people of different backgrounds, different political and religious beliefs and different identities together, about the occasionally bewildered parents and children who came to this rugged North Antrim coast, which can seem so wild and inhospitable and grey, but which became a place of refuge, respite, reconciliation and relaxation for thousands of people. The work which has been done here has been both personal and communal. It has taken so many forms, individual, community based, sector based, cross community, economic, developmental, and a huge contribution has been made here to the evolution of peace in our troubled country.

Now, 50 years later, you have almost 40 full time staff, you have 20 year–long volunteers and interns, and hundreds of other shorter term volunteers. Many of you have been working on the site for decades, giving so generously of your time and energy to others service to the work. I would like to pay tribute to all who have worked here, and to remember all those whose work here on earth is done, but most particularly to remember the faith and determination of Ray Davey and of his gentle and courageous wife Kathleen. And since this is place founded on Christianity, I give thanks to the Lord for the generosity, the compassion, the humour, the energy and the love that has made it all possible.

Where we were

It can seem almost unreal now when we see on documentaries the old film footage of the years of the Troubles. I spoke recently in Ballycastle about a book I launched a book last year by Eimear O’Callaghan, Belfast Days - a 1972 Teenage Diary. It recounts graphically the reality of life in those dark and difficult days, all intertwined with the normal preoccupations of a young girl growing up with her friends and family. It is very challenging to read the story of our past, to watch the film footage of those early days, to remember those awful nights when Belfast was subjected to multiple bomb threats and attacks, when without sat nav, and often without street maps, we tried to find our way through the diversions to home, being able to take only one road and ending up often in alien territory, recognisable as alien by the painted kerb stones, the flags and the murals which were so much part of our culture! it didn’t matter whether one was a Christian Catholic or a Christian Protestant, one knew that the reality was that one was in territory where one would be better not to be.

we tried to find our way through the diversions to home, being able to take only one road

I remember too the students who used to come and tell me of being picked up by the soldiers patrolling the streets at night and driven to the others’ territory sometimes beaten up and thrown out of the land rovers to make their lonely frightened way home. I remember the bombs exploding across Belfast Lough as I lectured in Jordanstown, and sometimes even exploding on the university campus. In some ways it does not seem possible that what happened with all its terror, tragedy, trauma, destruction and division could have happened.

During the bad years some 116 people died in the Republic of Ireland. There were over 3600 terrorist related murders in Northern Ireland and some 50,000 injuries as a consequence of the security situation here over the thirty eight years. The Victims Commission estimated that the conflict resulted in 500,000 ‘victims’ in Northern Ireland. It defines ‘victims’ as those who are directly affected by ‘bereavement’, ‘physical injury’ or ‘trauma’ as a result of the conflict.

Our present reality

Now children play once more in summer, and rioting is not the inevitable occurrence which they must face. We do not see soldiers on our streets. But we still have paramilitary violence and we still have too much sectarianism. In the year ending 31 March 2015 PSNI statistics show that there were 3 deaths due to the security situation, 94 shootings and assaults by paramilitaries of which 48 were by loyalists and 46 by republicans. There were 73 shooting incidents and 26 bombing incidents. 58 firearms were recovered, 22.94 kgs of explosives and 4,569 rounds of explosives were recovered.

Much has been achieved. We have had ceasefires, disarmament, decommissioning, prisoner release, the establishment of the NI Assembly, the devolution of legislative power to that Assembly, most recently the devolution of power over matters of justice and policing, though it is not complete devolution. The UK has retained its control over matters affecting its national security. The past keeps coming up though. That is normal.

Different solutions have been found across the world to deal with different elements of the problem

And it is normal too that after such conflict there will be a debate, whether acknowledged or unacknowledged, about the legacy of the past, about its capacity to undo the present, and about the cost, both of addressing past injustice, and of failing so to do. Northern Ireland is no different from other conflicts in this respect. Different solutions have been found across the world to deal with different elements of the problem - truth commissions, various forms of reparation, resettlement of displaced people, reintegration of participants into society, disarmament and decommissioning. The models are there. So why is dealing with the past such a difficult issue for Northern Ireland?

Our solutions

What do we need to do? The answers are fairly simple and we have identified them as a people, most recently in the Stormont House Agreement.

The solutions include:

  • A Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition which was to be established by June 2015 to report within 18 months of its being established,
  • Powers to take responsibility for parades and related protests should, in principle, be devolved to the NI Assembly,
  • By 2016 there will be an Oral History Archive,
  • A research project as part of the Archive, led by academics to produce a factual historical timeline and statistical analysis of the Troubles,
  • Victims and Survivors will have access to high quality services, respecting the principles of choice and need a comprehensive Mental Trauma Service will be implemented, work will be undertaken to seek an acceptable way forward on the proposal for a pension for severely physically injured victims in Northern Ireland,
  • An Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) to take forward outstanding cases from the HET process, and the legacy work of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI). A report will be produced in each case. The HIU should aim to complete its work within five years of its establishment,
  • There will be an Independent Commission on Information Retrieval (ICIR), building on the precedent provided by the Independent Commission on the Location of Victims’ Remains. The objective of the ICIR will be to enable victims and survivors to seek and privately receive information about the (Troubles- related) deaths of their next of kin,
  • An Implementation and Reconciliation Group (IRG) will be established to oversee themes, archives and information recovery
  • A compact civic advisory panel which would meet regularly to consider key social, cultural and economic issues and to advise the NI Executive,
  • The UK Government and the Irish Government endorse the need for respect for and recognition of the Irish language in Northern Ireland.

How could those two issues have been so tied up in one agreement?

These are all fine words; given effect they would go a long way to consolidating our peace. The problem is that our governments seems incapable of delivering on what they have agreed. These vital elements, and the funding for them, upon which we will work to consolidate the peace which we have, will only be delivered if there is agreement on welfare reform. How could those two issues have been so tied up in one agreement that failure to deliver on welfare reform dictates inability to deliver on dealing with the past. Where is the morality in that situation?

We are told by our political commentators that this is a difficult time for us, and the our hard won institutions are at risk. But Northern Ireland seems to be always in crisis. There is no good time to do things in Northern Ireland. We have lurched from crisis to crisis in the context of the Troubles, buttressed on occasion by governmental help of the fiscal kind, by time, diplomatic effort and lots of other support - British, Irish and American, and also by the trading of legislative change, bringing, for example, equality and a degree of impunity for wrongdoing in exchange for decommissioning, for ceasefires and for peace. Thus is peace made. It is not an easy business; it inevitably requires compromise by all parties; it takes time; it can break down. We know from the work of peacemaking across the world, that most peace agreements break down within 15 years.

Given that it is all the more imperative that governments and people act now to ensure our peace. It is seventeen years since the GFA, our governments have legal and moral responsibilities and are not delivering on those responsibilities?

Somehow our Governments and we as a society, have to find within ourselves the capacity and the willingness to build our peace. Knowing what we need to do we must find the way forward together because people are still suffering the aftermath of the Troubles on a daily basis.

Ongoing problems

There are massive inadequacies in providing services on the ground to victims. We have 91 victims organisations, a Victims and Survivors Service, a publicly funded Victims and Survivors Forum, and at last a new Victims’ Commissioner.

It is time to provide properly for those 500,000 ‘victims’ - those directly affected by ‘bereavement’, ‘physical injury’ or ‘trauma’ as a result of the conflict.

We currently have survivors of Troubles related attacks who must choose between pain relief services and physiotherapy, we have Troubles related amputees who wait months for prosthetic limbs with all the attendant problems which that creates. Afghanistan, France, Greece, Italy, Israel, and Spain provide dedicated pension entitlement to individuals injured in acts of terrorism or internal conflict. NI Troubles victims do not get any pension.

The consequences of conflict related violence are trans-generational and often people affected experience a need for counselling long after the event

We have some excellent good practice here, but it is under massive pressure. Demand for counselling sessions at WAVE, the biggest victims’ organisation here, rose 52% last year, with applicants aged from 6 to the late 80s. The consequences of conflict related violence are trans-generational and often people affected experience a need for counselling long after the event which gave rise to the trauma. In so many cases the impact is so great at the time of the trauma and for decades afterwards, that people fear the risk of reliving that trauma in counselling so much that, even though the trauma may be destroying them, they fear even more the counselling process. Yet so much can be achieved through counselling and other therapies.

We do not invest sufficiently in the care of our victims. The total amount of funding granted by the Victims and Survivors Service in Northern Ireland to help all those bereaved, wounded, traumatised by the Troubles for the two years from 2013-2015 is £12,377,512. And the money which is available is fragmented across organisations, and we have to ask whether we are using the money which is available to best effect, when in so many serious cases we can’t provide necessary basic therapies and treatment.

A PSNI freedom of information request showed that in 2013 we spent almost £23m policing parades and protests in Northern Ireland.

We spent £12m between July 2013 and last October 2014, on the Twaddell Avenue protests, almost the same sum as we have to spend on all our victims over the two year period from 2013 -2015! In June this year the Justice Minister said it is costing £333,000 a month. At a time when we do not have enough money to provide essentials such as counselling, physiotherapy and prosthetic limbs, we continue to haemorrhage money into a situation which is exacerbating the existing tensions in North Belfast. And Twaddell Avenue is all just one small part of a legacy of the past with which we are not dealing. Leadership on a massive scale is required in both communities to resolve this issue and to allow this money to be used for the good of all our people, not wasted as it is currently being wasted.

In the past couple of years, we have seen conflict between the Police and the Police Ombudsman, only resolved when the Police Ombudsman brought the Chief Constable to court, problems between the Coroners and the PSNI, massive problems with PSNI’s HET, now abolished, a Chief Constable who has said that he does not have the resources to deal with the past, if he is to police the present, a coronial system which is on its knees with only two Coroners currently in office, one of whom is retiring in October. Our criminal justice system which is supposed to help deliver the Rule of Law is not working properly, and recognition of and support for the Rule of Law must be one of the foundations stones upon which we build the peace. We need more leadership in this area.

Building trust

So, although so much has been done, much remains to be done. This work of peace making can only be incremental and it can be very difficult. What then are the foundations upon we can all work to create that solid sustainable peace for which so many have yearned for so long. I believe that trust is the key to all relationships, and that trust is the product of both knowledge and understanding – when people know the other and understand the other, they see the other no longer as the other but rather as another person who shares their world. When the person shares their world they cease to be such a threat. Part of our problem must be that we still do not, as a society, understand that our Catholicism and our Protestantism should bring us to trust one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, for that is what we are.

Truth and reconciliation

Truth and reconciliation are the foundations upon which trust can grow, and from trust can emerge a society which is truly democratic, in which the rule of law exists and is respected and real, in which there is peace. Real trust is usually the product of knowledge and understanding and relationship. This has been such a large part of the work of Corrymeela. When people know what has happened and why, when they experience a relationship based on respect and love, they can understand, and when they understand they can make a decision as to whether to trust again. Those who have been most seriously hurt will need time and space and reparation, whether by apology and acknowledgement of what has happened, or by the provision of resources – compensation, counselling etc. The complexity of our current situation requires many different initiatives.

The suffering and difficulties of the last years in Northern Ireland are well known, though I think that to some degree we are being encouraged to forget and to “get on with life” when actually we need to acknowledge the unhealed pain and grief, and find ways, be it story telling, art, crafts, listening, memorials or investigation to bring some resolution and some healing.

there is also a fear that such trust as we have grown, such reconciliation as we have achieved might be undermined if we move forward

Yet it seems to me that at governmental levels there is also a fear that such trust as we have grown, such reconciliation as we have achieved might be undermined if we move forward in this process of establishing the truth. There is a tension between the fear of the consequences of revealing the truth, and the needs of the families of those who died, and of society as a whole, which is at the heart of today’s debates.

Conflict, on the scale on which we experienced it is always very messy. And so there are fears, expectations even, that what might emerge from some form of truth telling process, be it through investigation or through hearings such as those conducted by the South African Truth Commission, will be damaging, will contradict the received wisdom in each of the communities, will not be ‘the whole truth.” In the case of South Africa where 7116 people applied for amnesty in return for telling their story, only 1176 got their amnesty, even among those cases it is said that there were people who having been granted amnesty did not tell the whole story. 
In Northern Ireland there are difficult conversations to be had, difficult acknowledgements to be made about wrongdoing by state and non state actors, reparations to be made for injuries suffered, and ultimately acceptance of the realities about which people still hesitate to speak, but which are manifest in cases like Bloody Sunday, in the recovery of the bodies of the Disappeared, stolen from their families, savagely murdered and secretly buried. It must happen if we are to be reconciled as a people.

the question must surely be, “Can we afford not to?”

But as we look towards truth and reconciliation as the foundations for peace, there are those who are asking whether we can afford truth if we seek reconciliation; whether reconciliation which is not based on truth is truly reconciliation, or merely a papering over the cracks. If we cannot face the truth, can we secure that reconciliation which must be the basis of a sustainable peace? As we look at the history of our country, as we contemplate the pain and suffering of the bereaved of the Troubles, the agony of the families of the Disappeared, the ongoing activities of both republican and loyalist paramilitaries, and their effect on our capacity to function as a people, to attract inward investment and to consolidate the peace, the question must surely be, “Can we afford not to?”

It can be very hard for people to admit the truth, to acknowledge the truth, even to learn the truth, when it is a truth which they find so difficult to accept. So truth is not easy.

As the great American poet Maya Angelou said,

“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be un-lived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

We need to face our truth with courage if we are to build a sustainable peace.

Reconciliation, I think is a process which looks outward and forward and which brings together elements which belong together, but which have been torn apart. In our Church sense we talk about reconciliation as being the process of acknowledgement of wrong doing, of repentance, of a commitment to make reparation and a desire never to be separated again, and of forgiveness. That process can apply to society. It needs trust and trust has been absent from our society, and from so many others which have been in conflict for decades. Reconciliation is about not letting the past dictate the future. It is about bringing together the goodness of all the disparate parts of our divided community and working on those foundations, rather than allowing the evil of the past to separate us in the future, as it has divided us in the past. That, I think has been much of the focus of the workmen Corrymeela over the decades.


There is also inherent in this agenda of truth and reconciliation, the concept of healing. I think healing is a process which is personal and inward looking. It is of the soul and the mind and the body. Healing is the balm for the soul, the mending of the broken, the fusing of the shattered, the making whole of that which was torn apart. I do not believe that societies heal. I believe that they may be reconciled, but it is the wounds and pains of individuals which can be healed. And sometimes it is through truth that people are finally healed. It is fundamental to what we believe as Christians. As Jesus said “”If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

All these things must come together to create a functional society. If we do not allow truth, if we resist reconciliation, the trauma and anguish, the unfinished business will continue to echo through our days, until eventually we are forced to deal with them. And the suspicions and distrust which run through our society, reaching to the very highest levels will continue to undermine our fragile peace.

So what are the foundations, the values, upon which we can build the structures identified in the Storming House Agreement, to allow us to consolidate our peace?

I saw a brave mother, all of 5 feet tall, take the arm of her six foot tall teenage son and drag him away from the protest

Courage is necessary – I think of one situation in Harryville, during the protests. I saw a brave mother, all of 5 feet tall, take the arm of her six foot tall teenage son and drag him away from the protest. She must have destroyed his street cred. but she was a brave woman. I have watched leading republicans protect British soldiers from attack during rioting.

Our politicians need the courage to work across our divisions, so that people are not trapped in local government regimes which are manifestly sectarian.

We need the courage to name the wrongdoing (such as the lack of provision, the inappropriate locations in which people were dumped in social housing without access to shops and schools) , not to deny it but to build beyond it; to face what has gone wrong in the past, and to care for people who present as the problem as well as those who think they have the solutions.

We need genuine compassion and love, walking with people in their suffering and their healing. We need to really listen to those who live in the difficult areas and facilitating and enabling their involvement in the identification and implementation of solutions.

We need all the key agencies and organisations to be flexible, to acknowledge past failings, and to work together constructively to build the future, particularly those responsible for housing, transport, community regeneration, city and county authorities and the police.

It is work in which wounds can be opened, and people know again the pain of their anguish

We have come now to a place and a time when we can very often carefully and respectfully meet and talk about these things, to enable the understanding which will allow us to embed peace in our society. We can work together to improve our environment. We can try and create the situation in which instead of building more peace walls, as we are at the moment we can start dismantling them – but only when those who live within the shadow of their protection want them to be dismantled. Because we want our people to feel as safe as they can. We want them to have jobs and training and hope. It is work in which wounds can be opened, and people know again the pain of their anguish, but sometimes the opening of the wound brings with it healing and healing enables the person to move forward, and so, slowly, slowly we move to peace.

Trust is the product of that moving towards peace. Healing, acknowledgment of truth, reconciliation will all bring us to trust the there and ourselves. We need to develop our capacity to trust.

And we need integrity - integrity in each of us, so that we determine how we will act in accordance with what we believe, with the values which underpin our lives, and we need absolute integrity in our governance and in those who govern us. And to ensure integrity we need effective modes of accountability, so that we can weed out any corruption or partiality.

So those are my four pillars upon which we can build a sustainable and genuine peace: courage, compassion and love, trust, and integrity.

If they form the basis for action, then we can build the structures of the Stormont House Agreement in a way which will not divide us. In caring for and in respecting the dignity of who still bear the wounds and trauma of the Troubles we may bring some peace into individual lives, and prevent that ongoing trans-generational trauma to which I referred earlier.

The key then to our ability to build a sustainable peace is individual action. Necessary change must occur in each heart and mind. It is the work which Corrymeela was founded for, and it is not yet done. So much more is required of each of us so that we can reach out in generosity to all our brothers and sisters. The way we do it will depend on our situations: but if those in government act with courage, compassion and love, integrity and trust they will do what is right for us, our limited resources will be spent for the common good, rather than in perpetuating division by building multiple sports stadiums and policing protest. If those in communities, whether the community of the family, the community of the school or the workplace, the community of council or the Assembly, or the wider community really seek to build peace in every interaction of every day, there will be peace.

it is perhaps appropriate to end with some words which are attributed to St Augustine of Hippo, and to bring to God in thanksgiving and hope this, your work of peace making. God of our life, there are days when the burdens we carry chafe our shoulders and weigh us down; when the road seems dreary and endless, the skies grey and threatening; when our lives have no music in them,  and our hearts are lonely, and our souls have  lost their courage.  Flood the path with light, run our eyes to where the skies are full of promise; tune our hearts to brave music; give us the sense of comradeship with heroes and saints of every age; and so quicken our spirits that we may be able to encourage the souls of all who journey with us on the road of life, to Your honour and glory.  Nuala O’Loan