CW88 – Reconciliation: Overcoming barriers across the Irish border

By Revd Dr Stephen Skuce, Methodist Church in Ireland Northwestern District Superintendent


What does reconciliation look like in a rural community that has been attacked for simply being the people we are?  The answer is ‘complicated’.

The Northwestern district of the Methodist Church in Ireland includes the full border between the two jurisdictions, with about a quarter of our district in the Republic of Ireland.  Most of the northern churches are fairly close to the border.

You will know perhaps of the Enniskillen Remembrance Day bomb, and the Omagh bombing. Both included our members among the dead and injured. The Warrenpoint attack in which 18 soldiers died is at one side of our district and on the western edge of the district, Lord Mountbatten and three others were murdered. Dozens of our members have been killed and countless others attacked, threatened and so on. The memorial tablets in our border churches sometimes refer to 1914-18 or 1939-45, but all too often refer to those of us murdered far more recently.

That was then, but still also now. The long shadow of our history still affects us. Brexit and its clear implications significantly jeopardise peace. We want to move on, but Brexit pulls us back.

I currently live in Strabane/Lifford. The two parts of the town are separated by a river that is also an international border. Brexit has made that border harder again.

It’s hard to focus on reconciliation when you live near the border and experience systematic attacks over generations.  We are far from claiming a monopoly of suffering. That is sadly a widely shared experience but is sharpened in rural areas where we know each other. We work with each other. We farm alongside each other, lend each other equipment and buy our livestock from each other.

We may be educated separately, largely socialise separately and follow some different sports, but we are neighbours.  So, when we have been attacked, it was by those who live close by. We live beside neighbours who somehow saw nothing and knew nothing about an attack. These aren’t distant wars. This is over the hedge. Reconciliation is a decades long struggle.

Methodists have been outstanding in the search for peace. The work and price paid by Gordon Wilson after his injury and death of Marie, his daughter, in the Enniskillen bombing is perhaps well known. A Methodist minister, Harold Good, was one of two witnesses to the IRA’s decommissioning of their weapons and the UVF announced their ceasefire in a Belfast Methodist church.

We’re trying our best. On the same day as the Enniskillen bombing the border village of Pettigo/Tullyhommon was also targeted by a bomb aimed at the children gathering for the Remembrance Day parade at the Methodist church. That bomb failed to go off but the legacy of the attempted attack on the Protestant children of that community, all part of a systematic ethnic cleansing campaign, is hard. But today we enjoy a shared community building in the Methodist Church that is used by all.

The price of peace is very high.  We have been required to let murderers walk free.  We have to stop searching for justice and accept government from those who targeted us. We are willing to pay that price because we are Christian people of hope and a future.  It will get better, although it’s not guaranteed. But it’s even harder to overcome barriers when you live on the border.

CW88 – Reconciliation: Parliamentary column

By Lord Curry of Kirkharle, Crossbench peer and former chair of NFU Mutual

What a problem it was deciding where to go on holiday this year. ‘Let’s go to Portugal or Iceland because they are on the green list. Oh dear, they have now been changed to amber so we have to quarantine when we return! Why don’t we find a staycation somewhere in the UK instead?’

A staycation! We used to search for a B&B, or a cottage, or a campsite, or a nice little hotel in the Lake District or Devon, but now it’s a staycation – whatever that is! Isn’t it remarkable how new words and phrases become embedded in our vocabulary.

This has been a particular feature of the pandemic. We now talk very glibly about ‘self-isolation’ and ‘social distancing’, phrases never used until 2020. How heartbreaking it has been for so many families when loved ones have died in a care home or a hospital bed, alone. Another distressing aspect has been coping with separation. Separation from family and friends, and worst of all, unable to enjoy much needed hugs.

‘Levelling up’ is another new phrase and is now an important Government policy, but it is a complex issue given the North – South divide and the Government’s efforts concentrated on the, so called, ‘red wall’ parliamentary constituencies.
Sadly, similar divisions exists between rural and urban so if you live in the rural north, as I do, we have a double ‘levelling up’ whammy to be addressed.

I was a member of the House of Lords’ Rural Economy Committee whose report in 2020 included the need to ‘rural proof’ Government policies to ensure they consider rural communities. Government accepted this, but rejected the recommendation to produce a ‘rural strategy.’ Too often in the past policies have been drafted by those who live in cities with no knowledge of the countryside and those who live in it.

Lots of new bills are progressing through Parliament, having left the EU, such as the Agriculture Bill, the Trade Bill, the Environment Bill and the Skills Bill. All will impact the countryside, in particular the way farming will be encouraged to deliver ‘public goods’ through the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme, replacing direct support farmers have received since 1947. It is essential that family farms are given sound advice on how to benefit from this change to survive and, hopefully, prosper.

Many people living in the countryside felt ‘socially distanced’ from their urban cousins long before Covid so the challenge is not new! Indeed, there are lots of biblical examples of social divisions – rich and poor, Jew and Gentile. In the story Jesus told of the Good Samaritan in Luke chapter 10, ‘the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans’ but that social gap was resolved in that instance by a ‘good’ and generous person who cared. Stating we care about rural issues and recognising the concerns about ‘levelling up’, about ‘social isolation’ has to be demonstrated by action on ‘rural proofing’ to ensure rural communities and rural business do enjoy ‘shared prosperity’.

Jesus set the perfect example, of course, through His humility and loving care, and ultimately through His reconciling sacrifice. He gave His disciples and us the personal instruction to ‘follow me.’


CW81: From chaos and absurdity

‘God has rescued us from chaos and absurdity and called us into the life of his kingdom.’

Earlier this year the US government experienced the longest period of shutdown in its history in a fight over a border wall costing billions of dollars. At the same time Brexit was dominating the political agenda in the UK. And a picture of an egg got 25 million ‘likes’ on Instagram. If ever there was chaos and absurdity, we seem to be living in a world which both revels in and generates it.

CW78: Growing Together – Crossing Borders

As the whole of Europe, and these islands in particular, seek to manage the implications of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, lots and lots of heat is being generated, but often not a lot of light. Some continue to strike forward, others seek to rewind the clock. And some just try to ignore it and get on with everyday life.

CW75: Brexit: A time for unity

In the last twelve months, Brexit has come to dominate our public, and often our private, discourse. With polarising rhetoric and binary choice between ‘leave’ and ‘remain’ it has left fault lines running through communities across the UK. George Dunn, CEO of the Tenant Farmers Association, considers how churches might respond.

Brexit Conference: Seminar notes

Brexit Conference: RuSource

Brexit Conference: Brexit and the Natural Environment (RSPB)

Brexit Conference: The road from somewhere (Rose Regeneration)

Brexit Conference: Brexit and the rural future (NFU)