Northern Ireland is a society pervaded with distrust” – Archbishop Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland

05 May 2004


5 MAY 2004






* “British Government must go extra mile to reform policing. It has
failed to address the activities of Special Branch and British Military

* “Protestants must accept full implications of the Good Friday Agreement
and the legitimacy of the nationalist aspiration to a united Ireland”

* “Catholics must vigorously challenge actions of non-democratic armed
groups in our community”

The Most Reverend Dr Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland,
today (6 pm) addressed the St Ethelburga’s Centre for Peace and Reconciliation,
78 Bishop’s Gate London, on the topic “Faith and Identity – a Catholic Perspective
on Northern Ireland.”

Archbishop Brady said, “It seems that, in spite of the great progress of recent
years, it was the issue of building trust between the two communities that was
to prove the most critical and the most difficult to secure as the effort to
sustain the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement evolved. People often say
that the first victim of war is the truth. In my experience, the first victim of
violence or of injustice, is trust. It is no coincidence that Senator George
Mitchell was able to record in one of his first Reports on the progress of the
Good Friday Agreement that ‘Common to many of our meetings were arguments, steeped
in history, as to why the other cannot be trusted. As a consequence, even well-
intentioned acts were often viewed with suspicion and hostility.’

“Northern Ireland is a society pervaded with distrust. The faltering, stop-start
pattern of the peace process since the signing of the Agreement in 1998, has its
roots in this inherent capacity to distrust. Yet trust is a necessary precondition
for everything else: for a peaceful sharing of space together, for sharing power
and responsibility, for reconciliation. As long as we distrust each other we live
defensive lives and define our identity in exclusive and excluding ways. What we
are discovering more and more in Northern Ireland, is that for reconciliation to
be possible, and for lasting peace to take hold, people must do all that is within
their power to remove fear and to build trust.

“And here again I suggest, it is the vocabulary of faith which has something
important to offer in terms of moving our community beyond the debilitating cycle
of fear and distrust, which lies at the heart of our current impasse. It is found
in the specifically Christian concept of supererogation – the duty to go the extra
mile, to do more than is reasonable or justified in our own terms, for the sake of
the common or greater good.”

Archbishop Brady continued, “For Catholics and Nationalists, this going the extra
mile to create trust would mean vigorously challenging any ambivalence that continues
to exist in our own community about the presence or actions of non-democratic and
totally unaccountable armed groups in our own community. In my work as Archbishop,
I meet more and more Catholics who are concerned about the sense of control being
exerted by powerful individuals or paramilitary groups in their local areas,
sometimes subtly, sometimes violently. The Catholic community cannot seek a more
just, free and equal society and at the same time be patient with the forces in
our own community which contradict these principles. We cannot swap old forms of
captivity and oppression for new ones. The referenda by the Irish people, on both
sides of the border, on the Good Friday Agreement, was an act of self-determination
by the people of Ireland. Then they declared clearly and unequivocally that there
is no further need of violence to resolve or pursue the question of a United Ireland,
or indeed to maintain the Union. I believe it is now time to face up to the full
implications of that act of self-determination.

“No doubt some people will say that such gestures are treated with contempt by
those for whom they are intended to encourage trust. But this is to miss the point.
The Catholic community should remove itself totally from the legacy of violence
as an expression of our own self-confidence, confidence in our own ability to pursue
issues through political means, to construct a new Ireland in a peaceful and
constructive manner through discussion, dialogue and debate.

“Going the extra mile for the Catholic community would also mean moving beyond the
many historic and legitimate reasons they have for distrusting the police to taking
shared responsibility for the administration of law and order and continuing to ensure
its reform. The Catholic Church was very clear about the need to reform the police
when the issue was subjected to independent and international scrutiny. We share some
of the disappointment about the manner in which this matter was handled by the British
Government. This in itself contributed to a lack of trust, as has the failure to
address sufficiently the deep distrust that continues to exist in relation to the
activities of Special Branch and British Military Intelligence. But the fact remains
that many nationalist areas are crying out for effective policing in Northern Ireland
and this cannot be provided until support from the Catholic community has been maximised.
For this reason it is vital that enough is done to maximise the confidence of the Catholic
community in the new beginning to policing which has already begun, but also the
participation of the Catholic community, to the maximum extent possible in that
ongoing process of reform from within and with others, envisaged by the Patten

“Going the extra mile for Catholics and Nationalists would also mean assuming some
responsibility for creating greater confidence in the Protestant community about
the future of their religious, cultural and political identity.”

Archbishop Brady continued, “For Protestants and Unionists, on the other hand, going
the extra mile would mean accepting the full implications of the principles enshrined
in the Good Friday Agreement; the legitimacy of the nationalist aspiration to a united
Ireland; the presence of people with an Irish identity in Northern Ireland and the full
implications of this identity in terms of the need for credible north-south institutions.
It would mean accepting the legacy of violence and threat of violence on the part of
the unionist community which led to the foundation of the Northern Ireland State and
its continued existence. It would mean recognising the right to parity of esteem for
the Nationalist community, including the right to expressions and celebration of
Nationalist identity. In particular, it would mean addressing any ambivalence in the
Unionist community in relation to loyalist violence. In my experience, it is more
than just a perception that Unionist leaders, British politicians and the British
media do not treat the existence of the loyalist paramilitaries with the same vigour
and determination as that of republican paramilitaries. This not only leads to further
resentment and distrust of unionists and of the British State on the part of Catholics
(to whom their violence is directed), it also reinforces any ambivalence which
nationalists might have to the presence of republican paramilitaries in their community
as a line of final defence.”

Archbishop Brady continued, “Other important sources of distrust in this regard include
the endless allegations of collusion between the security services in Britain, the
security forces in Northern Ireland and loyalist paramilitaries listed in, among other
places, the Stephen’s Inquiry. It is difficult to underestimate the impact of these
allegations on the confidence of the Catholic community in the impartiality of the
British Government generally and in the new beginning to policing in particular. This
is an area for which only the British Government can take responsibility. The failure
to honour the commitments given in relation to the Cory Collusion Inquiry Reports and
the call for a Public Inquiry into the murder of Mr Pat Finucane, are not only
unacceptable, they have served to compound the sense of suspicion which exists about
the extent of collusion, and about the continued influence of these same elements of
the security services right into the present. The reform of Special Branch within the
Police Service of Northern Ireland and the recognition of the disproportionate presence
of British Army personnel and structures within Nationalist areas, provides the British
Government with ample opportunity to make practical gestures which could inspire further
momentum and trust.

“In terms of building an atmosphere of trust and confidence, the value of creating
dynamics of blame and counter-blame is also deeply questionable. Such dynamics contribute
nothing to the creation of understanding. Indeed, it is possible to argue that they further
undermine it by rehearsing well established obstacles to progress rather than developing
creative solutions to the conflict. Individuals or organisations which contribute to the
blame game rarely contribute anything new. Locking ourselves into cycles of blame and
counter-blame do not bring solutions any closer. In the words of the German philosopher
Hannah Arendt, the primary requirements for people to live together are ‘their willingness
to enter into promises and agreements and to keep them; and their willingness to set aside
the past – its broken promises and agreements, its enmity and its vicious circles of
action and reaction – and to start anew.’ This is a time to start anew, not to recriminate
about what we already know.

Archbishop Brady concluded, “I appreciate that these are challenging and very practical
comments. But trust itself can only be created through concrete actions which create
confidence in the other, from the words we use to the political decisions we take. This
is why I have felt it necessary to outline these gestures of trust in such practical
terms. The basic principles of the resolution of this historic conflict have not
changed. What is required now is to face the most challenging aspects of what has
already been agreed and to go the extra mile – preferably in the shoes of the other.

“Immense progress has been made in recent years and I personally remain very confident
that this progress can be consolidated in the coming months by people doing all in their
power to go the extra mile, to take that extra step into the unimaginable gesture or the
unthinkable shift of position which can create deeper and more enduring trust. If we
can resolve the remaining issues, then the future for the whole of our society in
Northern Ireland will be brighter and more certain than heretofore.

“Some of the creative proposals that are emerging from the political parties at this
stage are encouraging and deserve careful and constructive consideration. We should
not let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

“I notice that it was out of the fragments of the old east window of this Church, that
people of generosity and heroic faith were able to construct the striking depiction of
St. Ethelburga gathering up broken fragments in the window which now replaces it. It
is a symbol, in your own words, of the brokenness of the past and of the reconciling
mission of the Church in the future. I hope that what I have said to you this evening
has demonstrated in some small way that people like St. Ethelburga, who find the truth
about their human identity in their religious faith, can play a powerful role in gathering
up the fragments of conflict and division. The brokenness of Northern Ireland’s past
is a powerful testimony to the dangers of an uncritical relationship between faith and
identity based on themes of superiority, exclusion and distrust. But Northern Ireland’s
present is testimony to the healing, restoring power of those who believe to bring about
a new approach to conflict rooted in the values of forgiveness, reconciliation and
justice. The key to which of these prevails lies in the religious language we choose
to emphasize within our own tradition at any given time. In this regard, the renewed
emphasis on the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, such a dominant theme in the life of
St. Patrick, must be a source of hope and confidence for all those who see the
relationship between unity in diversity as a critical issue for the future of the
world, indeed of this very society. This most fundamental conviction of the Christian
tradition provides the ultimate motive and model for living constructively with
difference. It enables us to see difference as an opportunity for mutual enrichment
rather than an obstacle. It calls Christians to a sense of mutuality and inter-
dependence, themes which are becoming increasingly important in our increasingly
diverse, yet interdependent world.

“In the end, the relationship between faith and identity is always a struggle between
the language of dominance, exclusion and superiority and the language of mutual
liberation, interdependence and acts of trust. The Anglican Croatian theologian
Miroslav Volf captures this choice in the powerful metaphor of exclusion and embrace.
Let me end with his words:

There can be no justice, no resolution to conflict, without the will to embrace…
My point is simple: to create justice you must, [like the persons of the Trinity]
make space in yourself for the other, in order to make that space, you need to want
to embrace the other. If you insist that others do not belong to you and you to them,
or that you will have your justice and they will have theirs; your justices will
clash and there will be no peace between you. The key to peace, therefore, is the
will to embrace.”


Further information:
Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Brenda Drumm Communications Officer (087 233 7797)

Notes for Editors
* Archbishop Seán Brady is Primate of All Ireland and President of the Irish Bishop’s
Conference. The Irish Bishops’ Conference (IBC) is the collective term used to
describe the formal meetings held between all 35 Catholic bishops. The bishops
meet at least on a quarterly basis. Bishops are represented on the IBC from all
the 26 dioceses in Ireland (32 counties).

* Archbishop Brady’s speech is part of a lecture series entitled “Faith and Identity”.
Other speakers include: the Church of Ireland Primate, Archbishop Robin Eames; the
Rev. Frank Chikane, Director General, Department in the Presidency, South Africa;
Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg and high profile speakers representing the Muslim, Bosnian,
Sikh, Hindu and Buddhist communities. For further details on St. Ethelburga’s see
their website

* Full details of Archbishop Brady’s speech are available on
Click here to access the full text of the Archbishops’s address.