From The Rt Revd Harold Miller, Bishop of Down and Dromore
The last days have been tragic and difficult ones in Northern Ireland, and especially in East Belfast which is in the Diocese of Down and Dromore. Protests have taken place about a decision of Belfast City Council to fly the Union Flag only on designated days on Belfast City Hall, rather than 365 days a year, and many of these protests have led to scenes of violence and mayhem, which have become a regular occurrence, and which have been broadcast throughout the world.
Lying behind all of this is the sense in parts of the loyalist community that they have lost a great deal over the past years, especially in terms of identity, and that has led to a fear of the future being uncertain. These protests have given a platform to a new generation of younger ‘loyalists’ who have never been through the suffering of the earlier ‘troubles’ but who have imbibed the sectarianism of the past. It is also happening alongside the dangerous re-grouping of dissident republicans which has been the concern of the police for some time.
Those who have experienced the divisions and violence of the past in Northern Ireland are deeply concerned about the potential trajectory which is in place at the moment. The adrenalin flowing, the sense of purpose and significance provided by violence, and the urban myths spread all too easily by social media - often believed and passed on without being checked out - are a dangerous and heady mix.
I have personally observed at first hand some of the violence, the throwing of petrol bombs and bricks at the police, the threatening atmosphere of gathered crowds in the semi-darkness, the burning of cars, and the fear in old people and families living nearby as their neighbourhoods are rubbished. I have asked how the Gospel of the Prince of Peace can be proclaimed and lived out in this context, and I have been brought back again and again to the vulnerability of the Christ-child, born in a world of dangerous political intrigue and power-broking.
I am asking all of our Christian brothers and sisters wherever they are, to pray for us: for wisdom for the churches in what they say and live, for the grace of God to extend even to those intent on destruction, and for the Spirit of Love and Peace to be poured out again, so that we may learn to live together in harmony and to love one another with the costly love of forgiveness and reconciliation across all divides.
Down and Dromore