This month was the 25th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement- effectively ending The Troubles in Northern Ireland between the British and the Irish Republican Army. Many tributes in the US and Ireland have been playing. Including interviews with the architects of the agreement, which included American President Bill Clinton.
I’ve been watching videos and reading articles about how they got it done. A monumental task. Something that seemed so impossible after decades of violence, more than 3000 deaths, and hundreds of years of British oppression going back to The Plantation of Ireland in the 16th and 17th centuries. I guess it’s because I am Irish. Parts of my DNA are like a map of the entire west of Ireland, from County Cork along the wild Atlantic, all the way to Donegal. When we visited Ireland – as when we visited the Highlands of Scotland – I was vibrating. It was as if my blood started singing We’re Home!! There were places that spoke to me. I can’t explain it. But there was one place we visited that had nothing to do with my DNA. The walled city of Derry in Northern Ireland.
Visiting Derry is like walking through time that stretches back centuries. Except, that in few places in the world is time so readily within your grasp, because history in Derry is fresh. I wrote about our eye opening and heart breaking visit over New Year’s 2018 here.
Listening to those who crafted and negotiated The Good Friday Agreement I am struck by several things. First, their audacity. The belief it could actually happen. And, second, their willingness to sit down with people they were sworn to eliminate. Bill Clinton made a powerful statement in a recent interview.
‘It was a big adjustment. People had to get over the fact [and come to terms with] that in order to get well, they may never get even. And to learn to trust.’
The truest words for any healing or reconciliation.
As President, Clinton had to do things his allies and his own State Department told him he could not do. And his handshake on the streets of Belfast with Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams made manifest his commitment to bringing the two sides to the table to hammer out a final lasting peace. 94% of Ireland ratified the agreement. 74% of Northern Ireland did the same. At long last, a bloody page in history was turned.
Watching the news over the past couple of weeks, the gun violence in the US is on nearly every news website’s banner. It seems that America is not in a war with anyone but itself. Having grown up in a house with many more guns than people, I will tell you that more guns is never, ever the answer for peaceful cohabitation. Living under the threat of violence is no way to live. In your own home or in a civil society.
There are those that say that criminals will always have guns. So all citizens should be armed. But violence has only increased as more and more guns are sold and gun laws passed relaxing or removing ownership restrictions. And weapons of war have entered every US neighborhood after the assault weapons ban was allowed to expire. Its as though Americans worship only one amendment to the Constitution. The right to a well regulated militia. And it appears in the US as if everyone has joined up or started a militia of their own. Somehow we have extended the right to bear arms to machine guns. I heard an uneducated person interviewed on US TV after a mass shooting recently. <she said so casually as mass shootings have become too commonplace> He said ‘Guns are our God given right.’ I wasn’t sure which religious text he was referring to, but it has to be one they don’t teach in any Comparative Religion class I have heard of. Guns are a relatively modern invention not covered in scripture by the main religions of the world, including Christianity.
The recent shooting of black 16 yr old honor student, Ralph Yarl in Kansas City, Missouri this month broke my heart. How does a boy get shot ringing a doorbell? The old man fired through a glass door! And the 85 year old may get away with it simply by stating he was ‘Afraid.’ Missouri’s Stand Your Ground law will afford him protection. Unbelievable. But why are Americans so afraid? The rest of the world doesn’t suffer from this kind of collective psychosis of fear, unless they are living in a war zone. And a self inflicted war is what Americans are creating, for themselves and their children.
Our students as young as five participate in monthly Active Shooter drills in school. Babies taught to hide and to be afraid. And we call this the price of Freedom. Where is the freedom to grow up without fear? The Bill of Rights allows for the Pursuit of Happiness, for godsake. How is the 2nd Amendment serving those children’s happiness? And, with our ability to turn a blind eye to mass school shootings its no wonder we don’t seem to care about anything but the right to open carry in a daycare center. As of this week, in Florida you don’t even need a license to buy a gun.
The only way The Good Friday Agreement got done, according to former President Clinton, was that the people got out ahead of the politicians. After a generation grew up knowing nothing but armed occupation, brutality and terrorism, they wanted, and demanded, that the violence stop. And that politicians do something to stop it.
I look at the parallels between Northern Ireland in the 1990’s and the US today. I watch the young people marching in the streets for change. And, yet again, the people are ahead of the entrenched, backward thinking American politicians. Protesters are demanding to stop the culture of violence and the insanity of rabid protections for guns over people. But I wonder which politicians will have the courage of Blair, Clinton, Adams and Ahern. In 2023? To stand up and say Enough is Enough!! Who will our heroes be and when will they emerge? To shepherd the end to gun violence through the congress/statehouse, and get it done. I keep listening. But, sadly, so far…it’s crickets.