Centre for the Study of Conflict
School of History, Philosophy and Politics,
Faculty of Humanities, University of Ulster
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SECTION FOUR: HOLY WAR IN THE BELFAST AREA (continued)
(b) The Churches and Schools
Walkerstown Primary has suffered a steep decline in numbers. This reflects both the ongoing population and the process of Protestant flight from Walkerstown.
"We declined very fast in the 70s Now the numbers are going down slowly. Its partly a population trend. We have very few Roman Catholic children. On the far side of the Walkerstown High Street there’d be mostly Roman Catholics taking up the housing. I doubt if Protestants would invest in a long-term house over there. I notice there’s quite a lot of houses in Clonderg and that part of Glenfoot Road empty. We lost quite a lot of children when Prison Officers moved out to Maghaberry. I don ‘t know if that accounts for it entirely. Its certainly a feeling that’s around whether its true or not. Drum glass has had a baleful impact on that side of town. You don’t get much integration. The Minister would express himself about it, parents not. There’s new housing going up by the by-pass and I rang up the company advertising. They said that most of the people are from West Belfast." (Primary School Headmaster)
The school reflects the deeply pessimistic outlook of most of the Protestants in Walkerstown. The sense of slow take over, of imperial encroachment by an alien group, is very strong. The encroachment is not friendly, but it is inevitable. The Presbyterian Minister is chairman of the school boards of the Primary School and of Walkerstown High. He too reflected the sense of Protestant decline.
"Every house that changes hands here goes Roman Catholic... The main cause for this is the building of the big St. Joseph’s complex. I’m Chairman of the Primary School and Secondary School boards. At one time in the High School we had almost 1000. Now were down to 600, in 10 years. We’ve made teachers redundant every year in the last 10 years. The Roman Catholic school have been adding to their staff We are the extension of the Falls Road. All the streets are changing. Its one-way traffic. Their better people are all trying to escape from their own and buy in Malone."
Church involvement with schools seems to be through the school boards rather than direct contact with children.
"The Presbyterian Minister is chairman of our Board. The Church of Ireland Rector is on it. He takes the Church of Ireland children every Tuesday. He ‘s the only visiting clergyman we have. The Presbyterian Minister’s attitude is that the school does the RE very well. When I taught elsewhere the ministers all came in and took all the kids. They saw it as an infallible way to meet people. There isn’t that here. A higher percentage than I expected are Church of Ireland. We have quite placid relations with the Church. What would raise a problem is that the Presbyterian Minister doesn’t like the Non-subscribing Presbyterians. He ‘s a wee bit jealous of other ministers as well, he likes things just to go on." (Teacher)
The attitude in the school towards R.E. is much more indirect than elsewhere. It indicates one end of a wide ranging spectrum.
"I’d be very delighted if the Government would cease backing R.E. and leave it to the Churches. I see R.E. as very important. To me the effective R.E. here takes place through the Scripture Union not the formal setting. I don’t think the Church-School connection has done either any good in here. I don’t really like denominational schools. I’m not anti-religious. I’m an elder and I play the organ in my own Churches." (Headmaster)
The sense of decline is added to by the obvious buoyancy of the local Roman Catholic school. The Protestant Primary School has declined to 200 pupils. There is a sense that integration is impossible and the blame for this is placed on Catholic policy.
"The priest and headmaster of their school are hardline on Catholic children going to Catholic schools. It appears that the Church doesn‘t like it. Under E.M. U. (Education for Mutual Understanding) we’ve very good relations with St. Peter’s in Dunroe. Our P7s go to games together every Friday at Olympia on the Boucher Road. We’ve had no problems there. I thought there might be more problems because the local Free Presbyterian Minister sends his children here. Nothings been said." (Headmaster)
The Catholic Primary School is bursting at the seams. There are now 35 classes, five groups each of P1 to P7s. The total number of children now exceeds 1100. This figure is very seriously distorted by the difference in the catchment areas of the two schools. Nevertheless the growth and decline which the figures would suggest remain true. The contrast in atmosphere could not be more stark.
"We do a lot of our teaching in mobiles because the school has grown so fast. At one time this would have been predominantly Protestant. Now there‘s few non-Catholics now. They used to be very well intermixed. Its not so true now in Walkerstown." (Teacher)
The attitude to the place of the Church in the school reflects Catholic tradition throughout Northern Ireland:
"We depend on the parish. If you like its like the three musketeers, the school, the parents and the parish. That’s what we try to get. I’m very happy with it. The only things I’d like is that the parents did more. The parish is very involved. We’ve a parents association and its second to none. The parish priest is president and I’m vice-president and they have a chairman and a committee The fact of being a Roman Catholic school is essential. There’s no justification for Roman Catholic schools except to further the Catholic faith. At the primary level its very important that the teachers have an active faith. The preparation for the sacraments has to be done with conviction. I’d go 100% for that. The main function of the Catholic school is to prepare the children for the sacraments." (Headmaster)
The centrality of the school-parish link and the place of the sacraments underlines the differences in approach between the State (Protestant) and Catholic schools. The importance of committed teachers indicates the degree to which Catholic schools are conceived as an integrated part of a whole community. This internal integration no doubt eases many problems within the school system. The difficulty arises because this internal integration contrasts so sharply with external disintegration and the almost explicit sense that the separateness of Catholic education is necessary because it is ‘closer to the truth’ than the Protestant alternative. The intimate relationship between integration and disintegration is what makes this question so vexed. Within the fold, there is a generous openness at times, represented in the comments of one teacher.
"Our education is based on two precepts; Love God and Love Your Neighbour. I’ve a very simple view of religion. I try and do my best. I curse like a trooper when the time comes. We’ve room for the sinner." (Catholic teacher).
At the same time there is a suspicion that the education on offer elsewhere is wanting. There is a necessity for Catholic children to be educated separately which lies even deeper than the failings of the State system. This can be read as an implicit claim that the Catholic Church has more of "the truth" than any other group including other Protestant Churches. The line drawn by St. John’s Parish is in terms of day to day schooling. They are enthusiastic supporters of E.M.U. and of contact to reduce threat.
"We support E.M. U. completely. St. John’s is linked with Ballyray Primary School and St. Peter’s is linked to Walkerstown. " (Parish Priest)
"We’re combined with Ballyray Primary under the E.M. U. scheme. Beforehand we were part of a NICED pilot project which included a whole group of local schools but our nearest neighbours are Ballyray. We’ve a combined trip to the baths for P6 and P7 on Wednesday. We get the odd talk about Linfield and Celtic. Last year we went with the P7’s to the Share Centre near Enniskillen. Then the P3’s put on a joint play before Christmas. We‘ve just started to share resources for computers. We have a computer and the teachers from Ballyray come up here and use it." (Headmaster)
The commitment to EMU is complete provided it is within a parallel system rather than complete integration.
In Walkerstown both Catholics and Protestants share the same territory. The State School seemed more concerned about Catholics ‘not allowing’ their children to attend State Schools, while the Catholic school was keen to encourage cross-community meetings within the context of separate schools. The objection of Catholic schools to mixing was the loss of a Catholic ‘ethos’ while the Protestant school preferred to consider removing Religious Education from the school curriculum. Within such circumstances dialogue on fundamental issues is clearly very difficult.
The situation on the estates is different primarily because the schools serve areas which are exclusively Protestant or Catholic. As such there is no local dispute about schools, no local divide, primarily because the divide is already in place through the fact that the estates are residential ghettos.
Drumglass was initially planned as a mixed estate. The onset of the troubles led to a Protestant withdrawal and an influx of Catholic families fleeing intimidation in other parts of Belfast. Initially there were two primary schools on the estate, on Catholic, the other part of the State (Protestant) sector. In 1973 the State primary was handed over to the Catholic Church to become St. Anthony’s Primary School, a second maintained Catholic school. This took place after the massive influx of young Catholic families into Drumglass in the early 1970s and the flight of Protestants. Both school boards have a priest in the chair. Nuns from the local convent of the Sisters of Mercy serve as secretary of the Governors.
"I‘m on the board of St. Brigid’s School and I’m the minutes secretary. St. Brigid’s is one of the primary schools. Another sister is on St. Anthony’s board." (Superior, Convent)
At present St. Anthony’s has 300 pupils and St. Brigid’s has 495.
"We’re at the pit in terms of numbers. At one stage our numbers were up to 700. Our purely local intake would be around 400 now. For teachers a new area is great, a lot of promotion. We ‘d three redundancies this year! We’d have a lot of upwardly mobile parents who’d move to Walkerstown. They’d move the children to St. John’s; its seen as more prestigious, more middle class." (St. Brigid’s Headmaster)
The involvement of the Church in the school is regarded as not enough rather than too much.
"Catholicism is the major factor in the school for the children to be brought up in and practice the faith. Its a Catholic school. That’s why the parents send them there. There’s two main sacraments in the schools. Its a way of bringing the whole community together in the preparation for the sacraments. The majority of the children would try and behave in the Church’s way while they’re here. The ones that run with the gang tend to adopt the values of the gang and forget the school. Joyriding is due to lack of parental supervision. its nothing to do with deprivation. If you get a clique, they cause all the trouble.
The Board of Governors is the Parish Priest, the Curate, a nun, parents representatives and nominees from the S.E.E.L.B. The Parish Priest is the chairman, we see him quite often. You find that the Church take care of schools.
I think the Church should be even more involved in schools. I said to the Parish Priest that he can walk into any class at any time he wants. Priests are few and far between on the ground. He’s on that many committees. He’s got an awful lot of work." (Headmaster, St. Brigid’s)
The integrating factor of the school in community life, and of Catholicism in public and private life are here brought into relief. School is part of the training for values in an integrated society. The problem is that it is only integrated in a ghetto. Outside the ghetto, schools are clearly divided. Nevertheless the schools may reflect the reality of division as much as they cause it.
"I use the analogy of the three-legged stool; Parents-Church-School. If one leg is missing or falls ....... The prime educators are the parents. If they fall there’s not a lot the school or the Church can do. I can ‘t see the faith being passed on in an integrated school, especially in the primary school. Even in the early years of secondary its important that its Catholic. I still say you need the Catholic schools. After fifteen its important that they see other faiths. It’s important that the Church schools educate the children in our faith. You can educate the children for tolerance." (St. Anthony’s, teacher)
This highlights a problem of perception which appears to pervade public discussions on the Churches and education. Catholic schools have no sense that the state schools will adequately reflect their values and teaching. This is expressed positively in the sense that Catholic schools add a dimension seriously lacking in state schools. It is also expressed negatively in the sense that Protestantism is characterised as ‘inadequate’ or ‘lesser’ in terms of the teaching of children. In the context of Northern Ireland, the ‘other faith’ referred to above is Protestantism. The implication is that Protestantism is a separate faith, not that both are varieties of the same faith. It assumes that there are clear lines between two monoliths Protestantism and Catholicism. The much messier reality is forgotten, and the divide appears as a wide gulf rather than as a historical fact in a context of diverse beliefs.
Drumglass does not have a partner school in the EMU structure. The difficulties of bringing Protestants onto the estate may be part of this. This was certainly part of the reason why Police Community Relations no longer work in Drumglass.
"We will take part in EMU, but we have to find a Protestant school. We’re into football and netball leagues so the children do meet up. In the early days we were involved with Police Community Relations. The way things were, parents objected to the buses because they feared that they might be targets." (St. Brigid’s, teacher)
If decline is the problem at Walkerstown Primary, and excessive growth the problem in St. John’s then discipline and vandalism are teachers greatest worries in Drumglass. This is related by many people in all Catholic areas to the erosion of the family as the central unit of the integrated Catholic community. There appears to be considerable anxiety in both working-class and middle-class areas about this development.
"Discipline is our biggest problem. A lot of the children come from one-parent families or broken homes. About 15 years ago that was unheard of Its significant now. We’re talking 20, 30, 40 families. That unsettles the kids. The people are very kind but there’s areas of hoods. We’re heavily vandalised. There’s never a week goes by when we’re not vandalised. They just create a mess. I think we’re one of the worst. We’re going through a bad phase. Once it causes so much damage we had to send the kids home. Once school records go, you never get them back." (St. Brigid’s, headmaster)
"We’re now getting a lot of kids from broken marriages. This year we’ve been involved with half a dozen cases at least. I never remember it like that. It seems to be on the increase. I do think that there’s a general falling in the religious commitment. Maybe its a good thing. The old dogmatic people did what they were told." (St. John’s P.S. Headmaster)
This would appear to indicate that there is a growing problem for the Church within the traditional Catholic community, in the sphere of Church influence on social teaching. We saw this in the area of family planning above. We can now begin to see it in the sphere of family breakup.
The Primary Schools in Drumglass are integrated into the community. The same cannot be said of the Secondary School, St. Patrick’s. Even within Drumglass the school has a poor reputation.
"There’s only 220 pupils instead of 900 in St. Patrick’s because its reputation is so bad. The majority of the kids I work with [on the anti-joyriding project] come from that school. There ‘s problems of literacy and numeracy. The school’s not doing its job." (Community Worker)
"I wouldn’t let my kids go round with the ones from that school." (Local Parent)
"I’d be surprised if more that 10 or11 out of a possible 55 would send their children to St. Patrick’s. Part of the problem is that a lot of the girls don’t go. Their mammies went to St. Louise’s so that’s where the kids go. A lot would be sent to St. Genevieve’s. St. Patrick’s has a very bad reputation, but whether it's deserved or not is another matter. The boys that they’re getting are the weaker boys from this school." (St. Brigid’s, Headmaster)
In a setting of bad reputation, community violence, endemic unemployment and disintegrating family life, St. Patrick’s operates in a difficult context. All of the features reinforce each other - unemployment, violence, family breakdown, school reputation.
"This school was built because of the growth of the estate. We spent eight years in mobiles before we got our building. Our situation is made worse because the people are from West Belfast and are ignored by the Council." (St. Patrick’s Headmaster)
This means that the school has faced additional opposition from the local Council;
"We have a situation here where we’re the only school in Northern Ireland ever to take the local authority to the Ombudsman. We originally went for political and religious discrimination but the Ombudsman can’t deal with that. We used the Council Community minibus and it went Dublin to an All-Ireland GAA final. It was alleged that on the return people waved tricolours. Somebody told the paper and the Council banned us from the Minibus for three months without a hearing." (St. Patrick’s Headmaster)
For the moment, it is important to note that the school is not a community focus. The continuing attachment of Drumglass people to other institutions in West Belfast, including both Secondary and Grammar schools emphasises the lack of identity with the estate and the feeling of belonging to a wider West Belfast community.
"Facilities are very limited. There’s isolation here.. It’s a reluctant community in a hostile area with hostile government from the Council... The neighbouring areas are regarded as places of discrimination. Our youngsters wouldn‘t sign on in Dunroe or go to Dunroe Tech."
Rathcrone does not suffer from the same sense of discrimination by the local Council. The schools, one Primary and one Secondary, are generally well respected in the area.
"We’re (clergy) all on the board of the Primary School. The school runs quietly, and the headmaster is a vociferous man. " (Presbyterian Minister)
The main problems faced by the school are the effects of chronic social deprivation on the children. Unlike in Drumglass there is or has been virtually no problem of vandalism.
"This is a working class area. All children live on the estate bar 5% who live in private houses or have grannies who live on the estate. The estate itself has a hell of a percentage not working. About 40% of the kids are from single parent families, mostly as a result of marriage break ups. Often they have only a mother at home." (Headmaster, Primary School)
"There’s very little damage or vandalism. Even teenage boys. I never chase anybody out after school, even teenagers. There‘s fellows drink in the sheds sometimes and by and large they take away their empties. There’s a couple of football pitches. This seems to have worked in terms of vandalism. Graffiti hasn‘t happened on any large scale. We‘ve had a couple of break-ins, none in 1988 though." (Primary School Teacher)
This sense of a calm relationship with the local community is largely reflected by the secondary school.
"There has been a lot of graffiti and some vandalism on the estate, but we've not had too much of it in the school... We run an interview system whereby the parents come in to talk about their children. 95% of parents turn up. We’ve a lot of support in the sense that they’ll come in and talk to us." (Secondary School Headmaster)
The S.E.E.L.B. has developed the facilities of both the Rathcrone schools.
"We have an Adult Education centre open day and evening. We also have an ACE scheme with three workers run by the Council, the school and the Education & Library Board doing environmental work. I look after the day to day running of both." (Secondary School Headmaster)
This contrasts sharply with perceptions of the Council in Drumglass. The Council is perceived as friendly and co-operative. This in part accounts for the absence of any siege mentality in Rathcrone. The Churches relationship to the schools is fairly standard for Northern Ireland.
"The Churches are fairly active. They have direct contact with the school. The Free Presbyterian, Presbyterian, Methodist and Church of Ireland clergy came into the school once a week on a rota basis. The Free Presbyterian is not on the school board. All the others have representatives on the board through the clergy. That’s three out of nine. There’s no hassle. The Churches have never fought over the board.. We don ‘t actually go to the Churches. Our carol service used to be in the Churches but we can use more children in the school." (Primary School Principal)
"Four clerics are on my Board of Governors, four of nine. We would have contact on issues of common interest-assemblies, times of heightened tension, families in need and so on. They come into the school but not on a planned timetable." (Secondary School Principal)
The institutional Church-School links are considerably weaker, highlighting Catholic fears that non-Catholic education does not further religious belief. The teachers in State schools in Walkerstown and Rathcrone either regarded religion as a matter of private concern or as a matter of secondary importance in the school curriculum. The Catholic schools regarded the passing on of the faith as the primary task of the schools. This is a fundamental division of attitude. In State schools religion is taught as one subject under a transcendence of "scientific" truth, whereas Catholic schools teach all subjects under a transcendence of "Catholic" truth. Perhaps the schools problem rests not so much on the Catholic/Protestant divide as on the difference between Catholic and liberal state conceptions of ‘truth’. It may also lie behind the different emphases on the Natural sciences and the Humanities perceived in different reports, especially as they effect Catholic girls.
The Rathcrone schools have not taken part in E.M.U. although both professed a commitment to cross-community work. Nevertheless the headmaster of the Secondary School made qualifications which are as important as the commitment:
‘We have had one or two visits combined with Catholic schools in Ballynahinch, such as the Ski trip. We don’t go with local schools because it would cause trouble. There’s the possibility of discrete informal contact and I’d support that. But I wouldn’t want to see the thing being forced formally from outside. Its not forced by my governors but the government might do it mandatory. I wouldn’t recommend it. I can see it creating a reaction from the paramilitaries. I don’t come under any pressure from paramilitaries, though somebody asked for a change in our history course. They never came back.... I have some personal contact with the principals of the Catholic schools. We have things in common. There’s not a lot on pupil level." (Secondary School Headmaster)
"I would know the heads of local schools - Roman Catholic too; St. Peter’s, St. John’s, Drum glass. We meet at head-teachers meetings, at in-service causes. The Board has a system of local teachers meetings. We have a special learning unit and it serves all schools in the area. We were a bit slow off the mark with EMU. All the local Roman Catholic schools were snapped up by other schools. We’re not really near any others. St. Peter’s twinned with Dun roe and St. John’s with Ballyray. Its not a matter of principle. Apart from that there’s Netball and Football matches with St. John ‘sand Drum glass. The children are friendlier with St. John ‘skids than with any other." (Primary School Headmaster)
The implication is that we can trust our professionals to meet on ‘business’ issues but outside sport we cannot trust our children. The obvious EMU partners for Rathcrone Primary are in Drumglass where social conditions are much more similar than St. John’s. Nevertheless this might arouse considerable local opposition and be considered too risky. This consideration was also noticeable in Drumglass.
One further feature can be noted about schools. The qualifying examination for Grammar Schools is a notoriously bad measure for school performance. Nevertheless there was wide variation between the area’s in this study in the results obtained, and the degree to which it was considered a problem. In Rathcrone, performance was a major preoccupation.
"Academic performance is very poor, though its a bit better than inner Belfast. Education is not a priority for most parents. School is accepted, I have to say, because they don’t think about it... Only 10% would get to Grammar Schools. The kids go to the local secondary schools. Our biggest problem is that we can ‘t improve the academic standard. There ‘s very little aspiration. We’ve changed the curriculum but it hasn‘t really altered performance." (Principal, Rathcrone Primary School)
This contrasts sharply with experience in Drumglass where academic performance is not a major worry. The motivation of parents for their children is also much greater.
"The parents are very keen that their kids do well. They want their children to go on and they see education as their way out. Last year we’d a 25% pass rate at eleven plus. It’s not the way to judge a school, but it gives the parents choice." (Principal, St. Brigid’s Primary School)
The contrast is notable in the light it casts on the make-up of the two estates. Rathcrone is a settled estate, largely popular with the residents. A number of people commented on the recent growth of cross-generational extended families on the estate. Public discipline is not a problem. Academic aspirations are low. There is little sense of people trying to ‘escape’ the estate. Drumglass is to some extent the reverse. Problems of vandalism and violence are serious, but the people of the area seem to view education as an escape route. Drumglass is not popular with Housing Executive tenants and there is a sense in which the community has not recovered from the trauma of the intimidations of the early 1970s.
The contrast with middle class areas is even starker, explicable by more ‘traditional’ explanations. The remarks are recorded here for comparison:
"Between 40 and 50% of our children qualify for Grammar Schools. Last year it was over 50%. The lowest we ever had was 43%. Last year we were bumped up because of the court ruling on girls." (St. John’s Primary School Principal)
"We do reasonably well in the 11+ here. About a third qualify. We’ve university lecturers children at one end and we've families who‘re more backward. Its quite comprehensive, very healthy except that its largely Protestant." (Principal, Walkerstown Primary School)
(c) The Churches, Communities and Violence.
In the housing estates the Churches are involved in the politics of violence on and from the estates. The Churches are parties to a community dispute as to whether violence is a legitimate method of political action. In Rathcrone the three larger Churches are clearly separate from the Free Presbyterians on this matter. The three larger Churches are uniformly seen, and see themselves, as the main opposition to UDA or illegal violence on or from the estate. This has meant that they have supported the security forces in different periods. e.g. the aftermath of the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and have seen their social position as providing alternatives to paramilitary activities and clubs. In Drumglass, the Church is often identified as the main local opponent of IRA and Sinn Fein activities, the internal opposition. In this sense the Church’s organisations are staunchly opposed to IRA-activities. In both cases, the Church ministers to people who are involved in both sides of this political divide.
In Walkerstown paramilitaries have a less pervasive presence. Among Roman Catholics there is no IRA club. The Catholic population experience paramilitary violence ‘at a distance’ in that it is not integral to the structure of their community. Among Protestants, the UDA is not as organised as in Rathcrone. The Churches are actively concerned about the effects of violence on their people rather than on the response. The community’s response is reflected in strong support for the security forces. The effects include fear, effect on property values increased car and house theft and an awareness of encroachment. The Churches are part of the established group who represent broad consensuses in their own communities. As such they do not see themselves as ‘parties’, nor or they seen as such.
Rathcrone is marked by a strong ‘loyalist’ presence. UDA recruitment posters hung from every lamppost while I was on the estate. The very permanence of the "Rathcrone says No" at the main entrance to the estate is a sign of some importance. Nevertheless the stability of Rathcrone is also striking. In the Churches survey of 1987 ‘only’ 18% of houses had ever suffered vandalism. Of the 530 households surveyed 71% said that a police presence was required and only a very small percentage objected. This may have something to do with the very long stability of occupancy on the estate. Of 719 households 522 had been in tenancy for more than 10 years. Of these 639(82%) declared themselves ‘totally happy’ with the estate. There has been very little direct political violence on the estate. The UDA is closely linked to the area.
"The UDA are strong in social things. The community centre had to be closed down because of embezzlement by the committee. It reopened again but its under the Council. A couple of streets are named after UDA men. They’ve put up new signs in memory of their heroes but we all still call them by their old names." (Woman, local resident)
"There’s the UDA ones on this estate. Very strong. Its in certain families. Every now and then they get active. Everybody knows who the big boys are." (Man, local resident)
In Rathcrone there are two issues of note. First, the development of intimidation on the estate and second the shifting relationships with the police. The Churches in both cases have been the public bodies most able to counter intimidation.
Intimidation against families seems to happen in waves. There are still a number of Catholic families on the estate. Mostly they are quiet but they have faced considerable pressure at times. In the event, the Protestant Churches become their strongest advocates.
"In the last seven years we’ve had a number of Roman Catholic families put out. We clergy have then gone to the victims and said to them that we really want them to stay. We told them we needed them to stay. At the same time we can ‘t ask people to put their lives on the line. Any Catholic families I know and there’s maybe 35 on the estate, want to stay out of trouble. But one family I know whose lad’s in the CLB has been petrol-bombed twice." (Church of Ireland Rector)
The Community Association has a reputation of being close to the UDA. Nevertheless some members of the Walkerstown Fellowship participate also.
"I’m on the Rathcrone Community Association. It was set up by the UDA but they’re not all UDA. I see my role as very much bringing hope." (Fellowship Member, man)
The ‘second wave’ of intimidation has taken place since the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. This has mainly affected relations with the police.
"We’ve had a parishioner who had to leave. He was in the police. We had another one who had a bomb attached to his car. We’ve a number of police families. Two that I know of moved under paramilitary pressure. One I know of considered it and stayed. I’m glad he did." (Church of Ireland Rector)
"The Police have come under terrible pressure since the Anglo-Irish Agreement. We’ve had a number of cases of people leaving, direct intimidation." (Presbyterian Minister)
"I don‘t feel isolated. One reason is that we work together. After the Agreement there was a lot of pressure on police families. We decided that we’d speak out against intimidation in all three Churches. We spoke on the same Sunday and put articles in our magazines. It was interesting how much support we got." (Methodist Minister)
"At the time of the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement the whole estate was closed off. There was barricades at the front. Notes went through the doors telling people to put their flags up. My dad did. I was disgusted. Loads of people hung out their flags who might not have bothered because of intimidation." (Presbyterian Woman)
"The vast majority of people still look to the clergy to give a lead in a time of crisis. For example at the time of the Anglo-Irish Agreement the extreme Prods were turning against the police. People still looked to the clergy. We’ve something unique here, at least unique to me. There’s a strong bond between the Churches. In anything important we‘d make sure that we’re together." (Methodist Minister)
The three main Churches are united against local intimidation. Certainly compared to other agencies, e.g. State Social Work, Police or Army they have a far greater chance of being part of a successful outcome because they are in and of the community. The fact of their unity is at this point very important.
"We know each other fairly well. We do lots of things together, especially with the Methodists. I suppose we ‘re on our way to remembering that we’re Christians first and Presbyterians second. The Orange Order don’t march to the Church. They’re not strong in this congregation. I think they think they’re not allowed. But you know, nobody has ever asked me. If they did maybe we’d have to be open to that too." (Presbyterian Minister)
"One of my members said to me "You know there’s no point in talking to any of the clergy on this estate cause they can’t be divided. The Orange Order don’t get any marching to any Church. We’d see that as divisive. (Methodist Minister)
"I think the contacts good on this estate. We have a good relationship together. Its my best experience of inter-Church relations. This is far healthier than a formal Council of Churches.... There've been a few hiccups but we’ve always talked them out." (Church of Ireland Rector)
Nevertheless there is a more sinister aspect of intimidation:
"My father actually walked out of the UDA. They say there’s only one way out. So we were all in fear. Not so much now cause we’ve God with us. All through my dad’s life we used to talk about fear gripping your stomach and he said he’d had it all his life about the gunman standing at his door. My dad doesn’t sleep now. I don’t know if he still fears. He made a stand against them at the time of the agreement and he was condemned for it. He’s still there though." (Woman, resident)
"The attitude to the RUC has totally changed. On the 11th Night they burned a sign saying burn the RUC instead of burn the Pope. The Free Ps say they won’t obey the authorities because they’re not doing the Lord’s Work." (Presbyterian Woman)
While I was on the estate one incident illustrated this change. The RUC were able to walk into the Presbyterian Church youth club during the evening. Six patrol men came in and sat chatting with the members while drinking a cup of tea. The atmosphere was relaxed, with jokes flying between the police and the club members. During the unplanned visit, they arranged a five a side football match between the club and the police and the club members asked whether they could visit and go round an army assault course. The following weekend an incident occurred in Walkerstown. Two youths from Rathcrone robbed the Social Club in Walkerstown. While they were escaping, the police shot at them, injuring one in the head. Reaction in the Church groups was mostly in support of the police.
"Those two lads are always causing trouble. They’re a pair of bad nuts." (Presbyterian Elder)
"Your man was shot last week robbing the social club. My own reaction was if he hadn’t been there, he wouldn’t have been shot." (Church of Ireland Rector)
Other reaction on the estate was much more hostile to the police. A leaflet was passed through every door in the estate condemning the RUC action and calling a protest meeting.
"We have had to cancel our football match with the RUC. We had arranged it but the boys won’t come now." (Presbyterian Youth Club Leader)
This illustrates the ambivalence in Protestant Working Class areas towards the police. While it is in no way comparable to the antagonism to all Crown forces in Drumglass it represents a considerable shift. The Churches in Rathcrone are confronted with violence as a fact of life in their own area. Their primary concern is the reaction to this violence rather than general political statements. The same has become true in Drumglass. Peace and violence are not abstract concepts to be striven for but realities of everyday experience. "The Church’s response" in such a situation is clearly of many types. At one level it is providing a focus for those opposed to violence as a means of politics. At another level it is an institutional response where professional Church representatives, the clergy, speak out. Their view is somehow "more official" or is held to be "more Christian" than the laity. When people demand that the Churches "do more" it is often at this level that "response" is measured. More profoundly, Churches claim to witness to a deeper fact of peace.
"About five months after I’d been attending the Free Presbyterian Church I was laughing when all of a sudden a cloud of doubt attacked me and all these things happened. My husband asked me what was wrong. Everybody noticed. By this time I was totally gripped with fear. My mind went berserk. My friend came to the door and I thought it was Satan to take me away. She took me to all these Churches. The only person I wouldn’t go to was the Presbyterian Minister. Nothing worked. Then this day I was watching the TV and it ended up it was a Catholic on it. I thought "He loves the lord." What they (the Free Presbyterians) said wasn‘t true. I saw the Presbyterian Minister just walking around the estate and I just ran over to her, and the love started coming, the deep love. From then on its just been each day." (Woman, Rathcrone resident)
"I became a Christian about eight years ago. I was from a traditional loyalist background, paramilitary, UDA, as were most of my family. I’ve a brother in prison. I got married, had a baby. I was in some mess; UDA, drink, marriage on the rocks, drugs. I met these Christians. 1 went to this meeting and got invited to a house group. I was affected by people not sermons. At last I saw people with real hope... I read this thing recently which said that 80-90% of people who become Christians do so through friends who’ve become Christians less than 12-18 months." (Man, Rathcrone resident)
Drumglass has experienced violence at even closer hand than Rathcrone. Indeed starting with the intimidations and the influx of people intimidated elsewhere in Belfast, there does not seem to have been a time when the estate was not associated with violence. As we have already seen, everybody was concerned to show that "things" in Walkerstown and Rathcrone were not as bad as in Drumglass. The building of Drumglass is regarded as the root of most of the social evil in Protestant Walkerstown. Nevertheless the violence experienced on the estate itself is beyond doubt more widespread than that experienced in Walkerstown.
Drumglass was also the home of two of the ten men who died on Hunger Strike in the Maze Prison in 1981 to whom a plaque is erected on the side of the estate. As we have already noted the Church has been actively campaigning against the paramilitaries on the estate.
"I’ve seen the Parish Priest say before the mass started: Anyone whose here to make a protest may go now for I know you’re only here to disrupt things." (Man, Drumglass resident)
The incidence of violence is too widespread to recount. Our task here will be to look at responses to violence and the Churches place in the discussion on violence. We will also look at specific areas; in particular the hunger strike, intimidation, the problem of joyriding and the relationship of the estate to the security forces.
The Hunger Strike was undoubtedly the time of highest tension in Drumglass.
"During the first hunger strike (Autumn 1980) there were calls to down tools and walk out. We just decided we’d tell the kids no. We sent a letter to every parent telling them that no pupil could leave school without written permission from their parents. Without permission they would be suspended. In the event two girls walked out. We called them back and they apologised.
There were some posters put up; "support the H-Block Strikes." Teachers were worried about taking them down. So I went and took them down. I sent a note to all teachers telling them ‘No Political Posters’.
The day Bobby Sands died I got phone calls from teachers asking what was happening. I said "The school is open ". The teachers weren’t too pleased. So we drove in through the barricades. The signs of rioting were everywhere. At one time we’d about 100 youths at the gate chanting ‘close the school’. So I went down and told them we’d close at normal time. They went away. There were workmen who were told they’d be shot and they ran off The atmosphere was very tense. We had phone calls from parents asking was the school open. There were people stopping kids and telling them school was off
For a whole month this estate was closed off. We were driving in through barricades and hi-jacked cars. No teachers were touched. We had youngsters who normally went to other schools off the estate who came in here. For a whole month the Army and Police were camped at the edge of the estate in Clonderg and at Walkerstown Industrial Estate. There were two roadblocks, one run by locals, the other by the army, to get into the estate.
On the first day we had the highest percentage attendance of any school in West Belfast. We had a meeting with the Priests and Primary School heads and decided we’d remain open on the day of the funeral. Then we discovered that no other schools in West Belfast were opening. Then it fell apart because the caretaker was worried about being shot, office staff were physically sick, teachers told me they were petrified. I thought ‘I have a responsibility to these people’ I thought I could not subject people to that. So I called an emergency meeting and we decided to close. There were some parents who slammed us for that. Some people took their kids away. Its very difficult in such a situation. We don ‘t have a united community. We have to tread a very narrow path." (Secondary School Headmaster)
The fact that hunger strikers came from Drumglass heightened the tension on the estate. The day of the funeral and the position of the Church are remembered also.
"I’ll never forget the funerals. There was so many people. People from all over, the press, people off the estate who never set foot in the Church. I felt sorry for the Parish Priest. I was in the choir. I sang at that man’s funeral mass. I went because I felt I wanted to be with the Priest. When I saw all the young ones there I saw how they were. For them God was not where he is but in that box. I wanted to be with the Priest who was doing his duty." (Woman, local resident)
"The time of the hunger strike was the worst. There was black flags up for months and every time somebody died they tried to get us all out to rattle our bin-lids. There was barricades up everywhere. It was like a siege, very frightening." (Woman, local resident)
If the hunger strike represented the time of the most extreme tension, the fear on the estate of renewed violence remains. In Drumglass, the reality of army harassment and of the enemy status of the police is not a public discussion it is accepted fact. Much more present is the violence which results because of lack of any policing presence. The two most striking features are in the areas of intimidation and vandalism and in the area of car-theft by minors, known as joy-riding and the associated punishment shootings, still known as knee-capping.
Intimidation is a subtle process. It nevertheless leaves traces in views, attitudes and statements which may point to very concrete memories. In Rathcrone we saw how flags were flown at the time of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. In Drumglass the Hunger strikes were associated with intimidation of institutions who remained open.
"I would be regarded as anti-provo because I‘m part of the broader peace movement. At one stage the army took over the school. I was accused of being a collaborator and I had to defend myself My position is stronger on the estate because I stood up." (Secondary School Headmaster)
"The community centre wasn‘t built because of political bickering. I had to tread softly with Sinn Fein because they had an ACE scheme too through the Tenants Association. They had an Advice Centre for Benefits take-up. Their funding stopped and the Centre’s not opened most of the time now." (ACE scheme co-ordinator)
"Paramilitaries seems to be the main reason why men don’t get involved in the community. The men are scared of getting pressure so the women get involved." (Local woman)
"By and large we escape political violence. There ‘s no politics in the school. But the kids and the area don’t escape the violence. It’s a very republican area but it’s very factionalised. A lot of the parents of kids in the school have been lifted. I’d say that if it came to the vote about 50-60% would vote Sinn Fein. I take very little to do with it. We’re very heavily into the Catholic ethos in the school, including the attitude to violence. (Primary School Headmaster)
"Sinn Fein burned my van because we opened on the day of the Milltown funerals. I have to be very careful because we’re in wooden huts and I could be burnt down. Still I have to sack boys at times and you never know..." (Local Man, Drumglass)
The situation was summed up by one woman in the Family Centre who said:
"I don ‘t know what I’m allowed to say. You‘d be afraid to open your mouth on this estate sometimes." (Local woman)
The estate is so factionalised that people on the estate often feel under threat from one another. There is no unity on the estate beyond a general detestation of the Security Forces, the Council and Politicians. Beyond that there is deep antipathy between the workers party and Sinn Fein, between the Church and the IRA and between other residents and young delinquents. The level of violence, combined with a notable increase in family breakdown add to the sense of the estate as depressed. The sense of frustration is best caught over the issue of joy-riding. The stories are legendary and many.
"We couldn’t get to sleep last night until four in the morning because they were racing around. If I could get my hands on them.... All these schemes for them, its ridiculous." (Local Woman)
"The other night this lad came to my door and he says ‘We’ve got to take your car.’ So 1 called to my husband up the stairs ‘There’s a lad here says he’s got to take our car. ‘My husband came down with the cross-bow. They haven ‘t been back." (Local woman)
"They take these cars and they strip them and burn them. They were at it again last night. There’s a shell sitting out the back. They sell the parts. They steal certain cars, they get orders for them." (Local man)
"The biggest disturbance in this place is the joyriders. In Derry there was no joyriding only hijacking. Here the kids take cars and the paramilitaries try to stop them. In Derry nobody took cars except the paramilitaries. Funny that." (Convent Superior)
As we have seen there is some local scepticism about schemes to counter joyriding. Punishment shootings, while not supported, are often seen as a last resort. "The hoods", short for hoodlums, or unclassified vandals, are generally despised.
"Joyriding is due to lack of parental supervision. It has nothing to do with deprivation. If you get one clique... There’s about two or three gangs and they cause all the trouble." (Schoolteacher)
"There’s numerous ways of dealing with Joy-riding. We do social skills, discussions, leisure, education and outdoor pursuit activities. This is an alternative for the energies these young people possess. "It ‘s just as good as being in a car." The problem is that these young people grow up in a society which doesn’t give a damn about them. School, older people, no identity which is transferred from older people. Its the only way for the kids to get attention. We have a group of nine and none of them have taken a car. It takes a lot of energy. You have to get a community that cares. (Community Worker with Joyriders (LINKS))
"The underlying problem is unemployment. For boys the macho image means that if you haven’t got a job, the paramilitaries are the next best option. The girls all run with that too." (Youth Worker)
"I don’t agree with punishment shootings. I’ve said that I’m against shooting joyriders. Its just that the community wants a pound of flesh and they look to the IRA to get the pound of flesh. But its not an IRA problem its a community problem. You have a community which says they’re all hoods (from hoodlum). But its not organised in that way. In West Belfast in that age group it’s become endemic. Its a government problem. Facilities in Drum glass are nil. The people they should ask are the community." (Sinn Fein supporter, Community Worker)
This reflects a number of contradictions. The commitment to "the community" appears to contradict the sense that joyriders should be handled with understanding rather than violence, given the community’s demands for a pound of flesh. The Church is deeply involved with all of these issues. It is the fact of intimidation which the government uses to show the need for institutional Church involvement in ACE projects. The Church’s organisations, schools, youth clubs, family centre, ACE programme are aimed to provide opposition to this breakdown. This has had violent consequences for the clergy.
"The last priests were brilliant. Father 0 ‘Callaghan was like afatherfor the whole estate. Father Doherty used to take the petrol bombs off the lads. He also used to stop the car stealers. He had his flat burned down by a gang. The people were behind him though. They helped him rebuild his flat." (Local woman)
The sense that the estate was behind the priest was not conveyed immediately, according to one worker in the family centre:
"The priest who challenged them doing punishment shootings got a gun put to his head. Another time they burned down his flat. Afterwards he told me he felt as if everyone in the parish was against him. In fact most people were for him but they were slow in coming forward. Gradually they did and he felt more understood."
The Churches are therefore part of the network whereby social order is maintained without police. This takes place through the consistency of Church-School-Family, but its influence may be largely unseen in that it consists of a lack of breakdown. It is not measurable, and nevertheless the Church remains the centre of moral life. On the estates Church and family ‘norms’ are the only present structural alternatives to the IRA and paramilitary justice.
The Security Forces have no ‘normal presence’ in Drumglass. When they enter the estate they do so in convoys, always in vehicles and never on foot patrol. Effectively Drumglass is a no-go area for police except in the case of specific targets. Often they are associated with house to house searches have led to further objections, although in the course of the research the army’s policy was apparently vindicated when arms were found under the floor of a kitchen in Drumglass. Nevertheless it is clear that the security forces are entirely an external force without real support on the estate.
"In the early days we were involved with Police Community Relations. The way things were parents objected to the buses because they might be targets." (Primary School Headmaster)
"The police and army don’t come here except to get somebody or something. If they get it wrong it just makes things worse. Apart from that its just patrols of aliens. They harass the people on the Falls. This searching hasn’t helped." (Local man)
The Police mount fairly regular checkpoints on Lower Glenfoot Road, checking cars and stopping traffic. The army patrol all of Catholic West Belfast, although their presence in Drumglass was very low-key. During the Hunger-strike the police had a more permanent roadblock at the Clonderg entrance to the estate. The evidence is that the police seek to ‘contain’ Drumglass because they cannot patrol there without danger to life. The impression is that Clonderg is part of an imaginary peaceline seeking to wall in the barbarian horde. There is talk that a major new road will be built between Drumglass and Clonderg which would effectively separate the two areas. This is something which the Presbyterian Minister in Walkerstown supports.
"It would maybe keep the trouble out. There were plans to build a roundabout at Clonderg but I don’t think that would be advisable."
The situation in Walkerstown is very different from that in Drumglass and Rathcrone. It is not ‘closed off in the sense of either estate nor is it in the control of any paramilitary group. The police operate here in a relatively routine manner, although the netting around the police station bears witness to the fact that it was recently a target for bomb attack. When violence does happen, most of it is held to stem from ‘outside the area’. There was one recent, and particularly bizarre episode.
"There’s a house near here was bought by two people who arrived from the Bible College. They came from Done gal or she was from the South and she had visitors. Because they were from the south that house has been bombed twice, even though they ‘re Protestant. They had to leave." (Primary School Teacher)
"Our manager had his house bombed because he came from Done gal, on the Protestant side!" (Fellowship Member)
In general the growth of violence is blamed on the proximity of Drumglass;
"One-way traffic. Their better people are all trying to escape from their own and buy in Malone. Before Drum glass was built this was all farmland. When Drum glass was built we’d great hopes that the housing would be allocated 50-50. The Church of Ireland even came in with us on a Church! With the troubles, they’d [?] come to the door and tell people. "You’re leaving at the weekend." Once the Protestant flow started it couldn’t be stopped. Its now 100% Roman Catholic. The Presbyterian cause doesn‘t flourish. There’s no hope here.... Dunroe is still solid. But
then people are moving to Carryduff Bangor or Comber. They all move that way. I think its true that Brian Faulkner once said that he thought that on this side of the road it would all be Catholic. Its coming true Its outside our control. Its a discouragement. You nearly think it's failure on your part." (Presbyterian Minister)
"In the lastnumberof years especially with the building of Drumglass and Ardbann, Walkerstown has been becoming more and more Catholic especially in Lower Glenfoot Road. This has been augmented by the Roman Catholic set-up in Walkerstown, an excellent Church, and one of their best Grammar schools. Consequently any new houses especially in Lower Glenfoot Road are Roman Catholic. The consequence could be that what has happened on the other side of the road could develop on this side. I don’t mind a mixed population but I do worry when my numbers drop. I don ‘t want to use the word ‘fear’ but people talk about it. Every house in Beechlawn changes. I know the same things happened in Ballyray." (Church of Ireland Rector)
"I hesitate to point the finger, but Drum glass is where all the car-theft comes from. The value of property beside the RUC station has collapsed. People can ‘t sell their houses. We were all out again the other night because there was a bomb-scare there. There was a huge bomb six months ago which damaged a lot of the houses." (Male, local resident)
"There’s a tremendous amount of car-stealing. One hesitates to point the finger at anyone but a lot of it comes from Drumglass." (Church of Ireland Rector)
The level of physical violence is much lower than in Drumglass. What is very marked is a sense of fear among the Protestants of Walkerstown about ‘takeover’. The sense that territory has been lost is very deep. There has been experience of violence; recently the RUC station has been a target, the loyalist club was the site of a shooting by police of a young man from Rathcrone and there has been car-theft. Nevertheless, Walkerstown does not give the impression of a place of particular violence. What is notable is the relatively ‘rosy’ picture given by local Catholics.
"We once lost a Church. Petrol was thrown in and set alight. All the Protestant Churches in the area sent us money and messages of support. The Catholic people at that time were being threatened. Normally it’s quite harmonious. There was a fellow sentenced for the attack. He was from Belfast.... I suppose there’s paramilitaries in Rathcrone and Drum glass but they’ve long since left the Churches." (Roman Catholic Priest)
"Of course the people who get it in the neck from the troubles aren’t the people who cause it. Now and again you have a flair-up but mostly its great.... At one time this would have been predominantly Protestant. Now there’s very few non-Catholics. Glenfoot Road has very few non-Catholics now. This has been evolving over the last 15 years. The used to be very well intermixed. Its now so true in Walkerstown. The nearer you get to Dun roe the more the pendulum swings." (Roman Catholic Teacher)
Community relations remain very tentative though violence has been contained. Instead, perhaps pre-emptive of violence and certainly in an identifiable manner, there has been a process of Protestant flight and Catholic settlement.
(d) The Churches and Inter-community Relationships.
In such a context how do the Churches operate and what is their contribution to inter-community relationships? The most developed relationships are between the Churches of Rathcrone and the Catholic parish of Old Walkerstown, both St. John’ sand St. Peter’s. The foundations of this relationship are the unity of the Protestant Churches on the estate and the ecumenical outlook of the clergy, which has made for longstanding relationships.
"I am sure that it is more important to be Christians than to be Presbyterians. I know that his causes difficulties. On our session we have these very discussions, and I think this view is gradually winning. We've lost some dead-wood recently. I think we suffer from feeling down at times. We need to hear that its a warm place. I feel that the spirit has taken us this far and we’re ready for a new beginning." (Presbyterian Minister)
"I think the contact’s good on the estate. We have a good relationship together. Its my best experience of inter-Church relations. This is far more than a formal Council of Churches. We share Holy week together and we share Easter Evening. This year we have it. People come from all the Churches to whichever it happens to be. Its a good combination of three or four clergy with a similar vision." (Church of Ireland Minister)
This strong inter-Protestant link is challenged only by the Free Presbyterians. The other three ministers, people from the Caring Office and some of the people from the congregation meet together every week with priests from Old Walkerstown. These meetings are meetings of friends, of people who know each other well from years of being together both in these meetings and at gatherings in each others Churches. They take the form of an exchange of news and a chat over a cup of tea, a discussion led by one person in the group or a particular subject and a time of prayer together. They are part of the routine. I was invited to take part in their meetings, and did so.
"It is very important for the Churches to do as much as possible. I meet weekly with the ministers in Rathcrone. We meet to pray for peace in this area, to organise services, to keep up with each other. During the week of Prayer for Christian Unity we had Protestant clergy in. We support EMU, linked in with Ballyray from St. John’s and St. Peter’s with Walkerstown. We ‘d also encourage our Youth Clubs to engage in inter-club activity with state sector clubs. The Anglo-Irish Agreement blocked things from the Protestant side. Before it we would have had 800 at an interdenominational service. Since then we haven ‘t had the same numbers." (Roman Catholic Priest)
"We meet every week. I have a lot of friends in every Church in Ireland. We have an exchange with a Carmelite Priory in Dublin. The congregation has always been very open." (Presbyterian Minister)
"I have had a relatively low-key approach to conflict in the Protestant community. My predecessor tended to go up and curse the violent ones
up and down. I’ve tended not to go looking for conflict. One element is that many of that element have come to appreciate things. We’ve had the Parish Priest preaching in our own Church. We've been at many things in the Roman Catholic Church. He’s always well received. People seem to accept it... I’m asking myself "Am I being blase?" - No, I don‘t think so." (Church of Ireland Rector)
"When I arrived there was a nucleus of Orangemen who saw it as very much their mission to get their minister into the order. After eight years they’ve probably given up. Since then some of them have mellowed tremendously. One of them, for example met the Priests at the door during the week of Prayer for Christian Unity. There were five priests and quite a number of nun’s at the service. I would see the week as an exercise in encouragement of our work of reconciliation. Its a chance to learn from one another that we haven ‘tall the truth, that there’s aspects of Catholic worship and life we can learn from... I’d say I inherited what was politically the "hardest-line" congregation, more than the Presbyterians and Church of Ireland." (Methodist Minister)
The relationship at clergy level between the Churches in Rathcrone and the Roman Catholic Church in Old Walkerstown Parish is close and friendly.
"Even in public the Parish Priest will openly say in a service at St. John’s that we’re very good friends." (Methodist Minister)
This has spread into the congregations where the Caring Office is only one example of friendship. There are occasional joint services of worship between Catholics and Protestants even if still unusual. Between Protestant denominations joint services are now common, part of the annual calendar. Throughout July and August evening services in Rathcrone are united. Young people from Rathcrone Presbyterian and St. John’s Roman Catholic meet together at times. Prayer and Healing services are attended by both and the strong influence of the charismatic renewal movement in the Church of Ireland and Presbyterian Churches has meant that the meetings between active Church members in other contexts are regular.
"Since I came I’ve felt a strong commitment in the Presbyterian Church. It’s very difficult to keep the Church situation together. There’s so many pressures. In their commitment to reconciliation they’re so strong and I don’t mean the minister. The priests in this area are very good as well." (ACE scheme co-ordinator)
Within Rathcrone, the Churches are the largest groups maintaining active cross-community contacts. No other locally based groups appear to seek any cross-community relationships in what is effectively a Protestant ghetto. This has led them into some conflict with parts of the estate and means they are openly attacked by the Free Presbyterians. The Churches are one of the few open doors to cross-community contact on the estate. In a sense Church relations are the only relations not characterised by inter-community antagonism. There is further exception in the case of the Christian Fellowship which we will examine below. It is important to note that this fact does not mean that relations are easy, or that movement is free between Catholics and Protestants. However behind a Church shield provided by congregations and clergy, movement is possible. This is in itself unusual.
"I think if the Minister approaches the question of the Christianity of the Roman Catholic Church, changes take place. You can lead people into a U-turn. We’ve seen a change here over the last six years. I don’t think ministers in Ulster realise what a powerful force they can be for good or division. I think if you ‘re patient and caring and loving, if you’re trying to be like Christ in that situation things can be done. It’s a long hard slog. Two forward, one back. It would be much more difficult if there was a hardline minister in any one of the major Churches. "(Methodist Minister)
The Churches, as communities of people, are able to continue some relations with each other in spite of violence. The Roman Catholic Church has been very active in this field. It is interesting is that the Churches are effectively neighbours not ministers to the same area. The Roman Catholic parish while covering Rathcrone has virtually no parishioners on the estate.
The second area of contact is maintained within the Christian Fellowship. This is interesting in that it runs outside the institutional Churches, and therefore faces different problems. Although the group is predominantly Protestant they wish to remain open to Catholics.
"A number of people in this fellowship come from Catholic areas.... Even in Rathcrone my house group is mixed. But if people knew that it would be dangerous." (Fellowship member)
A number of people within the Fellowship are aware that other Churches remain very suspicious of them, including Protestants.
"A few years ago there were meetings of all the Churches. A lot of Churches would be very suspicious of us because of "shepherding", which some house-Churches have. We never had it. There was a lot of pressure for it but we were always very much against it." (Fellowship member)
The main Churches remain disinterested in groups outside the institutions. Nevertheless, this small Fellowship has also engaged in some cross-community contact.
It is important when dealing with cross-community relationships to emphasise the context in which they take place. The ghettoised housing pattern means that there is little unplanned contact between Protestants and Catholics and what contact does take place does so outside the estate (e.g. at work). Unemployment further erodes these possibilities. The perceived bias of the local Council further limits the degree to which Council facilities are used by both communities. Beyond this "accidental" contact, inter-community relationships are a matter of deliberate effort. They do not happen "by chance". Where the problems of life on the ghetto estates are themselves great, this effort may appear of secondary importance or "too much". This is generally the situation in Drumglass. In Rathcrone the Churches, far more than any other groups, have undertaken this contact. This has become part of Church life. It remains clergy - led more than community driven, but there is no sense that the clergy act apart from or even always ahead of the laity. The limitations of this contact are immediately apparent. The fact of its real existence is nevertheless notable. If we contrast the Churches efforts with the cross-community building evident in other circles or with the caution and the fear evident in the schools, they appear remarkable. Once the ghetto structure is in place the efforts at creating relationships between communities are made very difficult. They take place only through conscious effort and planning. The possibility of friendships between people in opposed ghettos developing organically appears slight. Their scope in such a context must inevitably appear limited.
The relations between the Churches in Rathcrone and the Catholic Parish of Old Walkerstown are not repeated elsewhere in the area. In Walkerstown there are no formal contacts between the Churches, and no Council of Churches. Relations run on a pattern of each denomination working on its own. The Catholics are involved with Rathcrone rather than Walkerstown.
"We don’t have very close relations with the Roman Church. We’re friendly but I think that maybe I’m tired. All Youth Organisations are parallel. lam concerned with St. Peter’s Church of Ireland which 1 must serve. I am guilty in a sense that I haven’t got involved in much community work. The non-subscribers sometimes marry my divorcees without telling me which is annoying." (Church of Ireland Rector)
"I’m friendly with them (Roman Catholic’s) in as far as if we do things with Monsignor.... I forget his name. I’ve been down at his house. Relation’s couldn’t be better.... I have great respect for other denominations. I’m a chaplain in Purdysburn and one of my best friends was the Catholic Chaplain. We played golf Here we don’t see each other. We do our own thing, but the relationship is very good. It used to be that the Non-subscribers were considered worse that the Catholics. Montgomery was minister in Walkerstown. They were short of ministers so they got trained as Unitarians. That’s why the Presbyterians called our hall "Trinity" Hall and the badminton club is called "Trinity". They wouldn’t have called the Non-subscribers Christians. The last Non-subscribing minister, in my time here, used our hymn book. 90% of their people are now Presbyterian. All the animosity has gone except some of the folk wouldn’t want their minister to preach in our Church.
The G.B. and the B.B. cater for the whole of Walkerstown as the Church of Ireland’s organisations do, I assume. Up until a few years ago there would have been opposition to Roman Catholic bowling clubs coming to our hall. All that animosity has gone. Probably the influence of the ministers. I’ve some very hardline Orangemen. I’ve always told them about my friendship in Purdysburn. I’d really take the line that the whole business of being ecumenical is out the window. I think we stay on our own and come together when we need to. I sort of feel that is the way. The woman ‘s World Day of Prayer goes round all the Churches in Walkerstown and Rathcrone. There ‘s no opposition. There ‘s been a complete change on that score in the last fifteen years St. John ‘s Roman Catholic Church gave £1,000 for the damage done to Dunlure Presbyterian Church Hall. When my hall was blown up in 1971 because the court was held there at that time, all the Protestants rang up. There wasn‘t one word from Father Kelly. That shows that change has come. I think things are far better done at the lower level. This business of trying to impose it from the top will never work. In our area we go along quietly." (Presbyterian Minister)
"We once lost a Church. Petrol was thrown in and set alight. All the Protestant Churches in the area sent us money and messages of support. Two of our schools were attacked and one of our Youth Clubs. In all those times we had the support of all the other Christian congregations in the area. (Roman Catholic Priest)
The local Churches exist separately at every level. Where violence to one Church building takes place, Churches of all denominations do respond. Beyond this, the troubles have not affected Church relations. In the meanwhile the Churches reflect the intense feelings involved in population change. Many Protestants seem utterly depressed by the collapse in numbers. For them the area is suffering from Catholic advance and Protestant decline. Catholics appear cheerful and optimistic and satisfied with relations in the area, aware of course of population change.
In a sense Walkerstown has suffered the biggest change in its composition of any of the area studied. The Churches have not been focuses of any alternative approaches. The fear of falling numbers dominates. The clergy reflect and share this fear. Their concern lies within their denomination. Concern is on "declining numbers" as such rather than on what might be done about fears. The result is that the Churches are mirrors of their communities - the Protestants depressed and declining the Catholics optimistic and growing.
"I don’t want to use the word fear but people talk about it. Every house in Beechlawn changes. I know the same things happened in Ballyray. Its affected my work in the sense that I’m not as conscientious as I was about visiting people who move in." (Church of Ireland Minister)
"We have 1138 children in the school, five groups in each year. We keep growing." (Catholic teacher)
Drumglass as an area presents the greatest problems for inter-community relations. The problems are partly to do with the reputation of the estate. ‘Druruglass’ is a name usually uttered by Protestants with a mixture of fear and antipathy. Protestants in Walkerstown would not go to Drumglass in the normal course of events. There are no facilities on the estate not available elsewhere. The Industrial Estate for the Walkerstown area lies between Rathcrone and Drumglass. There are virtually no family relationships between the communities. The problems of living from waking to sleeping on Drumglass itself tend to occupy the time of people on the estate. Unemployment, vandalism, paramilitarism, joy-riding, isolation and family breakdown are the ‘problems’ identified by public agencies. In this context Community Relations are often seen as ‘irrelevant’, impossible’, the obsession of middle class liberals and/or such a problem as to be insuperable. In the latter case, people prefer to spend their energies on more fruitful tasks. What contact between the communities does take place, does so in the workplace or in places outside Drumglass.
"Rathcrone's as bad as Drum glass. People are very narrow in their view. Rathcrone would be the complete opposite of here. There’s not much contact. If they were any closer, there’d be a lot of friction." (St. Brigid’s Primary School Teacher)
"Facilities are very limited here. There ‘s isolation here. It has been a struggle to get doctors in. The Churches were mobile buildings and the schools were mobile. " (St. Colm’s Secondary School Headteacher)
"There’s not much cross-community work here. Any there is, we do. We have Protestants play for our badminton team. That’s because we’re so good. We‘ve been Northern Ireland champions before now." (Youth Club Leader)
The Family Centre use Corrymeela Centre in Ballycastle for weekends away for mothers and their children, up to four times a year. This is a minimal contact though in the circumstances it presents an unusual opportunity to escape a ghetto society.
In this respect, Drumglass is similar to most of Catholic West Belfast. The ghettos were created in fear of violence. The violence to and from Drumglass perpetuates the fear of the area from outside and the sense of a need for protection on the estate. The deep political divides on the estate, especially as represented by the Church versus Sinn Fein, occupy any immediate attention for politics. The sheer workload on the priests, the structure of Catholic hierarchy and the immediate problems of making a life in the face of adversity are easily sufficient to absorb attention once the ghetto has been established, making Community Relations appear a secondary task, forthe Churches as well as other organisations. Everything
seems to be reduced to a struggle to establish control between various forces which threaten chaos (unemployment, Sinn Fein, hoodlums, joy-riders, family collapse) or offer authoritarianism (Church and also Sinn Fein).
Theology and Church in the Walkerstown Area.
"For me, in the end, its more important to be Christian than Presbyterian." (Presbyterian Minister)
"I really take the line that the whole business of being ecumenical is out the window. I think we stay on our own and come together when we need to.... I think things are far better done at the lower level. This business of trying to impose it from the top will never work. In our area we go along quietly. There’s a PA CE group. I don’t go to it. In my opinion they’re far better done at that level." (Presbyterian Minister)
"There’s a strong bond. In anything important we’d make sure that we’re together. On this ecumenical thing somebody said to me that there’s no point in talking to any of the clergy cause they can’t be divided." (Methodist Minister)
"We have a good relationship together... We share Holy Week together and we share Easter evening. This year we have it. People come to whichever it happens to be. Its a good combination of three or four clergy with a similar vision. There’s a shared vision. One of the things I hear (on this estate) is that we all get on well. I don ‘t find the competitive spirit." (Church of Ireland Rector)
"We don’t have very close relations with the Roman Church. We’re friendly but I think that maybe I’m tired. We say hallo to each other but we don ‘t have any meetings or anything. The Non-subscribers remarry my divorcees without telling me which is annoying. Otherwise we’re friendly enough. I’m concerned with this parish and the Church of Ireland which I must serve. I am guilty in a sense that I haven’t got involved in much community work." (Church of Ireland Rector)
Thus, even within each of the Churches there are major differences in approach. It is thus impossible to talk anymore of what "The Churches" do or do not do. Even in an area as small as Walkerstown within the same denomination there are significant differences. This is before we take into account the differences between laity and the clergy and between the laity. Identity with a national denomination, an institution. "The Church" does exist. The use of the term Church does not mean the same for every user. This "Church" is in itself an illusive concept. Without hierarchical or state authority, Churches have no power to impose any single direction. In an increasingly pluralist environment, the Churches exhibit two tendencies at once; ever more desperate calls back to a unique authority and an increasing inability to show unity in their own ranks. It is not clear in the Presbyterian or Methodist Churches that even a notional hierarchy truly exists. The result is that attempts to pin down "Ulster Protestantism" in a fixed ideological framework are always based on shifting sands. The only clear signal in Walkerstown is that "The Churches" in their engagement with and interest in other denominations depend on local circumstances. This carries with it the attendant risk that any attempt to categorise "the Churches" in one box, always ignores or drives out part of reality, possibly because it makes for simplicity. Categorising "the Churches" as "sectarian" ignores those whose cross-community commitment and activity often entails considerable risk and personal commitment. At the same time, to categorise the Churches as "ecumenical" is to ignore the large numbers whose ecumenical commitment is limited and others whose personal position is expressly anti-ecumenical. We can only talk of "the Church" in a particular context, since what it is, is a matter of specific relationships. Church people also have divergent views on the nature of their task.
The Free Presbyterian Church are an exception to this tendency. Here the uniformity of political and religious belief between members of all standing in the Church seems to be much stronger. It is this which gives them political and cultural significance beyond their membership.
"I see the most important part of my work as being with people, being beside them, so that I can walk into any house in this parish because I have a relationship. Whether people go to Church or not, they need their Church... My role is first a pastoral role, going out and finding the lost sheep and trying to build God’s kingdom in the Church and proclaim Christ’s teaching and its implications. You’re always conscious you’re not doing it. You reach the problem of how far you go, how long do you make an effort for somebody. 1 was talking to a doctor who said, I should only go and see the sick. But my mission must be bigger than this." (Church of Ireland Rector)
"I began with a vague sense of God’s calling to ministry. 1 saw ministry as a thing where the minister did everything. Over ten years my view began to evolve to a view where the job was to equip the saints for the work of ministry. We’ve around 500 families here who claim membership. There’s no way one person can minister to their needs. I began pouring myself into those people who want to grow, those people who had some kind of hunger with them, a need to grow. At the same time I put a lot of time in going door to door getting to know people on paper at least. Since then I must admit I go where I see the needs. I don’t go knocking on doors on a door to door basis." (Church of Ireland Rector)
"I think the main task of the Church is to be relevant to the situation and to adjust to meet those needs in the name of Christ. If the Church isn’t relevant, folk will soon drift off I think there’s so much irrelevancy in the Church. In my Church there’s the attitude "we’ve always been here and we’ll be here tomorrow because we’re one of the four main Churches ". Down through the years there has been a loyalty to the Churches, but I think that loyalty is waning. I had a woman say to me, "When I stop finding something in your Church which helps me cope with life I won’t be there ". That’s what its all about. I wouldn’t stay myself if it wasn’t relevant.
I think ministers are partly to blame in setting up barriers between themselves and ordinary people. They’ve put themselves on pedestals. I suppose its one reason I wear my collar so seldom. They (my congregation) know that I blow my top and that I’m human." (Methodist Minister)
"I think the clergy do have influence. More from your living and what you are rather than what you say. If the love of God was there, 1 ‘d like to think people say "that fella, ach he wasn’t a bad fella." Some go away and then they get married and have children and then they look for what held their families together." (Presbyterian Minister)
"I think the presence of the spirit is the most important. I feel God is calling us on to a new challenge. What it is we don ‘t yet know, but we are praying for the spirit’s guidance." (Presbyterian Minister)
"The task of the Priest is to preach the gospel, to look after the pastoral needs of Catholics, to educate the children and to care for the sick. In this parish we’d see the need to be a committed ecumenist. I suppose there’s paramilitaries in Rathcrone and Drumglass but they’ve long since left the Churches. But there ‘s a task of evangelisation of the Gospels. The Church can just talk. We can‘t force people." (Catholic Priest)
"Caring for the pastoral needs of Catholics." is a wide remit. Into this elastic category professional clergy can either sink or swim. As we have seen, the clergy can be swamped by huge pressures of work as well as enjoying huge power and prestige as the carers for ‘needs’.
"For me the Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy its within me. With all that we do, the most important thing is that in all things Christ has first place. It would be so easy to get away from that through busyness... 1 think we thought ‘We are God’s people for the time’. What I think has happened is that God humbled us." (Fellowship Member)
Theology as an academic discipline appeared much less important unless it was important as a means of explanation:
"On this estate people don ‘t give two hoots about theology." (Methodist Minister)
The identification of communities as ‘Catholic’ and ‘Protestant’ is in relation to one another in other words ‘I am Protestant rather than Catholic’ more than because of a widespread theological knowledge. Difference is ‘proved’ by general attitudes and by more immediate outward differences in liturgy rather than in depth theological knowledge. Theology would appear to follow rather than lead community relations in Walkerstown for all but the most knowledgeable.
This is not to say that there are not deep theological assumptions in folk thinking. One example of this I found in the Parish Magazine for Drumglass. In an article, the parish priest speaks of the grave of St. Brigid now maintained by the Church of Ireland.
"By 1875 the site had long been in the possession of the Church of Ireland and it was under the aegis of their Dr. Chaplain that the restoration took place... And a day will come too, not in my lifetime but perhaps in yours that the patrimony of B rigid will be reunited with the Church in whose service she spent her life."
What is of note here is the degree to which a fifth century saint is presumed to have taken sides at the time of the Reformation in the sixteenth century. The Church of Ireland has apparently ‘usurped’ St. Brigid’s own Church (R.C.) until the day of the return to the real Church. Such a statement carries with it very many assumptions which Protestants could not share about the nature of the reformation and the Church. Deep within such a statement is the notion of the Roman Catholic Church as the one true Church and other Churches as lesser. In such small examples we see the degree to which culture, religion, history all intertwine to give across an unwitting message about underlying assumptions between Churches.
"The Churches" are part of this development. The parish-congregational system means that Church boundaries reflect social barriers. The fact that the Church is an institution with a professional paid clergy servicing, in the first instance, the immediate desires of their parish people means that there is little knowledge of these differences beyond cursory glances or occasional prejudices. There are sound bureaucratic reasons why it makes sense to concentrate resources. The result is that parishes! congregations become ghettos. The Non-subscribing Presbyterians provide the counter-example to this. Their congregation in Walkerstown is nearly all resident elsewhere. The result is that they have little presence in Walkerstown, nor do they provide any focus for community life.
The implication is that ‘The Churches’ have no more idea about the reality of each other’s problems, lives, goals, dreams etc. than people not in Churches. It becomes inherently unreliable to ask any one person what "The Churches" are doing, because nobody knows. There are no mechanisms for congregations or parishes to share their experiences. The problem of hierarchy (in other words. that people in senior positions have little idea of what is happening on the ground) is now exacerbated by the variety of experiences between people on the ground. If each person makes their particular experience the paradigm for the general experience then only chaos can result. There is no sense that anyone accepts that they only know part of the story.
The rural parish which transcended class divisions (see Ballytorlar) is not repeated in the urban setting. Instead Churches become places which reflect rather than transcend divisions of every sort. The extra pressure of physical violence means that people rather than being concerned with transcending division are now faced with ministering to increasing problems in their own patch. Faced with whole areas in which all parishioners share the same experiences of violence means that it becomes for each parish a universal experience. In other words: In Drumglass everybody shares the view that violence is unemployment, discrimination harassment, and vandalism. In Protestant Walkerstown violence is bombs at the RUC station, car-theft, increasing crime and the IRA. In Rathcrone violence is unemployment, the IRA and local paramilitaries. The problems of inward-looking obsession are made worse by violence between people and the estate, e.g. joyriding. In a parish, the clergy need to be very strong not to share the same view of what violence is. Confronted daily with mounting evidence of that violence, the Church professionals come to reflect the attitudes of the Church members. If they stand out against their parishes, it may be impossible for them to continue as clergy. It is easier to be a liberal Church where there is no violence.
The Church parishes and congregations also reflected the stark class divides of the area. In this regard some interesting points can be made. Working class areas were residentially segregated. There was very little interchange between Drumglass and Rathcrone and violence was endemic to some degree in both. It was very clear from our study that poverty and deprivation were major contributory factors both to the alienation of much of the population from the authorities and to the increasing difficulties in preventing crime. At the same time, the very immediacy of the crises related to poverty, such as joy-riding, unemployment and vandalism meant that community relations was sometimes regarded as a middle-class luxury which missed ‘the main’ point. At the same time, the continuing community divisions contributed very sharply to the isolation and deprivation of the communities. It is important to note, however, that community relations were not related in a clear causal relationship to class or poverty. In Rathcrone, Protestant Churches were much more active in this regard than in middle-class Walkerstown. At the same time, it is certain that ghettoisation makes problems of inter-community relations appear distant while problems of poverty are close. Poverty then comes to be regarded as ‘more important’ in an abstract sense than community relations, on the basis of its immediacy. In a sense, then, poverty reinforces the ghetto.
In theory, Walkerstown is a mixed, middle class area. In fact the mix may prove to be illusory. Already the main road through the middle acts as a dividing line of sorts. Throughout the area people of all backgrounds were aware of the progressive flight of Protestants, the previously dominant group, out of the area and an influx of Catholics. In fact the area is one in transition, in which fear among Protestants takes the form of a gradual ‘moving out’. There is considerable evidence that the Protestants are very unhappy with the present situation. This was reflected in the Churches. Segregation may be less dramatic among the middle classes, but it appears that slow transitions take place along the same religious lines. All the evidence points to a continuing ghettoisation of the mind in this area. Certainly, nobody seemed to regard the change in the denominational make-up of the population as insubstantial.
In Rathcrone and Drumglass the Churches are well-attended. However it is clear that they no longer have the undivided loyalty of all residents. In Protestant Rathcrone, Church attendance is a choice, not a social obligation. In Drumglass, as we have seen, the Church is identified with a particular political approach. This appears to leave the Church in an ambiguous position. On the one hand, they are no longer the sole or final authority on moral matter and yet all appearances show that transcendent authority is presumed. Furthermore, the Church’s official authority is being eroded by the political situation and by changing responses to the teaching of the Church on personal and sexual morality.
At the same time, there is some evidence in both Rathcrone and Drumglass that the Churches have become more important for those still attending. In Rathcrone this transformation to minority or at least reduced status seems to be accepted as a matter of fact. In Drumglass, the Church still operates as if it is a central moral authority for the whole area. This may account for some of the atmosphere of calm in Rathcrone in comparison to Drumglass.
In Walkerstown, the Catholic Church is packed to the brim. The Protestant Churches, meanwhile, appear to be deeply depressed by the loss of membership through population movements. The moral authority of the Catholic Church appears intact at one level, and yet there is some evidence that issues such as birth control are now no longer regarded as a clerical domain. Nevertheless, the atmosphere of the Parish is in absolute contrast to the atmosphere in Drumglass. The Protestant Churches appear remarkably unenthusiastic, reflected in a deep pessimism among many of the clergy.
In the Walkerstown area the groups most conscious of being under threat are the residents of Drumglass and the Protestants of Walkerstown. In both these cases the Churches are concentrated on the problems in the immediate area, on the despair of their congregations and on meeting their own needs. They have no cross-community outreach. The groups less conscious of being under threat are the Catholics of Walkerstown, a confident and newly prosperous group characterised by employment and growth and, more surprisingly, the Protestants of Rathcrone. In this latter case, the confidence is a relative matter. Relative to that of middle-class Protestants in Walkerstown, the confidence of Rathcrone people is based on continuing stability of population on the estate. Between these groups there is a degree of contact. The contact is nearly all through the Churches. There are no other groups on the estate engaged in inter-community relationships of any sort. The relations between clergy are characterised by personal warmth, which does seem to spread into the congregations. However while Churches can provide institutional shelters for relationship-building, they have no power to enforce any changes. It therefore depends on relationships within each parish between clergy and laity and between the laity and on the links of all people to lives and experiences other than their own. What is achieved in this regard is thus achieved in the face of considerable obstacles. Nevertheless, it appears that confidence and a relative absence of fear are more important than class divisions as an indicator of inter-community relationships.
This area also provides interesting examples of the Churches as recipients of government funding. ACE seems to have become an integral part of the Churches existence in working class areas. To some extent the cross-class acceptability of the Churches is central to the funnelling of money through ecclesiastical sources into impoverished areas. This cross-class acceptability, albeit a relative rather than an absolute acceptability once again draws attention to the integrating position of the Church institutions in Northern Ireland. Much of the controversy in working class areas over Church involvement with ACE is centred on accusations that the Church is the agent of the funder not the funded. In Northern Ireland this accusation has a class and a national appeal in Catholic areas. Indeed attacks on the Church in these areas can have numerous roots.
The controversy is particularly acute in Drumglass. The government s decision to cease ACE-funding of community groups because they come under the control of Sinn Fein means that the Church is the only feasible institutional alternative if Drumglass is to receive any part of the ACE-cake. This has led to allegations that the Church is the State in West Belfast. The picture of a Church overflowing with State bounty in the midst of a community devoid of other funding is easy propaganda for anyone with an axe to grind, however justified or unjustified. The moral authority of the clergy through tradition, made rigorous in the schools, is now directly economic. In the face of money, envy, jealously and bitterness are common among those who feel hard done by. The power it bestows on the ‘winners', in this case the Church, is also a double-edged sword. A spiral of mutual recrimination begins; the Church takes and distributes the money, Sinn Fein attack the Churches role, the Church now opposes Sinn Fein more strongly by keeping a tighter rein on funds, Sinn Fein attack the Church as anti-community, people with other axes to grind join in, the Church is ever more careful etc. At the end the estate is divided into camps - Church and anti-Church represented by Sinn Fein. The Government clearly supports one side, more so now that Sinn Fein dominates the "opposition", Sinn Fein accuse the Church of being Government stooges.
This is a dangerous process unless the Church finds ways of channelling money into more broadly-based groups. Clerical domination of committees means that ‘Church Authorities versus people’ battlelines can be drawn. Until now the Church has failed to build alternative grass-root structures and have relied on the traditional model of ultimate clerical control. While this guarantees that no money is accidentally fed to paramilitaries, it also stores up resentment against clerical authoritarianism. Clerical leadership may no longer be appropriate in Catholic Belfast.
The Protestant Churches have a different relationship to ACE and to the State. They are not seen as the peoples allies or opponents in their relationship to State agencies. Protestants do not object to the State as such. The experience of anti-Police violence after the Anglo Irish Agreement may have changed this somewhat. In Rathcrone, the Churches are not the sole object of government funding. Church efforts are thus one strand in a larger tapestry. The continued funding of community groups, the fact that the area has four Churches not one and the relatively lower attendance in Protestant areas means that the Churches are not perceived as centres of direct political power. Distances between the Churches and paramilitaries are real, but the relative lack of authority of both in the face of the State reduces local political power rivalries. As a result, ACE funding has lost its divisive aspect of Catholic areas.
There remain further questions about ACE-funding and the Churches; to what extent should the Churches be the recipients of State employment schemes? Is the government getting its job done ‘on the cheap’? Is there any attraction in funding Church schemes except that the alternatives have paramilitary involvement? Are the Churches being used as bulwarks against paramilitaries without any correspondent benefit?
There is an implicit problem in professionalism in Churches. Traditionally the strength of Churches has been as centres of community life, integral to that life. ACE, by paying certain individuals to do work in the name of the Church, may not engage more than one or two members of the parish or congregation. Thus it gives the appearance of expanding the Churches work, but only by mistaking the formal legal institution which now has long lists of extra activities for the bulk of the community of the Church which is untouched. Indeed in some cases, the existence of ACE-schemes may act as a disincentive for voluntary schemes which would be less concentrated but more voluntary. Another problem is that Churches without ACE-schemes may appear to be doing nothing. This certainly cannot be established without further investigation in each case. Rural parishes where the elderly are not abandoned may appear to be ‘doing less’ than urban parishes with ACE-visitation schemes.
Walkerstown/Drumglass/Rathcrone shows the Churches as institutions trying to come to terms with a changing society with a different view of Church and everywhere having difficulties adopting or knowing what their job is. Churches based in local communities have very obvious strengths. Where those localities become ghettos or places where a threat is felt by all, so the Churches become reflectors of the ghetto, unless within the Churches some wider possibilities exist. In this respect hierarchical Churches may have more choices than non-hierarchical Churches, because they have obvious links to others outside their immediate experience. Churches without local roots or strong commitments (e.g. Quakers) may wither and die. Non-subscribing Presbyterians have certainly felt this chill.
Walkerstown illustrates the diversity of Church life and at the same time each Church now faces the danger of being an ecclesiastical ghetto in which all of life is read from the ghetto, whatever that might be. Within communities under threat, theologies which offer simple explanations of why the group is under threat gather a special appeal. The Churches then become obstacles to community relations, because inter-relationship appears like a threat, a possibility of contamination or of annihilation. The Churches do not need to condone murder. When murder is carried out by individuals they can provide a framework within which that act can be ‘understood’ if not condoned.
In this context the Walkerstown area also provides examples of Churches who have stood against a trend. In Rathcrone this has led them to be under attack from Free Presbyterians, but the significance of this has been to seem to separate Church identity from political identity, as the Church-goers have been little affected.
Centre for the Study of conflict, Room L014,
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