Pegeen O'Sullivan reviews Conflict, Controversy and Co-operation: the Irish Council of Churches and 'The Troubles' 1968-72 by Norman W Taggart, Columba Press, ISBN:1856074382, €9.99/£6.99 pbk
THIS BOOK is a record of the activities of the Irish Council of Churches (ICC) between 1968 and 1972. Although the membership of the ICC is predominantly Protestant, the thaw brought about by Vatican II resulted in far more contacts with the Catholic Church during this period - an opportunity welcomed by both the ICC and the Catholic Church.
In spite of Taggart's efforts to be fair the book often comes across as walking the straight and narrow path between good and evil.
The author points out that:
"Topics discussued the taoiseach included concern at the withdrawal of opposition MPs from Stormont, together with the nationalist campaign of civil disobedience. In the view of the ICC deputation, these policies had a seriously destabilizing effect and contributed to polarisation between northern Catholics and Protestants at a time when the NI government - despite right-wing opposition within its own ranks - had 'set its face in the direction of reform.'"
All honour to Dr Kenneth Milne, the Church of Ireland's education secretary nfor commenting "that at times the Council's statements appeared 'to have the citizens of Sandy Row much more in mind than the citizens of the Falls Road'."
Of Bloody Sunday Taggart writes: "thirteen men, all apparently unarmed..." As there was no proof that they were armed must they not be presumed innocent? On torture we are told:
"the previous meeting of the ad hoc committee had been 'very unhappy' with Denis Faul speaking at length about alleged cases of torture. Harold Allen had contacted Brian Faulkner on the matter, apparently arguing that the truth would have to be uncovered. 'No cases of undeniable brutality had as yet come to light, it was reported, 'only a degree of persistence in interrogation'."
Charles Eyre, a Methodist member of the ICC, "referred to 'the revulsion' which many church members felt 'at the propaganda onslaught against the military authorities'."
Shirley Williams, then a junior Home Office minister, wrote to the British Council of Churches "that throughout the recent disorders Her Majesty's Government have appreciated the assistance of those who, like the ICC have spoken out in favour of moderation and tolerance'. Tolerance of what: internment without trial and persistence in interrogation?
There are six references to Quakers in this book - all as committee members. I am sure that their counsel was wise and useful, but I am also convinced that the service they rendered in providing transport and a canteen to friends and families visiting those held at Lond Kesh did more to foster an integrated community.
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Copyright © 2004 Pegeen O'Sullivan