Irish Peace Hopes Alive Despite Murders

10,000 mourners, both Catholics and Protestants, attend funeral of an assassinated activist who tried to build bridges

DUBLIN, Ireland–The funeral of Terry Enright in Belfast Jan. 14 was the biggest in Northern Ireland since the death of the IRA hunger strikers in the early 1980s.

Enright was shot outside a night-club in Belfast by members of the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF), who are assassinating Catholics in revenge for the killing of their leader, Billy Wright, on Dec. 27. So far, the LVF, which has not declared a cease-fire, has murdered three Catholics since Wright was shot by members of the Irish Nationalist Liberation Army inside the Maze prison.

The LVF is a relatively small terrorist group in Northern Ireland, with a membership known for its virulent hatred of Catholics. The organization does not recognize the current peace talks and has not declared a cease-fire.

It is estimated that more than 10,000 people attended Enright's funeral, among them his wife and two daughters. Because of his activity in cross-community activities for children, he was mourned equally by Catholics and Protestants. It is not known whether the LVF targeted him because of his cross-community activities or whether he was killed because he was the first Catholic they found in a vulnerable location.

At the funeral, Bishop Patrick Walsh of Down and Connor said he had mourned with the families of all three recent murder victims. “In the space of a few short weeks, I have shared the heartbreak in the homes of Gerry Devlin, Eddie Treanor, and now Terry Enright. Why were they murdered? They were Catholics in vulnerable places. Is being a Catholic a sufficient reason in some perverted minds for being murdered? The anger and fear and tension in the Catholic community is understandable.”

The bishop noted that Enright had been born in 1969&mdash a fateful year” that marked the start of Northern Ireland's “Troubles”, and 29 years of “agony piled on agony.” Bishop Walsh asked: “Will 1998 be a fateful year in a different sense, a year that will see the agony over and the darkness of bitterness, suspicion, hatred, and terror scattered in the light of tolerance, respect, love, and peace?”

Hopes are still high in Northern Ireland that a peaceful solution may be around the corner — which may be another reason for the large turnout of mourners at Enright's funeral.

The Irish and British governments have put forward a document entitled “Propositions on Heads of Agreement” that puts firm proposals on the negotiation tables and which has moved the current all-party peace talks in to a higher gear.

The main proposals are: balanced constitutional change based on commitment to the principles of consent; changes to Irish and British constitutional law; a Northern Ireland Assembly elected by a system of proportional representation; a new British-Irish agreement to replace the Anglo-Irish agreement; the establishment of a new intergovernmental ‘Council of the Isles’ involving representatives from Dublin, London, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales; the establishment of a new north/south ministerial council and the creation of bodies to implement the ministerial council's decisions; the creation of systems by new governments covering issues of ‘mutual interest’, including security and European Union affairs; the establishment of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland; and the adoption of measures to deal with the release of prisoners and with weapons decommissioning.

Unionists, who favor continued British rule and who are predominantly Protestant, are delighted with the proposals, particularly the establishment of a Northern Irish Assembly and the replacement of the Anglo-Irish Agreement which they dislike because it gives the Irish government some say in Northern Irish affairs.

But civil rights activist Father Denis Faul said the “Propositions” document fails because it does not address the Catholic community's biggest concern: the lack of an impartial police force in Northern Ireland. Only 8% of officers serving in the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) are Catholic and several of its members have been implicated in helping Loyalist terror groups to carry out sectarian killings.

Father Faul told the Register: “The one thing that is missing from the document is the need for an impartial police force. As soon as Catholics show any sign of making advances, the sectarian assassinations begin. We had assassinations in 1969 when the civil rights movement began; in 1972 when Stormont fell; in 1974 when the IRA declared a truce; in 1991 when the Anglo-Irish agreement was signed; and now again, because the Loyalists believe Catholics are gaining in the current negotiations.

“The big fear in the Catholic community is that if there is an emergency, if there are sectarian assassinations, or people are being burnt out of their homes, can they rely on the RUC for protection? Catholics don't feel secure; that is why the IRA and the INLA are active in Catholic communities… .”

Father Faul also criticized the “Proposition,” document's use of the phrase that there will be “equity of treatment” for Catholics in Northern Ireland, saying ‘equity’ was not the same as ‘equality.’ “They should spell it out: ‘equality of treatment before the law, equality of citizenship, equality of employment,’ that is what we want that is our right. But the top priority is an impartial police force.”

Cian Molloy writes from Dublin, Ireland.