N. Ireland's summer of hope becomes its season of shame Murders of 3 brothers in peace accord's wake traumatizes province

July 15, 1998|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- How could this happen in the wake of a peace deal? That is the question that now shadows Northern Ireland.

This was supposed to be the summer when the province enjoyed a peace dividend. The tourists were due back. Businesses were poised for a boom. A new local Assembly was up and running, prepared to deal with the delicate task of implementing a historic peace accord designed to bridge religious and cultural divisions.

But the summer of hope has been transformed into a summer of shame and rage. And it has many in the province wondering what people around the world think of them.

"They must think we're crazy," says Carmel Hanna, an Assembly member for the Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP). "Can you imagine a row over a silly road? It's about territory and marking out territory."

Northern Ireland has been traumatized by the murders of the Quinn brothers -- Richard, 11, Mark, 10 and Jason, 9 -- who perished in a sectarian arson attack before dawn Sunday on their home in Ballymoney.

The saddest march

Yesterday, under leaden skies, mourners hoisted three small, white caskets and undertook Northern Ireland's saddest march, bringing the brothers to their final resting place in a Roman Catholic cemetery in Rasharkin.

"There is fear and bigotry in the communities," says Alasdair McDonnell, an SDLP Assembly member. "That's an explosive cocktail to have lying around. But if we can get through this, we can put up a whole row of bricks, a whole story of a house of bricks. We can build something."

Northern Ireland's chief building block is the peace accord that eight political parties agreed to April 10, and which more than 70 percent of the voters approved a month later.

The deal set up new political structures for a new Northern Ireland. Also, the cultures and traditions of the Protestant majority and the Catholic minority would be respected and cultivated.

But the deal could not change the hearts and minds of all who live in a society that has been at war with itself for decades.

10-day standoff continues

Even as yesterday's funeral was taking place, several hundred Protestant-led Orangemen continued their 10-day standoff with British soldiers and police at Drumcree Church in Portadown. The siege symbolizes the deep divisions in the society and triggered a wave of violence that culminated in the killing of the Quinn brothers.

By day, the standoff remains peaceful, with a few hundred Orangemen camped on a hillside by Drumcree Church. But at night, thousands of Protestant demonstrators pour into the area, and some engage in running duels across a steel barricade with heavily armed British soldiers and police.

A growing number of Protestant religious leaders, who form the ethical backbone of the Orange Order, are demanding that the protesters disperse.

"No road is worth a life," says the Rev. Warren Porter, Orange Order chaplain for Londonderry.

"To look at the TV and see young boys who ought to be better occupied trying to injure and murder policemen, and to know these guys are doing it because they are supporting the protest at Drumcree, that saddens me more than anything else," Porter says.

Others are equally adamant that the standoff should continue. David Jones, a spokesman for the Portadown Orangemen, told British Channel 4 news: "We won't be moving from this hill until the barriers are removed."

The protesters received support from the militant Protestant leader, the Rev. Ian Paisley, who spoke Monday night at Drumcree: "We have been told the Orangemen of Drumcree were responsible for the hellish murder of the young children. I want to nail that lie. Nothing could be further from the truth."

Most others in the province look on in horror at the Drumcree standoff and its aftermath.

McDonnell, the SDLP Assembly member, helped negotiate the peaceful resolution of a major march Monday, which, like the vast majority of those held that day, went off without incident.

Feelings of guilt

John Robb, a prominent Ballymoney leader and retired doctor, who treated some of the first wounded when Northern Ireland's troubles erupted in 1969, is still trying to make sense of the deaths of the Quinn brothers.

"I feel guilty," he wrote in an open letter to the people of Northern Ireland. "Do you?"

"It is time for a society to come to terms with its suffering," he says. "People here have to try to understand what it is about the other man that they fear. Maybe they'll come to learn that they really have nothing to fear."

Robb says he has few illusions about the difficulties that lie ahead. But he hopes that the deaths of the Quinns can lead to reconciliation and that in future marching seasons, Protestant and Catholic can "march together and focus on a future together."

"We will survive this summer," he says.

Pub Date: 7/15/98

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