Faith Matters

Working together to change attitudes and heal the hurt of paramilitary-style attacks

The Rev Brian Anderson explains why the Irish Council of Churches is backing the 'Ending the Harm' campaign against paramilitary violence

An image from a television advert produced for the Ending the Harm campaign against paramilitary violence
Rev Brian Anderson

THERE is no such thing as an acceptable level of violence; all acts of violence hurt someone.

Today, communities are hurting from the violence of the past while trying to cope with the new hurts of the present.

A culture of violent attacks and intimidation is still prevalent in our communities, with members of our society being exposed to the legacy of conflict at a young age.

Such violence comes from those claiming that they are protecting communities when in reality they have their own motives to exert control over vulnerable members of our society.

These violent attacks bring further physical and mental trauma to our communities.

This is why it is important to support campaigns such as 'Ending the Harm', by the Tackling Paramilitarism Programme, in trying to help communities that are suffering.

The title of this new campaign is very appropriate as it reminds us that the violence and attacks, that continue today, are damaging our communities and creating lasting wounds at a time when we should be healing alongside one another.

A sense of fear that prohibits generational blossoming becomes instilled through intimidation, young people grow used to these situations of violence and so the cycle continues.

This campaign aims at building on public awareness and knowledge that paramilitary- style attacks should not be ignored as a normal part of our communities.

While president of the Irish Council of Churches, I am focusing on the theme of 'Common Good' and the promotion of this in our communities.

It is the role of all members of society to create a safe and welcoming place to live.

We must work together to heal the wounds from the past rather than adding to them with further attacks and intimidation.

Local churches have a clear sense of the effects of violence in their communities from their work on the ground.

Historically, churches were looked upon in times of need. Today this is no different as churches continue to offer support to those affected by the trauma of past and present violence.

Last year, the leaders of the main Churches offered a united voice in joining those calling for an end to paramilitary attacks.

The focus of this campaign was the effects of such violence on children and young people.

However, it cannot be ignored that these attacks have a devastating impact for many other people beyond the intended victim, such as parents, friends, witnesses, first aiders, emergency services and community representatives.

Working as a community to end the harm caused by such attacks and violence must be held paramount in all areas of our society, not just those on the ground.

No news article can capture the extent to which violence wounds our communities.

Yet this damage is very real and cannot be ignored. As a community we cannot afford to become complacent in our accomplishments of peace in the past, as there is still much to be achieved for the future.

The unity within our communities reminds us to work together to make lasting changes for a peaceful future.

Promoting public awareness of the criminality that stems from paramilitary style attacks is crucial in understanding this reality of violence that we sometimes overlook.

Local leadership in areas such as youth work, education and the voluntary sector are found amongst those championing for change because of their work on the ground.

Many community groups want to see change and are willing to work together to achieve a better, safer society for all.

We must continue in this direction to end the harm from the continuation of violence and intimidation.

The Working Together to End the Harm conference held last week highlighted the importance of communities working together for the benefit of each other.

This conference featured more information on the projects within the Tackling Paramilitarism Action Plan and offered the opportunity for local people to share local and real life learning experiences.

A public awareness campaign was also launched on paramilitary style attacks where a panel discussed this important issue further.

This public awareness campaign calls for all members of society to come together to build safety for the present and future generations.

Coming from this event, it is clear that we, as a society, have the desire to care for each other in our communities both now and in the future.

We have the desire to promote the common good and build love our neighbour and those we perceive to be our enemy.

This desire comes from the personal stories of those who have been affected by violent attacks.

These people have lost family members, employment, education, housing and other opportunities because of the negative attitudes caused by Northern Ireland's conflict.

Together, as a community, we must work to change these attitudes and heal the hurt that has been done.

:: The Rev Brian Anderson is president of the Irish Council of Churches and a former president of the Methodist Church in Ireland.

More information about the Ending the Harm campaign can be found at www.endingtheharm.com

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