Northern Ireland

The Peace People's message still rings true 40 years on

Peace People chairman Gerry Grehan looks at a photograph of a rally, held at Belfast's Woodvale Park in 1976
Peace People chairman Gerry Grehan looks at a photograph of a rally, held at Belfast's Woodvale Park in 1976 Peace People chairman Gerry Grehan looks at a photograph of a rally, held at Belfast's Woodvale Park in 1976

AN organisation working for peace across the globe, which was founded following tragic events in Belfast 40 years ago, has said their work is as important today as it was during the height of the Troubles.

The Peace People movement is marking its 40th anniversary this month with a series of events showcasing its work to unite communities in the north during the conflict, along with how it has strived to promote peace and reconciliation since then, both at home and abroad.

The group came into being in 1976 following the deaths of three young children in Andersonstown - the niece and nephews of Peace People founder Mairead Corrigan.

They were killed when a car driven by an IRA man ploughed into Mairead's sister Anne Maguire as she was walking with her children.

Driver Danny Lennon had been fatally wounded by a British soldier in an army patrol that was pursuing the car. Anne's six-week-old son Andrew, who was in his pram, died instantly along with his eight-year-old sister Joanne.

Their two-year-old brother John died of his injuries the following day, while Anne who suffered severe injuries and mental trauma, later took her own life.

The shocking tragedy prompted Mairead and Betty Williams - who witnessed the incident - to lead marches featuring women from both communities that demanded peace across the north.

The pair hosted rallies that saw thousands of people take to the streets, both in the north and in London, calling for an end to violence.

The movement was dubbed the Peace People, and their work today is as relevant as it was in the bleak years that witnessed its birth, said chairman Gerry Grehan.

He spoke yesterday, 40 years to the day since Anne and her children became victims of the Troubles, ahead of events and exhibitions to mark the anniversary of the organisation.

"On this date we remember the great tragedy that lead to the formation of our group, and today we still work at home and internationally to keep the message of non-violence alive," Gerry said.

"It is our quest to propagate our experience and knowledge to troubled areas around the world. Our message is simple - peace is not a political expedient, it is a fundamental human right.

"Forty years has passed, but peace is still not on the agenda in a dangerous militarised world."

The recent work of Mairead, who along with Betty Williams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977, and her colleagues, includes campaigning for peace in the Middle East.

Speaking of the document written upon the founding of the movement, Gerry added: "When one reads the Peace People Declaration, they can see it is still relevant today."

Among the events being held to mark the organisation's anniversary are an `open house' at the Peace People headquarters on Belfast's Lisburn Road, in which visitors can "reflect on how peace and reconciliation has blossomed out of pain and loss".

Exhibitions are also planned for the Linen Hall Library and Falls Road Library later this month and in September.