Ex paramilitaries remind us of the futility of violence

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

Some years ago the News Letter ran a series of articles in which we spoke to former paramilitaries, several of them ex IRA men, who urged young people not to get involved in violence.

It was a poignant reminder that even people who have become embroiled in conflict in their youth can later in adulthood have an entirely different and much more constructive perspective on life.

The height of the Troubles, in the early 1970s, was a fast-moving and terrible time.

Northern Ireland avoided the catastrophe of civil war, but looked in 1972 as if it might descend to that level. Some people who got involved in the heat of the moment later regretted it.

As an illustration of the human capacity for renewal, ex paramilitaries from both sides of the tribal divide will be walking through west Belfast during Lent “to show that there is a better way”.

Not only is Lent now a little observed feature of the Christian calendar, Easter itself is barely known as a key religious date among many children, who think of it only as a time of chocolate eggs (and of Christmas only as a time of material presents).

This initiative, however, organised by Pastor Jack McKee of the New Life City Church, is a vivid way to mark the 40 days of Lent, with participants carrying a large wooden cross in the daily walks.

They are not only taking a stand against violence but also against drugs, which is a scourge in some disadvantaged communities, from which paramilitaries are most likely to emerge.

This is a bleak time politically in Northern Ireland but the story in today’s paper of two participants in Pastor McKee’s walks, a loyalist called Tommy and a republican called Tom, is a hopeful one and one that illustrates the futility of violence. The pair, who have become friends, are well placed to make the observation that they do: “There is a better way.”