United For Peace

CNI joins thousands at Belfast peace vigil

‘No More Killings – No Return To Sectarian Violence.’ The homemade sticker on a young man’s baseball cap epitomised the mood of the reportedly 10,000-strong crowd that CNI and staff from the Linen Hall library joined for the peace vigil in Belfast city centre at luncthime on Wednesday, March 11.

Organised by the Northern Ireland branch of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), the silent protest at City Hall, reminiscent of the Peace People demonstrations of the 1970s, was one of several that took place in cities and towns across the land in opposition to the political violence which has claimed the lives of three people in less than a week.

Beneath fluttering trade union flags and banners, people of all ages and walks of life gathered to show their opprobrium for the dissident republican violence which has seen the murder of two soldiers in Antrim on Saturday night and the shooting dead of constable Stephen Paul Carroll in Craigavon two days later.

Speaking at the Belfast event, general secretary of ICTU Peter Bunting said, ‘this protest has given ordinary citizens of Belfast a chance to express their repudiation of violence and support for the peace process'.

Paul, a 17-year old student on his lunch break from an integrated college in Belfast, spoke for many present when he said, ‘Northern Ireland has more to offer than political violence'.

This latest wave of violence has catapulted Northern Ireland back onto news pages across the world for all the wrong reasons, but Sharon, a young mother from Lisburn, came to the protest ‘to show the good side of Northern Ireland’.

‘I’m ashamed of what has happened and I’ve come here to show the families of those soldiers and the policeman that not everyone here thinks the same way. We have compassion,’ she commented.

Political condemnation of the dissident republican murders has been vociferous and unequivocal and today’s event had the backing of all the major parties, including Sinn Fein, who recently branded the terrorists ‘traitors’.

David Ford, leader of the Alliance Party said of the cross-party support, ‘it shows that across the board we are against violence'.

The joint first and deputy first ministers’ scheduled visit to the US was delayed until today (Thursday, March 12) due to the killings, but Ford spoke of the need to return to business as usual as soon as possible. ‘We need to take the time to say we reject what is going on but we also need to show that normal life here has not been affected,’ he commented.

Fears voiced that the republican violence could lead to a reaction from loyalist groupings were rejected by loyalist representatives in attendance.

Jackie McDonald, a senior loyalist figure, remarked, ‘there is no intention of anybody in our movement going back… I am sending out a message to loyalists that we are better than this. These fellows are not republicans they are just gangsters trying to break down the whole system'.

For Dawn Purvis, an MLA and leader of the Progressive Unionist Party,  the protest demonstrated the unity across Northern Irish society.

‘You can see by the breadth of the crowd - young and old, rich and poor, every religious and minority ethnic background – that we don’t need this and we don’t want this. The message is loud and clear, stop this now.’

Jim, a middle-aged man from North Belfast, had hoped that peace protests on Belfast’s street were a thing of the past, but like so many he came to show his repudiation of any return to violence.

‘I never thought ten years ago that I’d have to do another one. I’ve had to live in fear for most of my life and I’m here because I don’t ever want to go back.’ 

Peter Geoghegan