Despite the overwhelming vote in favor of the peace agreement in Northern Ireland on May 22, many problems remain. Religious leaders are concerned about issues such as the decomissioning of arms, the release of paramilitary prisoners, and the marching season.

All the main churches in northern and southern Ireland supported the peace agreement. Overall, 94 percent of the voters in the south approved the plan along with 71 percent in the north.

Belfast pastors Ken Newell of Fitzroy Presbyterian Church and Charles Kenny of Saint Ann's Anglican Cathedral organized 150 clergy in supporting the referendum. "The agreement offers an opportunity for a new beginning for our society," the clergy said.

"It's a resurrection day for the community after 30 years of suffering and crucifixion," Newell said of the vote's outcome.

But Newell and other leaders warn that the path ahead will not be easy even though there is a desire for healing. "It's difficult after being divided for 300 years to make decisions on a cross- community basis," he says.

Catholic Tom Kelly, a former Irish Republican Army terrorist, hopes to help in the rebuilding process by holding meetings with Protestant Jim Tate, a former Ulster Volunteer Force paramilitary. "There's a recognition even in the major paramilitary organizations that nobody was going to win," Kelly says.

Still, David Porter, director of Evangelical Contribution on Northern Ireland, says voting on the agreement is not the same as the will to make peace. "You are not going to move from suspicion to trust in one vote," Porter says. "There is a lot of potential for breakdown." Among the most potentially divisive issues is the marching season, which normally starts in mid-June, ending in July. These historic ...

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Christianity Today
Vote for Peace No Panacea
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July 13, 1998

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