Protestants in North Belfast suspended daily protests in late November after police increased surveillance in their bomb-scarred neighborhood. For the first time in months, Catholic students freely walked through a Protestant neighborhood to their school.

Despite Northern Ireland's 1998 Good Friday peace accord, Catholics and Protestants still engage in sectarian confrontation. Sources say that Protestant extremists, such as the terrorist Red Hand Defenders, are behind much of the recent violence. Since the late 1960s, Protestants and Catholics have waged a violent struggle over political control of the six counties that make up Northern Ireland.

The British Parliament divided Northern and Southern Ireland in 1920. In 1921, Northern Ireland elected to stay in the United Kingdom.

Assessing the damage for 2001, Northern Ireland officials report that hundreds of bombs injured 371 police officers, 8 British soldiers, and 103 civilians in North Belfast.

Process Moves Forward

The peace process moved forward last year. In October, the violent Irish Republican Army, which had sought to force the British from Northern Ireland, announced that it would "put [its] arms completely and verifiably beyond use."

In November, moderate Protestant leader David Trimble was reelected First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the home-rule body.

Trimble turned back a challenge to his leadership from hard-liners in his party, the Ulster Unionists.

Many Protestants continue to feel at risk. Evangelical Contribution on Northern Ireland (ECONI) warns that the latest IRA move does not guarantee peace.

Political measures are "not going to work if 25 percent of Northern Ireland's Protestant community feels alienated," says David Porter, director of ECONI.

Porter says many Protestants perceive economic discrimination and believe that "the Protestant culture is being attacked at every turn."

"Many cultural symbols, such as British flags, are being removed in Northern Ireland," Porter told Christianity Today, and Protestants find this worrisome.

ECONI was launched about ten years ago to provide a biblical, impartial witness in the sectarian conflict.

Philip Lader, United States ambassador to Great Britain during the Clinton administration, worked with more than 40 events intended to help Protestant and Catholic communication. Lader is hopeful. "Progress has occasionally been halting. There are positive signs of a just and lasting peace," he told CT.

ECONI's Porter is not surprised that the peace process is stumbling, however.

"Our peace process is being driven primarily because we're weary of the conflict," he says. "It's not coming out of an enthusiastic embrace of the other side, but out of a suspicious tolerance of the other. It will take several generations to exorcise our hate."

This month, ECONI plans to convene two meetings of key Protestant pastors. The gatherings of 12 to 15 pastors will explore how to respond and live biblically in a divided society.

Related Elsewhere

See more on the Northern Ireland Peace Process at Yahoo's full coverage area, BBC News's excellent in-depth reference area, and the Irish Times.

In 1997, Christianity Today reported on Northern Ireland's "leap of faith" towards peace in "For God or Ulster?"

Last year, the Christian Science Monitor reported on the quiet progress being made under the 1998 Good Friday Peace Accord.

The Washington Post has an extensive "Timeline of Troubles" detailing key events in Northern Ireland's rift.

Evangelical Contribution on Northern Ireland's (ECONI) mission is to equip Christians to address community division in Northern Ireland and the long term task of peace-building.

See our earlier coverage of the Northern Ireland peace process:

Northern Ireland: Peace at Last?Protestants and Catholics agree on a new government. (Jan. 10, 2000)
Vote for Peace No Panacea (July 13, 1998)
'The Kids Are the Candles' (Oct. 6, 1997)
Leaders Help Fighting Factions Build Bridges (Oct. 27, 1997)
Christian Peace Activists Refocus on Forgiveness (Dec. 9, 1996)

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.