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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Tuesday, December 03, 2002
    Lord Alderdyce: Building Respect
     
    A timely Liverpool Foundation for Citizenship Roscoe Lecture this evening. Timely for me, as the speaker was John (Lord) Alderdice, Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The only one of the Assembly members still in post while the suspension continues, Alderdice is planning for resumption, working away hopefully, while in Downing Street today many of the other Assembly leaders were in discussion about how that may happen.

    A Speaker has, of course, to be neutral and especially on public speaking engagements. But his address wasn't bland: Building a Civil Society: Reflections from Northern Ireland. At its core was the assertion that while a strong civil society is essential, and Northern Ireland enjoys a wealth of civil involvement from its non-governmental organisations, it is also deeply important to encourage citizens to get involved in electoral politics, for more people of quality to move forward as representatives of the people. Even at a time where it seems that the 'power' which politicians hold is drifting away from them to the NGOs and the marketplace.

    But the main thing I think I'll take from his talk was a phrase he repeated often - "Building Respect". Again, you'd expect a Speaker to affirm this value, but it's always welcome to hear it. He told an IRA man's story, of how as a sixteen year old he was a car enthusiast very keen on getting work as a mechanic, of how he went to a local garage and explained his enthusiasm to the owner, explained his willingness to work hard, to learn, to offer good faithful service. The owner's response chilled him and changed the direction of his life: "There's no way you will ever work here - because you're a Catholic." Lord Alderdice said that the humiliation and rejection that boy felt that day set him on the path towards terrorism, and he asked us to consider how different the outcome would have been if that garage owner had treated him with respect - how different for the boy, for the people who died as a result of his terrorist activity, for the owner's own humanity.

    Host David Alton underlined the message afterwards - if we learn to respect others, even those to whom we are bitterly opposed, then we can begin to build the sort of dialogue which enables civil society to come.

    Afterwards I spoke to Colin Parry, father of Tim, who died in the 1993 Warrington bombing. His project, Children For Peace, has recently opened a centre for peace education in Warrington. I'll be making a date to pop in there soon.