WASHINGTON (July 16, 1997) -- Preventing a repeat of the recent sectarian violence associated with Northern Ireland's Orange Order marches will require that "serious issues of democratic governance and the rule of law" be addressed, two U.S. religious leaders advised the British ambassador to the United States in a letter yesterday.
Reverend Henry J. Postel, Chairman of the Presbyterian Church USA's Northern Ireland Working Group, and Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Newark, chairman of the U. S. Catholic Conference's International Policy Committee, sent the letter following consultations with their counterparts in Northern Ireland.
"No feared or actual infringement of rights in question could possibly justify such threats or acts of violence," said the two religious leaders in condemning the real and threatened violence surrounding the decision to permit a march through a predominantly Catholic area on July 6.
At the same time, Rev. Postel and Archbishop McCarrick were quick to applaud the decision of the Orange Order to abandon or reroute marches scheduled for July 12, the anniversary of King William of Orange's victory over King James II in 1689.
"We hope that similar responsible gestures of moderation will be reciprocated by the nationalist community as well as by others in the unionist community," they told the British Ambassador.
The Americans urged the British government to move forward with legal and policy changes necessary to bring about "a spirit of moderation and accommodation" in Northern Ireland, calling particular attention to the recommendations of the North Commission. Quoting from the Commission's report, Rev. Postel and Archbishop McCarrick noted the need for "reasonable proportionality" in balancing the rights of the predominantly Protestant loyalist community with the rights of the predominantly Catholic nationalist community in Northern Ireland.
"This balancing of rights cannot be adequately done when decisions about parades are made by the police on the basis of public order criteria alone, with little or no account taken of the impact of a parade on inter-communal relationships and other broader criteria," the letter reads. "The Garvaghy Road events make clear the urgent need for early passage of promised legislation to implement the North Commission's proposals, so that future parade decisions will be based, not on an assessment of the lesser evil, but on the rule of law."
Archbishop McCarrick sent a separate letter to Archbishop Sean Brady of Armagh, Northern Ireland, transmitting a copy of the joint letter to the British ambassador. In it he expressed the solidarity of the Bishops of the United States and pledged their continued support for justice and peace in Northern Ireland.
"We share your sadness at the grave harm being done to both nationalist and unionist communities, as well as to hopes for peace, by the failure to resolve the parades issues peacefully in a spirit of accommodation and moderation," Archbishop McCarrick said in his letter to Archbishop Brady.