Profiles of Hope by Alf McCreary (Christian Journals Ltd, Belfast, £1.95)
ALF McCREARY is one of Belfast's best-known and most widely-respected journalists. For the past ten years and more he has seen at first hand the violence in the province and the traumatic effect it has had on a whole cornmunity. "Against such a wide background of conflict and conflicting attitudes," he writes. "it is not difficult to understand why there is despair." And yet: "The mood of this book is hopeful. The theme is hope from despair."
Profiles of Hope is simple and short. It should be read by everyone in mainland Britain, not only as an antidote to the popular image of Northern Ireland but also as a stimulus to positive debate and action.
For as Jane Ewiart-Biggs, the widow of the murdered British ambassador to Dublin and one of the profile subjects, says: "People in England may be uncaring because they don't know. The minute they think of people in Northern Ireland as people with children, with jobs. then the attitude changes completely. Until then they just think of Northern Ireland as a place full of thugs."
The stereotype of Northern Ireland that has embedded itself here is one of the greatest barriers to constructive political action. The genera! inability to identify with Irish people means that any new initiative to solve "the Irish problem" is greeted with a mixture of anger and cynicism.
The value of the first half of this book is that it engages the reader's emotions by relating real-life stories of individual, named people, all of whom have suffered directly from terrorism and yet who have come through it without bitterness.
You would need to be very hard indeed not to be moved both by what they say and by what they have done with their lives since tragedy struck.
Some say their strength came from God and that their faith has been strengthened by their experience. But as Mrs EwartBiggs makes clear, the key to reconstruction need not be explicitly religious. In her case it derives from "a faith in human beings ... a faith that good triumphs, that the positive ingredients will win if they are given time."
The last five chapters look at other individuals who have not suffered so directly from the troubles but who are also actively engaged in the search for peace. One is a policeman, two are businessmen, and three are priests or ministers.
The most analytical section is the reflections of two Dutch clerics — one Presbyterian. one Dominican — who pinpoint what they see to be the "disastrous" effect the churches have when they simply reflect the social mores of their particular com
munity. At those times, they sa, "the church represents the nation, or a certain group, era certain class, but it does nt necessarily represent the church." The question that arisa is "how can the church be tie church?"
Mr McCreary's book does nit answer that directly: indirect), however, it gives some ,pointer which are well worth followirg up.