07 December 2021
The Downpatrick Declaration:
‘bringing to the world
a message of charity and peace’
Today is being celebrated as the 1600th anniversary of the birth of Saint Columba or Saint Colmcille, one of the three patron saints of Ireland.
On 9 June 1186, 15 bishops, many abbots and church dignitaries and a large number of clergy and laity were present at the reburial of what were now revered as the relics of Saint Patrick, Saint Brigid and Saint Columba (Columcille) in Downpatrick.
Saint Columba is said to have been born 1,600 years ago, on 7 December 521, at Gartan in present-day Co Donegal. As part of today’s commemorations, the ‘Downpatrick Declaration’ was launched this evening (7 December 2021), in Downpatrick, Co Down. As President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND), I am one of the 33 signatories of today’s declaration.
The history of Ireland is a reminder of the complexity of community and identity, and of the devastation of violence. Our Peace Process marks a break with centuries of conflict on the island. The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement establishes vital principles for recognising one another and for peacefully acknowledging and resolving differences.
Leaders in Britain and in both parts of this island have endorsed exclusively peaceful means of resolving differences on political issues and rejected ‘any use or threat of force’. (Declaration of Support, § 4) These principles are a guide for building sustainable communities, and for our conduct in the wider world.
We should at least not aggravate, and at best help modestly towards, resolving the challenges and conflicts of our troubled Planet Earth. No one person or group is responsible for all these problems, but we are all accountable for how we respond to them.
Tragically, both UK and Irish governments have betrayed the Agreement in their so-called ‘defence’ policies. Their involvement in NATO (UK) and NATO’s so-called ‘Partnership for Peace’ (Republic) has been a moral and practical disaster.
NATO’s ‘War on Terror’ has brought catastrophic onslaughts and human-rights abuses, perpetuating a bitter cycle of aggression and retaliation. It invokes threats but fails to address their nature and sources or to create a context where the tragic cycle could be broken.
This betrays the Republic’s constitutional commitment to ‘the pacific settlement of international disputes ... [and] the generally recognised principles of international law’ (Article 29) It is equally at odds with the pronouncement of Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam in 1999 that ‘all violence, no matter for what purpose, is unacceptable.’
Both governments display the mindset of what US President Eisenhower 60 years ago called 'the military-industrial complex.’ They suggest that producing weapons of war can be a sound basis for prosperity on this island and for supporting peace and development in the wider world. We challenge them, as joint guarantors of the Peace Process, to show how this could be so.
Weapons not only kill and maim; they also wreck homes and habitats and damage our ecology. They distort and distract from the real challenges of security. They deflect resources of mind and matter from worthwhile production. They undermine the good work of governments, NGOs and others for disarmament, peace and development, instead producing a tragic tide of suffering and displacement.
Our world is sliding towards a horrific era of enmity and revenge, as dangerous and destructive as the Cold War. Our governments must bring their policies, at home and abroad, into line with the Declaration of Support. We need to produce ploughshares in a spirit of recognition and rebuilding, rather than swords with the mindset of militarism and mistrust.
Our Declaration invokes Downpatrick, a site recognised by all as emblematic of the island’s ancient history. The Shrine of the Three Patrons, embodying the tradition that Saints Patrick, Brigid and Colmcille are interred there, celebrates the shared roots of the island's different Christian faith traditions, stemming from the Abrahamic roots which they share in turn with Judaism and Islam. Downpatrick itself has known conflict throughout the millennia, up to and including the recent Troubles, but remains a beacon of the values of its patrons: Patrick, an enslaved immigrant, returned with a radical message of peace and love and rejected killing; Brigid lived a life of peace and harmony with nature, selling a bejewelled sword to feed the hungry; and Colmcille left the island in repentance for his own past involvement with violence, bringing to the world a message of charity and peace.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate
Denis J. Halliday,
United Nations Assistant Secretary-General 1994-98
Secretary-General, International Peace Bureau (retired)
and Vice-President, Movement for the Abolition of War
Assistant Professor (Retired) Trinity College Dublin
Chair, Anglican Pacifist Fellowship
Chair of Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA)
Revd Canon Prof Patrick Comerford,
President Irish CND
Vice President of Pax Christi, England and Wales
Vice President of Pax Christi, England and Wales
Chair, Peace People
Former UN Peacekeeper
and founder of Shannonwatch
Founder and Director East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign
President Emeritus of the Movement for the Abolition of War
Secretary, People's Movement;
former General President, Connect Trade Union
Professor Emeritus, University College Cork
Quaker and former Clerk of Ireland Yearly Meeting
Author and former member of the President’s Council of State
Author and Activist
Founder and Director of Children in Crossfire
Travel Writer and Author
Clare O’Grady Walshe,
Former BBC NI political correspondent
Michael Quane RHA,