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A new ILBF documentary investigates the role of three priests in the peace process



Date Posted: December 1, 2021

A new Irish Language Broadcast Fund documentary, Sagairt na Síochána, reveals the remarkable roles played by three Irish Redemptorist priests. Presented by reporter Kevin Magee and produced by Imagine Media, the documentary will air on Wednesday 8th December at 9:30pm on TG4.

Two of the priests helped broker the most important peace deals between Irish Republicans and British governments in the twentieth century and a third who continues to nurture, develop and maintain what is an oft times fragile peace in a new century, one hundred years on from when the Irish War of Independence drew to a close.

The film will give original insights into how, against all the odds, peace settlements were achieved between the IRA and the British amid extreme violence. It will also explore whether a tradition of radical, politically aware Irish spirituality achieved results when more conventional approaches failed and asks what it means to be a peace builder in 2021, 100 years after end of the Irish War of Independence.

Archbishop Patrick Clune was a secret intermediary between British Prime Minister Lloyd George and Sinn Féin leaders including Michael Collins. Fr Alec Reid, a priest at Clonard monastery, Belfast, initiated the Hume-Adams talks in 1986 which finally led to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. The programme also explores the continuing role of the Clonard Peace Ministry, under Fr Ciaran O Callaghan in cross community reconciliation today.

Sagairt na Síochána includes interviews with key figures including former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, former Irish President Mary McAleese, former Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, and former SDLP minister Bríd Rodgers. Among other interviewees is special advisor Martin Mansergh, senior Irish diplomats Sean Ó hUiginn, Michael Lillis and Tim Dalton, Presbyterian minister Rev. Lesley Carroll, Redemptorists Fr Brendan Calllanan and Fr Michael Kelleher, and historians Tomás Mac Conmara and Áindrias Ó Cáthasaigh.

With exclusive access to his personal archive for the first time, the film shows that Fr Reid was one of the main architects of the Irish peace process. Appalled by the suffering and violence he witnessed in Belfast, he was determined to find a peaceful way out of the Troubles, which would claim nearly 4,000 lives over 30 years. He set up meetings between SDLP leader John Hume and Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, and persuaded Fianna Fáil leader and Taoiseach Charles Haughey to support his peace initiative. During his 40-year ministry in Clonard Monastery, Fr Reid secretly acted as a conduit between Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Irish government in efforts to bring about an IRA ceasefire.

In 1988, he tried to save the lives of two British soldiers captured at the funeral of one of the three victims of the Milltown cemetery attack. He placed himself between the attackers and the soldiers but was pushed away and threatened with being killed himself. He followed the abducted soldiers and gave them the kiss of life after they were shot. A shocking photograph of Father Alec, his hands clasped in prayer, his face smeared with blood, kneeling over the bodies of the two British soldiers, was beamed around the world.

No one knew until years later that in his pocket, the priest was carrying a secret Sinn Féin document for the SDLP leader John Hume on how to resolve the Troubles. After the killings, Fr Reid returned to Clonard and changed the envelope because it was badly stained with the blood of one of the British soldiers. When the IRA eventually decommissioned its weapons in 2005, Fr Reid and the Reverend Harold Good, former Irish Methodist president, were independent witnesses to the arms being put beyond use. Fr Reid also worked with Fr Brendan Callanan, then Provincial of the Irish Redemptorists, to find where the bodies of the Disappeared were buried. He was involved in brokering ETA’s 2006 “permanent ceasefire” in the Basque country, ending nearly 40 years of violence.

Sixty years before Fr Reid, a senior Co. Clare-born Redemptorist was also heavily involved in conflict resolution. Horrified by the massacre of civilians at Croke Park on Bloody Sunday in 1920, Archbishop Patrick Clune came close to winning a ceasefire between Sinn Féin and the British Government. But his work was scuppered when hardliners in the British Government, including Winston Churchill and Andrew Bonar Law, demanded a complete surrender of IRA arms before ceasefire talks. Six months of intense conflict between British forces and the IRA followed, but Clune’s work laid the groundwork for a truce and the Anglo-Irish Agreement in December 1921.

Away from the glare of the world’s media, the peace and reconciliation outreach work continues today in Clonard Monastery Belfast, in a quiet and unassuming manner. Standing on the shoulders of giants, the work of Dundalk-born Redemptorist, Fr. Ciarán O’Callaghan is not carried out against a backdrop of bombs and bullets but remains vital as it continues to build bridges in a fractured world. The Louth theologian is acutely aware of the fragility of peace and the need to nurture it to ensure that it continues to bear fruit.


Léiríonn Sagairt na Síochána, clár faisnéise nua de chuid an Chiste Craoltóireachta Gaeilge, na róil shuntasacha a bhí ag triúr sagart d’Ord an tSlánaitheora. Beidh an clár atá curtha i láthair ag Kevin Magee agus léirithe ag Imagine Media ar siúl ar TG4 ar an Chéadaoin 8ú Nollaig ag 9.30p.m.

Chuidigh beirt de na sagairt leis na socruithe síochána is tábhachtaí idir Poblachtaigh na hÉireann agus rialtais Shasana sa 20ú haois, agus an tríú duine a leanann leis de bheith ag cothú, ag forbairt agus ag coinneáil síocháin ar furasta í a bhriseadh i gcéad úr, céad bliain ar aghaidh ó dheireadh Chogadh Saoirse na hÉireann.

Tabharfaidh an scannán léargas nua ar an dóigh ar baineadh amach in aineoin gach rud, socruithe síochána idir an tIRA agus an Bhreatain i measc foréigean millteanach. Fiosróidh sé fosta má d’éirigh le spioradáltacht Éireannach radacach a thuig an pholaitíocht torthaí a bhaint amach san áir ar theip ar chuir chuige níos tradisiúnta, agus fiafraíonn cad é an tábhacht atá le bheith i do thógálaí síochána in 2021, céad bliain ar aghaidh ó dheireadh Chogadh Saoirse na hÉireann.

Idirghabhálaí rúnda a bhí san Ardeaspag Patrick McClune as Contae an Chláir, idir Príomh-Aire na Breataine Lloyd George agus ceannairí Shinn Féin ar a n-áirítear Michael Collins. Chuir an tAthair Alec Reid, sagart i mainistir Chluain Árd, Béal Feirste, tús le cainteanna Hume-Adams in 1986, cainteanna ar eascair Comhaontú Aoine an Chéasta uathu in 1998. Fiosraíonn an clár fosta an ról leanúnach atá ag an Clonard Peace Ministry, faoin Athair Ciaran O’Callaghan maidir leis an athmhuintearas trasphobail inniu.

San áireamh sa chlár, tá agallaimh le daoine tábhachtacha ar a n-áirítear an t-iarThaoiseach Bertie Ahern, iarUachtarán na hÉireann Mary McAleese, iarUachtarán Shinn Féin Gerry Adams, agus iarAire de chuid an SDLP Bríd Rodgers. Ar na hagallaithe eile tá an Comhairleoir Speisialta Martin Mansergh, taidhleoirísinsearacha de chuid na hÉireann Sean Ó hUiginn, Michael Lillis agus Tim Dalton, an ministir Preispitéireach An tUrr. Lesley Carroll, na Slánaitheoraigh an tAth. Brendan Calllanan agus an tAth. Michael Kelleher, agus na staraithe Tomás Mac Conmara agus Áindrias Ó Cáthasaigh.

Le rochtain eisiach ar a chartlann phríobháideach don chéad uair, léiríonn an scannán go raibh an tAth. Reid ar cheann de phríomhúdair phróiseas síochána na hÉireann. Agus samhnas air i ndiaidh a bhfaca sé d’fhulaingt agus d’fhoréigean i mBéal Feirste, shocraigh an tAth. Alec bealach éalaithe síochánta as na Trioblóidí a aimsiú. Shocraigh sé cruinnithe idir ceannaire an SDLP John Hume agus uachtarán Shinn Féin Gerry Adams, agus chuir ina luí ar cheannaire Fhianna Fáil agus an Taoiseach Charles Haughey tacú lena thionscnamh síochána. Le linn a mhinistreachta 40 bliain i mainistir Chluain Árd in iartharBhéal Feirste, bhí an tAthair Reid ina chainéal rúnda idir Sinn Féin, an SDLP agus Rialtas na hÉireann maidir le hiarrachtaísos cogaidh a fháil ón IRA. In 1988, rinne sé iarracht beirt saighdiúirí Briotanacha, a gabhadh ag tórramh duine den triúr a maraíodh in ionsaí Reilig Bhaile an Mhuilinn, a tharrtháil ón bhás.

 

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