'All voices must be heard to break circle of despair'

PROTESTANT VIEW
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The Independent Online
Everything about Regent Street Presbyterian church seems to exude an unflappable sturdiness, a calm to carry it through any crisis. Outside the architecture is solid, while inside is hushed and unfussy.

Even the congregation of sober County Down Protestants drawn from the town of Newtownards display the same steady virtues that helped them to weather the uncertainties of the latest storm brought about the IRA's return to violence.

So it was appropriate yesterday that the Rev James Lamont's message to them should be that they must have the courage to support the peacemakers.

Not that this was some glib message for those who sit in a quiet corner of the province. For two years ago the church was damaged by a huge bomb which tore the heart out of the once peaceful town.

Now restored to its low-key Victorian beauty, the town and its inhabitants have grown accustomed to an easier life in the past 17 months.

Like every other member of the community, Mr Lamont yesterday explained that only words as bald as "stunned, shocked, shattered" could describe his emotions when he heard of the Docklands bomb.

But he was adamant that the only way to ensure that Northern Ireland could "move out of the circle of despair" was for all those in the community to make their voices heard.

"The majority have no desire to go back to the past. A minority might, but the majority do not, and they must let their voices be heard," he said.

He said that finding the courage to do so was particularly difficult at a time clouded by "doubts and political uncertainties", and specially as some of those involved in the dialogue might be "trying to destroy you" with those who "hold out one hand while in the other they hold the bomb and the Armalite".

Among the congregation was Graham McDowell, whose work involves attracting new jobs to the province, who sees a glimmer of hope for the peace process.

"I think people need to move on all sides," he said. "There needs to be some kind of accommodation found to take this thing forward."

But outside some were more sceptical. Percy Ogle, 55, said: "I do not think there are any instant solutions. There are politicians in London and Belfast who would love to solve it but do not know how. Both sides of the community have shown that they are sick of violence and want the peace to continue. But I'm not sure where we go from here."

Still, Mr Lamont maintains his hope, citing the fate of a cherry tree caught in the blast that damaged his church. "It looked dead. But a few months later, it started to bloom again. There is still hope," he said.

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