Presbyterian moderator says politicians must find way of dealing with past
‘A wife, whether it’s the wife of an IRA terrorist or of an RUC policeman, will suffer’
The Rev Dr Michael Barry: “We need to get to the stage where the flag itself is not the one all-important issue. Whether I am British or Irish does not depend on what flag is flying.” Photograph: Alan Lewis/Photopress
The Rev Dr Michael Barry, the next moderator to Ireland’s 240,000 Presbyterians, has said politicians must find some way of dealing with the past.
Dr Barry (63), a native of Carrickfergus, Co Antrim, will take over from the Rev Rob Craig as moderator of the Presbyterian Church in June after he was elected on Monday night. A former schoolteacher from a seafaring family, who is married with two daughters, Dr Barry began studying for the church when he was 29.
He was ordained as assistant minister in First Larne Presbyterian Church in 1982 and was installed as minister of his current church, Sandys Street congregation in Newry, in 1985, on the night the IRA fired a mortar bomb that killed nine RUC officers in Newry.
“It was a very sad occasion for many people and in some respects that has flavoured my ministry over the years,” he said.
He welcomed the fact that some people from the Catholic community had welcomed his appointment, noting that Sinn Féin in Newry had also congratulated him, which he found encouraging. In relation to US diplomat Dr Richard Haass’s proposals on parades, the past and flags, Dr Barry said people “hold their flag very dearly”.
“Perhaps we need good leadership from our politicians,” he added. “We need to get to the stage where the flag itself is not the one all-important issue. Whether I am British or Irish does not depend on what flag is flying.
“The past is a very delicate situation and there are people who are hurting who have lost loved ones. I would be very slow to say to them forget about the past and move on; you can’t do that.”
However, he added, “in some respects we have got to move forward. The question is how we do that, whether it is by a truth commission or whatever, but we need to find some way of dealing with it. “We can’t just leave it hanging in the hope that all these people will eventually die out and there will be no one to remember. It needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later.”
On the issue of what constitutes a victim, which particularly exercises some unionists, Dr Barry said he saw nothing wrong with praying for the families of paramilitaries who were killed in the Troubles.
“A wife, whether it’s the wife of an IRA terrorist or of an RUC policeman, will suffer and the church will pray for them and ask for God’s comfort for them.”
Dr Barry said he would describe himself as a “conservative” or “traditionalist” Presbyterian who, while he would not participate in a Catholic Mass, was happy to work with Catholic clergy and people in civic society. He had attended weddings and funerals in Catholic churches, he added.