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SPEAK to go to Northern Ireland

This summer, the student group SPEAK plans to send about a dozen students to Northern Ireland in the hoping to help end a conflict that has plagued the Irish for over 400 years.

“When I first heard the potential of a trip to Northern Ireland, it was from an impassioned Tony Campolo. Needless to say, Tony is quite a compelling person,” first-year Adam Beach said in an email.

Professor emeritus Tony Campolo met with SPEAK last fall to propose the trip. The purpose would be to work alongside reconciliation groups in Northern Ireland.

Historically, Catholics (Nationalists) want Northern Ireland to be separate from England, which has ruled them for hundreds of years. Protestants (Unionists) want to stay loyal to England.

The conflict has been escalating since the 1600s, when the last Irish chieftain surrendered to the English. The English then started to confiscate and move onto Irish land. They also imposed harsh restrictions known as the Penal Laws on Irish Catholics, which heightened tensions.

Opposition between Catholics and Protestants is most concentrated in Northern Ireland, which is still a part of the UK. Southern Ireland, or the Republic of Ireland, became independent of the UK in 1921.

SPEAK plans to fly to Ireland for the weekend of June 15-18 this year.

Irish-born U2 singer Bono will be giving a concert for the cause. SPEAK and other reconciliation groups will try to connect with people on both sides of the conflict and bring them together there.

A few years ago, North Ireland’s Unionist Party met to sign a covenant in their own blood, declaring not to give in to their opponents, Sinn Fein, the Nationalist/Republican party. Not long afterward, the Sinn Fein countered with the same measure.

Reconciliation groups working alongside SPEAK hope to write a “new covenant,” one of peace, that concert attendees will hopefully be encouraged to sign. Other peace efforts in Northern Ireland have included visits by Bishop Desmond Tutu and continued work by the SPEAK chapters in the United Kingdom.

“I think it’s very important because of the fact that we can see all sorts of examples in our history of India and South Africa, and this is an area of the world that has been poisoned by socio-political religious conflict,” sophomore Peder Wiegner said.

“When faced with structural injustice, especially in the form of oppressive military occupations, I have a tendency get a little worked up. So I was interested in learning more about the complicated conflict and decided I would lend some of my time and energy to do so,” Beach added.

Campolo was unavailable for comment.

SPEAK is also organizing a prayer vigil for Northern Ireland. They hope to collaborate with St. Katharine of Siena Catholic Church, Wayne Presbyterian and Central Baptist Church in an effort to bring together Catholics and Protestants in the area as they pray for an end to the conflict.

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