Talk, Truth and Trust … Rev Harold Good in conversation Brian Rowan #feile17

Discretion and being trusted is at the core of Rev Harold Good’s contributions to the peace process in Northern Ireland as well as the Basque Country and Colombia.

But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have much to say, and a lot of wisdom from which we can learn.

The Methodist minister and former Methodist President was gently interviewed by Brian Rowan well over an hour in the Falls Road Library as part of Féile an Phobail’s programme of talks.

Escaping the Irish “bubble” to spend time pastoring a black American congregation, Good couldn’t deny the parallels he witnessed in his home and temporary US communities. He was there in 1968 when Martin Luther King was murdered. Shortly afterwards, he returned home, hoping for a quiet congregation in rural Ireland. He was placed in Agnes Street, off the Shankill Road where he had to decide whether to be mere “first aid” or whether to intervene and find ways of bridging communities which at one level seemed to be at war, yet at another were looking after each other’s children. The death of the Troubles came through his church gates: the blood of three young loyalists who died in his church hall one Saturday night was mopped up before the Sunday School opened the next morning.

This afternoon’s conversation diverted down a side road to Feakle, the scene of a meeting of a handful of Protestant clergy with senior IRA top brass in 1974 which was disrupted with the arrival of the Gardai. Good sees it as an important first step. He recalled his own first meeting with Martin McGuinness, and the way the Derry man so carefully jotted down the ten concerns that his two Methodist visitors had prepared and relayed to him. They became “soulmates”, with McGuinness once popping in to Good’s north coast caravan on urgent business and marvelling at the view out over Rathlin. “Is this where you go when you die?” he asked. A poignant memory for Good who has lost many friends and colleagues with whom he walked down the road of peace in NI.

Rowan and Good meet up regularly. Rowan is a renowned archivist, keeping the IRA statements jotted down after blindfolded trips in cars driven to unknown locations long after his media twin Eamonn Mallie had chewed his up and thrown them into a ditch in case the security forces would seek them out.

During their conversation a number of times it seemed that if Rowan didn’t partially start a story and leave the next line hanging, Good might have been reluctant to even begin to talk about the incident. The two are incredibly comfortable – yet feel unrehearsed – as they wander up byways of the peace process, noting this, and deflecting details about that.

“Talk, Truth and Trust” are the three Ts of peace processes according to Good. He adds Time as a fourth, and agrees with Rowan that Tetley or Tea could be a fifth.

Instinctively he tooled himself up with a handful of prayer cards containing the words of St Francis (‘Make be an instrument of your peace …’) and handed them to the participants at the IRA decommissioning. He has subsequently heard back that one man still prays the words daily. It’s an example he says of why a minister can be involved in such a non-religious process.

Good does a recognisable impression of the late Dr Ian Paisley when he recalls the meeting in which he and Father Alec Reid had to convince the DUP leader that the undocumented decommissioning was trustworthy.

“You’re asking me to believe something I haven’t seen for myself?” asked Paisley, apparently without irony.

“‘Thomas, how blessed are those who who have seen and believed. How much more blessed are those who haven’t seen and have believed.’ Ian, you wouldn’t want to be left out of the ‘more blessed’?”

“That’s not what that passage is about” retorted the preacher and politician. But he believed and the process moved forward.

The Methodist churchman had no hesitation in agreeing that he, personally, and the Churches, more generally, had fallen short during the Troubles, maybe more so by their inaction and silence than the deeds and words. He went on to say that true peace required “justice, fairness and respect”, rather despairingly adding “If our politicians can’t show respect to one another …” before tailing off. Later he added that “we need to have very honest conversations with our politicians: we expect better and we deserve better”.

Answering questions from the audience he explained his desire for a Day of Acknowledgement (citing the Australian example) and explained how after hearing bonfire builders speaking on Stephen Nolan’s radio show he was attempting to get a Habitat for Humanity building project for the East Belfast young men to work on to give them a channel to invest in their community.

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  • Oggins

    Fantastic interview, and a fantastic man. Our politicians could learn so much from him.

  • Dan2

    We were hoodwinked over decommissioning.
    I’ve little time for him

  • Timothyhound

    And yet we have peace. Fractious, imperfect and potentially very fragile. Without these bridge builders on all sides and none we’d be in a far worse state.