07 March 2006

Fatal bombing prompted path of peace

Wanganui Chronicle - NZ


AFTER witnessing an IRA bombing that killed a mother and her two children, Anton Forde quit Sinn Fein and gave peace a go. The Wanganui teacher, who has worked with the likes of the Reverend Jesse Jackson and Bono, will be speaking at the Parihaka Peace Festival next weekend.

Living in Northern Ireland playing professional rugby, Mr Forde said he saw the senseless nature of the Catholic versus Protestant disharmony firsthand. “We would go to church on a Sunday, then we would go down the pub afterwards for a drink and my cousins would be talking about killing people,” he said.

The mother killed in the 1998 IRA (Irish Republican Army) bombing that motivated him to quit the Sinn Fein political party was supposedly targeted because she was dating a Protestant. After being told he had to stop playing for Irish European Cup rugby team Leinster, due to too many concussions, Mr Forde taught in an Irish Catholic School.

The priest at the school, Father Kevin O’Shea, was involved in the mediation process between the IRA, Sinn Fein and the British Government and Mr Forde quickly became involved. “I was 100kg and couldn’t play rugby anymore so he was keen to take me along for protection,” he said. “We would walk into some crazy places.

“There would be the IRA on one side and the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) on the other and they were all armed. “And there we were, a hippy and a priest.” This process lead the 33-year-old religious studies teacher to meet many of the leading players in the eventual peace settlement, including Gerry Adams, John Hulme and Martin McGuiness, along with leading IRA activists and British parliamentarians.

After seeing how dialogue can help to ease conflict Mr Forde said he has always seen the pursuit of peaceful resolution as essential to solving world issues. Other situations he has been involved in that he attributes to his desire to speak about peace include: being present in Jerusalem in 2000 when the first suicide bombing in the West Bank for 13 years occurred; travelling to Central America where he witnessed first-hand atrocities of the CIA wars on various Central American nations; and being present at the execution of reformed gang head and Noble Peace award nominee Stanley “Tookie” Williams in California.

“You have these special times in your life,” he said about the situation that occurred outside San Quentin prison at the time Mr Williams’ execution. “I wouldn’t call it a highlight, but it was pretty moving. “These big tough looking Crips guys all had tears rolling down their cheeks. “It was a lot more inspiring seeing that, than seeing them with baseball bats in their hands.”

Mr Forde’s theory on peace is a simple one. “Treat others as you want to be treated. “It’s a pretty simple philosophy, though some might think it is quite airy fairy, but it’s not brain surgery.” If there is one thing he wants people to think about it is the following quote from Mahatma Ghandi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

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