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NORTHERN IRELAND


MIXED MARRIAGE 
ASSOCIATION

2001-2003

Since the conference in Edmonton 2 years ago NIMMA has been very busy. We have seen a large increase in the number of enquiries due, in large part, to increased publicity.

In October 2001 a number of inter-church and reconciliation groups were invited to join us for an Agape meal in Columbanus Community of Reconciliation. It was well attended and established friendships were strengthened and new friendships formed. One highlight for us was when new members brought along photos of their wedding, which we had been able to help with. The bride’s gratitude and obvious joy were encouraging and infectious.

In November 2001 there was a happy co-incidence. NIMMA launched new posters and pamphlets in the same week that the ‘Initiative on Conflict Resolution and Ethnicity’ and the ‘Institute for Conflict Research’ held a conference entitled ‘Mixed Marriages – The International Dimension’. Nigel Spiers and Ken Dunn of NIMMA were speakers at the conference. There was also input from: Dr Ari Nave of Harvard who talked about the experience of Inter-Ethnic Marriage in Mauritius; Dr Mateja Sedmac of Slovenia, spoke about the Ethnically Mixed Marriages Slovene Istra. Among the other talks was one from Wanda Wigfall Williams, Tip O’Neill Fellow, ‘Identity Negotiation within a Mixed Marriage: An Opportunity for Conflict Escalation or Conflict Transformation’. The video ‘A Plague on both your Houses’ featuring Anne & William was shown. A research update entitled ‘A World Apart: Mixed Marriage in Northern Ireland’ by Wanda Wigfall-Williams and Gillian Robinson was distributed, this indicated that mixed-marriages are now a bit more acceptable than they were 10 years ago. This research can be obtained at www.qub.ac.uk/nilt date November 2001. As a result of the conference there were a large number of articles printed in the local newspapers and a variety of interviews of NIMMA members & others on radio.

Our posters and pamphlets were sent to all the clergy in the Church of Ireland, Methodist, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic churches – just under 1000 in all. It was an opportunity to advertise our existence and to ask for support from clergy. These posters have been spotted in various churches around the province and although the offer of direct help from clergy has been startlingly sparse, we have benefited indirectly a great deal. Our current Web expert, Hugh joined us after seeing a notice in his parish following the mailing.

Recent statistics from our web-site have been very encouraging. Over a six-week period from February to April 2003 we have had 11,134 hits and 1,727 visitor sessions. You can check it out at www.nimma.org.uk.

NIMMA are in the process of producing a third edition of our booklet ‘Mixed Marriage in Ireland’. To improve its appearance we have secured the help of a local Public Relations Company, who have provided art-work (free of charge!). We have selected a new logo and designs for our pamphlets as well.

NIMMA continues to work with ACCORD, the Roman Catholic organisation which prepares pre-wedding courses for couples. Recently, however, relations have been a bit strained, they have a different vision from us as to what couples need.

This year the theme of our conference held on 5 & 6 April, was ‘United in Baptism and Marriage’ sharing Rome’s theme. We were grateful to Bishop Alan Harper and to Fr Tom Layden SJ for their valuable contributions. Tom considered the English preparation paper and displayed a sound understanding of Inter-Church issues. His challenge to us to be patient with others ‘not yet in the same place’ was gently delivered.

Our other annual events such as our Dinner, Barbeque, and Christmas Social continue to play an important role in the life of NIMMA and are times when new couples can meet up with the more experienced members. Ken also continues to meet with the inter-church standing committee on mixed marriage, wearing his Church of Ireland hat, each November.

NIMMA have been increased its involvement with the Alliance Party (one of only two political parties that span the local divide). Anne Odling-Smee was invited to sit on a panel at their Annual Conference last year speaking about and responding to questions about ‘Sectarianism’. At this year’s conference the Alliance Party’s chair ‘Colm Cavanagh’ gave a presidential address mentioning NIMMA very favourably and comparing community relations in Northern Ireland society to a ‘mixed marriage’.

In April 2003 our core-funding came to an end and NIMMA had to go through the rigours of an evaluation at the end of last year. Thankfully the evaluation was favourable and Community Relations Council agreed to fund NIMMA for the next 3 years. Unfortunately the terms have changed and NIMMA finds itself having to supply the not insubstantial shortfall.

In response to one of the evaluation’s recommendations we are currently employing a consultant to help us produce a development plan for the next 3 years. This will involve focus groups and should be completed by October/November this year.

In Northern Ireland the local Assembly, which had been at work in Stormont following the Good Friday agreement 5 year ago, is suspended and elections are to be announced. It is thought that these will not be held until the Autumn. The situation on the streets has been quiet for a few months, though ‘punishment beatings’ still occur regularly. It is usual that as soon as the warmer weather begins, so does the occurrence of nightly rioting especially around the many ‘peace lines’. Studies show that NI society is more polarised than ever and more and innovative efforts to bring people together must be made.

The Secretary of State has issued a consultation document ‘A Shared Future’ asking people living and working in NI what their vision is. NIMMA will be responding to this document as will a number of our members individually. In reconciliation work, as we all know too well, determination, persistence and patience are very much needed. NIMMA’s aim is to work for the good of couples, their families and society at large. Acceptance of ‘the other’ is crucial for ‘A Shared Future’ in Northern Ireland; there can be no lasting peace without it. We plan to ‘keep on keeping on’, with God’s help and with the support of our friends all around the world. We would like to thank all those who have visited us, offered prayers, finance or any other encouragement.

Anne Odling-Smee
Chair