Melting down weapons from all sides in the Northern conflict to create a “Christ of the Andes” type sculpture was considered in 1999 as a possible solution to overcome the decommissioning impasse, newly released State papers have revealed.
The Christ the Redeemer of the Andes statue was erected at a height of almost 4,000m in the Andes in 1904 as a symbol of the peaceful resolution of a border dispute between Argentina and Chile.
The idea to create an Irish equivalent of the statue was discussed with the main parties during late 1998, when progress in the peace process became bogged down over the contentious issue of paramilitary decommissioning.
Statue for NI
It came from an interview with Sinn Féin negotiator Mitchel McLaughlin in the Down Chronicle newspaper in which he suggested the creation of such a statue for the North.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s special adviser on Northern Ireland Martin Mansergh wrote a note to him on November 11th, 1998, taking up the suggestion.
“I had a phone call from Eugene O’Shea who was part of the Green delegation to the Forum. He is also a freelance journalist and picked up a suggestion by Mitchel McLaughlin in the Down Chronicle that a Christ of the Andes sculpture — made up of melted down weapons from all sides — may be a way around the decommissioning obstacle.”
Mansergh also informed the taoiseach that the idea had been floated with the main parties for reaction, including the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).
“While everyone is cagey, (UUP leader David) Trimble’s office is not dismissing it. I received the same suggestion sometime back from Alderman Gordon Linney, rector of Glenageary, but who is in close touch with unionist thinking. The sculpture would obviously be open to competition,” he wrote.
There was a suggestion that the statue would be erected in a prominent position in the Sperrin or Mourne mountains.
Others took up the suggestion too. In April 1999, Adam Harbinson from Bangor wrote to all party leaders and to both governments noting that the Christ the Redeemer of the Andes sculpture was moulded from the metal of old Argentinian cannons.
“For me that idea adds an entirely new dimension to the issue of decommissioning. The question of taking guns out of Irish politics would take on a whole new meaning, it would become charged with a powerful symbolism.
“Semantics would be redundant. If guns that have shattered lives and torn families apart, and bits of bomb-laden cars that have ripped through the flesh of infants were to be melted down and formed into the likeness of the Prince of Peace, is there anyone who could ever again demand the [return of violence] ... It’s a dream worth striving towards, for it could empower us to shake off the chains of the past and enable us all, at last, to confidently embrace our common heritage.”
The suggestion was not taken up, not least because wrangling over paramilitary decommissioning continued until the middle of the following decade.
- National Archive file reference 2022/83/17