Q: When you first started your work in Northern Ireland did people think you
were crazy, that your mission was impossible?
The most important one I believe was my father. I just lost my father in
April. I'm still trying to deal with that grief because I loved him a lot. He
made the statement once, "Betty, why did you do this - Northern Ireland has
a problem for every solution." I was cracking up laughing at him, but he
was so right. But I never believed that things are impossible. I always believed
that the people here who are not trying to solve the problem are part of it.
You've got to be involved in the solutions. Because we create the problems, we
have to be part of the solutions.
Q: How do you keep yourself up when everything seems so hopeless? How do you
keep yourself going?
It's not all the time. Nobody's brave all the time. Nobody's courageous all
the time. We all have our moments of fear. I'm a human being and I have moments
of fear. Fear is a very crippling emotion. When I get afraid then I do all of
the wrong things. It's when you go out there on a wing and a prayer that things
fall into place. When you realize you're not in control of this, then you
normally start doing what's right. I have days where I'm a human being and I
think, why did I do this? I must be crazy or whatever. But it's very fleeting,
thanks be to God. And as I get older, it has diminished because I wouldn't work
at anything else. I have a beautiful friend in the Catholic faith. He's a
monsignor and his blessing at the end of mass is, "May the peace of Christ
thoroughly disturb you." (laughter all around) And that's exactly what it
does. I mean you can't work for peace unless you work for justice and of course,
you can't work for justice unless you work for peace. They kind of go hand in
hand. You have to combine a lot of sound common sense with an enormous faith.
Q: What's happened in Northern Ireland today, do you just want to talk about
that a little bit and how you see the future in Northern Ireland?
Well, I haven't lived in Northern Ireland for awhile, so, I'm not really a
person who should be commenting very closely on that issue except that I do know
more or less on a daily basis what happens because of some of my contacts over
there. I have one particular contact that I get information from solidly.
You know, the situation in Northern Ireland wasn't Jerry Adams getting up on the
31st of August, 1994 and saying, "I think we'll have peace today."
That's doesn't happen. That would be like saying Mikhail Gorbachev got out of
bed suddenly one morning and said, "We're going to disintegrate communisn."
That's not the way it happens. We would then be forgetting about the
Solzhenitsyns, the Ginsbergs and the other courageous, wonderful dissidents who
chipped away at that communist block until it was so weak that it just crumbled.
Perestroika was a natural to come out of it. And the same thing happened in
Northern Ireland. It wasn't just a case of the people getting together because
they wanted to.
There's a powerful force in Northern Ireland now. Maybe it's because the people
have been to hell and when you come away from hell, you don't quite know where
you're going. You haven't got a clue. That's part of everybody's spiritual
growth. Some call it a Burning Bush. God shows all those Burning Bushes in
different ways, but the Center of Peace in Northern Ireland is a force.
And my company's going to be a glowing force for good in the future. I'm here to
help in part, however small my part. My role-in that it was to have been part of
it at all-makes me very grateful. The experiences that I had there have made me
a deeper human being, I hope.
Q: You have no background or experience doing this kind of work. Did you just
get inspired and start talking to people? How did you begin?
I don't know how these things happen - to be quite honest - I still wonder
why. Some very famous person said that nothing is quite as strong as an idea
whose time has come. I think if I was being honest, that's exactly what happened.
I gave a voice to something that the women of Ireland were feeling at the time.
They were sick of losing their husbands, sons and daughters. They were in
enormous pain. I think probably when I yelled for peace-because that's what I
really did, you know-that the women responded in kind.
I couldn't really say that Betty Williams started the peace movement in Ireland
because that would be another lie. The death of three children started the peace
movement in Ireland. Betty Williams was just the voice - yelling out for them.
I'm so grateful that God allowed me to go through that because it's made me.
I think about it at night when I'm praying. I don't want to sound like a holy
roller here but I thank God for the experience, even though at the time it was a
very painful experience. But without painful experiences we don't grow.
Q: Did you face much oppostion in this quest? Did both Catholics and
Protestants oppose your peace ideals?
It kind of depends on what you would look at as opposition. I think when
people are hurting badly enough, like the Northern Irish where they'll yell out
at ya, there's an honesty in them. I often say even Northern Irish terrorism had
an honesty about it. However sick it was, there was an honesty about it.
I think my land became a land of a gun culture. A land that used to be called
the Land of Saints and Scholars flipped. There's never a happy medium
anywhere-it's either right or wrong. That's what gets the human race in so much
trouble-because they're never looking for the middle road-that Buddhism talks
about. You have to walk that middle road.
In Ireland probably the hardest thing was not to be a Catholic or a Protestant
not to have my own bigotries because of what happened to me as a Catholic in
Ireland – to forgive that - to understand that people in Northern Ireland have
a lot more to unite them than they ever had to divide them and that God should
never be used as a device of force.
God doesn't start wars. That's the greatest load of nonsense. Mankind starts
wars. But then we bless armies to go and kill in God's name. Somebody's got to
blow that myth out of the water. Could you picture Jesus of Nazareth strapping
somebody into the electric chair and throwing the switch? Because if you could,
then you're doing His work-but that's not His work, that's not what He said.
Thou shalt not kill. That's what was said.
You can't kill for your own country. Why do we say, "for God and country,"
when we really worship a flag. We're very patriotic. I don't care if it's
American patriotism or Irish patriotism. It kills. Patriotism kills.
Patriotism should be caring about whether the man next door has a loaf of bread
on his table. That's being a true patriot- feeding your neighbor-that's what
it's all about.
You'll find that the most peaceful neighborhoods are neighbors that get together,
neighbors that share street parties, people that go out and care, people that
get into their own area and take control of it, economically, socially and
culturally. Those are very happy neighborhoods, you know. The estrangement from
our neighbor is maybe a fact that if we get too close, he just might ask us for
Q: It's a real problem in America-the loss of family-the family has broken
down. The nuclear family has gotten divorced, so kids are out there getting lost
in the world of violence and drugs, instead of getting the chance to go onto
something positive and be part of something of something peaceful. Your thoughts?
We're always sad here. In America it amazes me too. It's such a great country
with enormous potential to be a magnificent country. Here we talk about "family
values." Why don't we reverse that to value the family because if we valued
the family, we would stop working at the wrong end of the donkey, you know.
Here, things are more concentrated on punishment, where the cause, the effect is
having to punish. The cause is the ghettos. I say this in my talks that we've
got to turn this donkey around or it's going to keep pooping and the society's
going to get sicker, sicker and sicker. When we take all of the money out of
building prisons and put it into feeding the child in the womb, then, of course,
when the baby is born, the medical problems are minimal, if any-if mother is
It's only silly common sense when they're making sure that the child has access
to good food, they make sure that the mother has access to health care needs,
that the child has a decent school and a decent home. When you improve this,
you're really beginning to value the family rather than talking about family
You talk about family values in a society that is so hurting: In Harris County
in Texas we have 35,000 hungry children, sorry 350,000. It's an enormous number
of hungry children being fed by programs on the street-like KidCare-which is a
kind of "meals on wheels" for children. But this is America! When you
go to third world countries you expect that.
When I came here from Ireland it shocked me to death that there should be one
hungry child in this country. We should hang our heads in shame, every single
one of us, that there should be a woman without a home for her baby, that there
should be teenagers so hurting that they have babies so that they can carry
something that belongs to them, that we have talk shows in the United States
where people have to pour their hearts out because they can't handle the pain.
We're not tackling those issues here, the reality of the ghetto - the reality of
some deep bigotries. That's not being dealt with.
Q: There's more discrimination here, more bigotry here, as opposed to
I talked to Father Tutu one day, you know, as an Irish Catholic, about the
similarities. An injustice is an injustice and it comes in all languages. It has
no boundaries – it doesn't begin or end in one specific part of the world-it's
all over the world.
We see it come out in horrendous ways, like the Muslims and the Serbs right now.
I mean, may God forgive what we're allowing to happen in that poor wee country
and may God forgive what we're doing to the children of those countries.
Father Tutu said a long time ago - and this is one of his dreams that I hope to
help make true - that we should have safe areas for children when war breaks
out. If we can have MASH units and Red Cross areas, what's to stop a government
giving so many acres of land to the saving of children's lives? If adults can't
get along, why drag our children into it?
Children don't declare war on one another, you know. If a four year old could
walk into this interview right now and declare war on you, I'd look over it. A
four year old doesn't.
I often think, can you imagine now if a child was in charge of the government?
Like let's take a for instance: Let's go and drop a hundred thousand tons of ice
cream on Sarajevo today. That would make more sense than the insane things that
There's more sense that comes out of the mouth of a child. A child asks you why
an adult doesn't reason. An adult says I do it because, you know and then
justifies the reason. And when we teach children that, we teach them how to lie.
We begin very young at doing that.
My peace work, I believe, begins with me on a daily basis and it has to be
centered within me before I can let anybody else see that example. It's not that
I'm trying to tell people what's right or wrong. I'm trying to show by my
actions that you can make a far better world if you just care enough. That's all
you have to do. It's no big deal. It's not I couldn't educationalize it for you.
To say that on a daily basis you can make a difference, well, you can. One act
of kindness a day can do it.
Q: One of the things you were talking about when you were discussing Northern
Ireland was the role of women. Would you care to extrapolate on that and also
Aung San Suu Kyi, for the courage she's showing?
Above all, I don't want to sound sexist because that's another kind of
violence. Everybody has their own ideas on violence. I thought hunger striking
was an act of violence against your body, but that's my opinion, which doesn't
have to be everyone else's.
I think the women of Ireland have the most incredible courage that I have ever
seen in my life and it wasn't even that they knew they were courageous-because
true courage doesn't think of itself as that.
At our first rally, for instance, if you don't believe in miracles-I witnessed
one one day-I witnessed a powerful force for good that was incredible. In our
first rally, Protestant and Catholic women who had never met each another before
came together, got on their buses and converged at a certain spot in
Belfast-they were rolling off the buses into each others' arms. It was an
incredible, powerful force of good that was there.
I've seen incredible acts of courage from women. Did we forget the women of
solidarity? Do we just remember the leadership? We don't remember those Polish
women who were the underground and the backbone of the solidarity movement? Do
we forget the bubushka who did not allow communism to destroy God's word because
they carried it high and mighty? What do we remember as courage?
I believe that women as the givers of life have never been the true protectors
of that same life, as they should be. Too easily we have allowed our sons to put
on an uniform and take up a gun. Too easily in our homes we have taught the
difference between boys and girls. We've said to our boys, "Don't cry."
Why not? It takes a man to shed a tear.
We have to bear some of this responsiblity for what've we produced. I think the
mothers of the world have got to come together in one united voice to perhaps
show men a different way.
We don't want to be like men. I don't want to be. It's not the way God made me.
He also made me a giver of life. God, whatever I've done right in my life, I
hope a bit of it's motherhood, because that is the most precious thing you can
do, if you can bring up a decent citizen. I don't think there's any better job
in the world and I think we underestimate the mothers of the world in that
Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma: If we have to use the word courage, she's it
personified, personified. Six years under house arrest the democratically
elected leader of her country Burma took the vote, 62% of the vote. No man in
history has ever pulled a democratic vote like that and 40 indigenous peoples.
We're not just dealing with one, but 40 indigenous groups.
The SLORC regime, the State Law and Order Restoration Council of Burma-military
thugs is what they are-have told her you're free anytime you want to go. Suu
says no. That's courage of the most incredible kind. I want any woman who sees
this to say a wee prayer for Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma. I don't think I would
have that kind of courage.
I then think the Dalai Lama is the holiest man, a man that I adore. When I think
of him, I just fill with tears because his spiritually and kindness are so
overwhelming that when you're in his company-you're the only person in the
room-and there may be thousands around you. You're centered so much with this
beautiful spiritual force and a force of goodness, that you would wonder how the
world would allow the Chinese communists to take over his country and to kill a
culture-try to kill the Tibetan culture. It's so cruel. It's one of the most
magnificent cultures that has ever existed on this planet Earth. In its
gentleness and in its faith and in its humility and in its understanding and in
its love, the Dalai Lama could show the world leadership how to love one another.
I think of the cruelty-not of the Chinese people, because the Chinese people are
wonderful, gentle souls-but of a government that is allowed to do this and
continue to have Most Favored Nation status, when it should be ostracized by the
rest of the world instead of being developed into a second super power.
We don't need any more super powers. Tina Turner said it better than I could
ever say it: "We don't need another hero." If we have to have heroes,
I want Father Tutu as mine. He's mine - what a man, what a man. The Dalai Lama's
mine. Those are my heroes, not the other guys. I want to be just like the Dalai
Lama when I grow up!
Q: I have some questions from the kids. What are they facing in their daily
lives? One of them is from a young black man and he says that he's living in a
tough area in an inner city and every day he's faced with pressure from his
friends to defend himself-guns and violence are a part of everyday life in his
school and neighborhood. He wants to know how can he practice nonviolence and
still survive. Your ideas?
That's a fabulously deep question. I want to tell that young man nonviolence
is the weapon of the strong. Violence is the easy way.
In Ireland, at one stage in my life I would have picked up a gun, I think,
because I saw the injustices being perpetrated on my people. Then to make a
statement like that to that young man seems a very sweeping thing to say.
However, the answer is nonviolence. Nonviolence is not a thing that comes easily.
You have to learn how to be nonviolent. The toughest thing I've ever done in my
life was to be a nonviolent person in Northern Ireland.
The easiest thing in the world is retaliation - when somebody gives you a dig in
the jaw, your natural reaction is to hit them back. It is so much harder not to
go that way.
Nonviolence is the right way to go. There is no other way.
If that young man lives in that area, he sees his friends die all the time. Why?
Because they became involved in violence. Maybe he can become a leader in that
group and have the spiritual force-I hate to say the nonviolent force or
whatever-help him. It sounds so airy fairy. It's so hard to do.
These things are so hard to do. They're awfully easy to say. However, following
this through is a very difficult thing. I have to do it every day of my life.
You don't think I get angry when I see children die? I'm furious. I want to go
to the government, but I come home and bake bread. There's nothing as good as
yeast for pummeling, when you want to really find another way to get rid of that
I swear to God, it's an incredible force for good if you can remember that
nonviolence is the weapon of the strong. Surely one of the greatest teachers was
the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King. People like Andrew Young, like Jessie
Jackson, they're still out there. Follow their role. That's what they would tell
Q: One quick question: briefly, how can a young woman affect change in such
an incredibly sexist world?
I've never had a problem with that because I've never felt myself any lesser
than a man. Perhaps if women began to think that way, they would stop trying to
act like them. I think most women feel that to succeed they have to be like
men-and that's the wrong way to go too, because we're not, you know.
There are some very violent women in the world and I've met some of the most
peace loving, beautiful women in the form of Aung San Suu Kyi, Corazon Aquino.
It's not the Margaret Thatchers we want to be, if we're going to be a power for
the good. It has to be a power where we show how wrong sexism is by not being
I love men and if any of them have been sexist towards me they've been shown
very quickly it's not a way to go. It doesn't wash with me, because I won't do
it to you. So I have to show them by my example that I'm not going to be sexist
regardless of what you do.
We've gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. Even the rank and file feminists
of a few years ago are looking. Gloria Steinem is even rethinking her earlier
thoughts. I feel a women's role has got to be a gentle role and perhaps if we
can do it correctly, the men would like to follow us, or walk beside us. Not to
follow-but walk beside. I prefer that.
Q: I think that the media portrays violence and all the movies contain so
much violence, do these create more violence?
There's another one that really sickens me. We all go to see these movies. I
don't. I don't have time to go to movies. That's probably why.
I went to a movie a few years ago with my daughter and I got sick and I had to
get out. I was just physically ill because it was so violent-but that's what we
buy. I mean, people don't ridicule television and newspapers and stop going to
these movies. Turn off the television.
Don't read the newspaper. It's all full of what went wrong yesterday. It's like
talking about the nice new National Enquirer - how do you know what's in it
unless you buy it? I don't buy that either. What you read and what you watch are
your choice, you know. What you do in your daily life is your choice.
Q: According to the Nielsen ratings, violence pays-so it's the dollar again.
I think recently we've seen a few little more peaceful movies. The best movie
I ever saw in my whole life was E.T. It's my favorite movie of all time because
that taught a child regardless of how ugly the creature the child did not know
how not to love that little creature. That's my favorite movie of all time, E.T.
Stephen Spielberg is so magnificent. There's a lesson there for other filmmakers.
The moviemakers need to learn that there's another way to go with the movies.
Pocahontas is out now and all of the kids are going crazy about Pocahontas and
it's like back to when I used to watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It's
kind of lovely, you know, that a child can be a child instead of having to be in
this adult world of violence.
Q: Another question was, at school we study the importance of the rainforests
and the environment-but how do you feel when you see so much pollution about and
garbage and dirty air, the animals dying out, the forests being cut down,
Again that's part of every individual's responsibility on this earth to stop
that from happening. It's very difficult in areas of the Amazon because we're
losing our forests at a vast rate, but the people of that area have got to eat,
so they clear forests to eat. Something else has got to be provided for these
People talk all of the time about birth control, particularly in the third world
countries. That makes me very angry and I'll tell you why: You can't talk to
anybody about birth control when they're starving. The only comfort man and
woman have in those third world areas are each other. So do talk to me about
birth control, but feed my belly so's I can hear what you're saying!
The same is absolutely applicable where our forests and atmosphere is concerned.
If we're going to tell the people of the Amazon countries to stop destroying the
rainforests, we've got to provide something else for them, so's they don't have
to destroy the rainforest. It's the wrong end of the donkey one more time. We're
all yelling at the Amazon for doing what it's doing, yet we're not putting in
the economic support to stop it happening.
We've got to put our money where our mouths are in these issues. We've got to
pour millions, maybe billions of dollars in aide. We've got to. We're losing our
population and it's going to get worse and worse and worse. That problem has to
got to be tackled.
In the work that we hope to do in the future, we're going to ask governments for
1% of their military budgets and I know for a long time we're going to get
laughed at, until one day somebody is going to take us seriously because we
really mean it. And the plan is to put that money into a central fund, not
handled by us, but handled by a totally different agency set up to handle that
matter only. And then the funds will be directed to these issues, directly to
the source. We can take the sizable sum into the Amazon and start creating other
things where people can earn a living so the rainforests can be saved. There's
no use talking about the problem unless you talk about the solution.