Tag Archives: northern ireland

A song, a poem and a quote as we wait for ‘peace on earth’

As a son of Belfast, now living ‘across the border’ in Dublin it pains me to read of the violence scarring my hometown these past few days. The sadness I feel is offset by the hope I experienced today with a bunch of young leaders, full of passion and potential, committed to making their worlds, and the world a better place. Committed to seeing God’s kingdom fleshed out. Prepared for the waiting that involves.

Yesterday I met two Welsh tourists, gutted that their trip to Belfast had been called off due to safety concerns. I then tried to explain to a friend some of the reasons behind what was happening without making it sound too crazy.

In advent we wait for the hope that is to come. Tonight we decorated our Christmas tree. Near the top hangs the word ‘peace’. Tonight I feel sadness as I wait and pray for peace in my hometown. The song, poem and quote were posted by 3 different friends. All seemed to resonate tonight…

 A song – Stephen (David Ford)


A poem – Christmas Bells (Henry Wadsworth)

And in despair I bowed my head;

‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;

‘For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’


Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

‘God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men!’

The full poem can be found here.


A quote – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.

From this blog, written about a different context but that seems to apply, whose writer goes on to add:

Just because you didn’t get what you want doesn’t mean that you are “persecuted”. It means you can’t have everything.

Just because you got outvoted by a majority in a democratic election does not mean you are “persecuted”. It means you got outvoted.

Just because you can no longer rely on a previously enjoyed advantage does not mean that you are “persecuted”. It simply means that existing laws are now being enforced and you can no longer pretend they don’t apply to you because you are part of a previously privileged group.


And they claim the Orange Order isn’t sectarian?

The Orange Order is opening disciplinary procedures against two of its members – the politicians Tom Elliot and Danny Kennedy for attending the funeral of murdered PSNI Officer Ronan Kerr.  It follows a complaint made by members of an Orange Lodge (interestingly called ‘Total Abstinence’).

I had to double take when I read this, living in Dublin puts some of the issues I grew up with in a great deal of perspective.

The reason? Because members of the Orange Order are banned from attending Catholic masses and in so attending they have apparently:

“sold their principles for political expediency”

It seems crazy that two politicians who in their attendance of the funeral are reaching out and walking some of the steps of reconciliation between the communities, who are showing respect, should be censured in this way and indeed be accused of political expediency.

What can we do to bring an end to this sectarianism that pollutes the north? What is the role of the church in speaking up and speaking prophetically? What is the role of the ‘chaplains’ of the Orange Order to be held to account by their denominations?

It seems as if the Orange Order is still living in a fear and siege mentality – afraid of the pollution that will come from the ‘papists’. Maybe it’s time for them to re-examine their ‘Protestant faith’ and take some time to soak in the the words of Jesus who is at it’s centre. They are welcome to take a trip down the road to see that of the ‘threats’ (if such language is even appropriate) to their ‘faith’, the Catholic church doesn’t exactly have the influence it once had. But then if the Catholic church is not a threat, and their identity is rooted in opposition to that church then who are they?

Perhaps that is the issue. When we find our identity in opposition to an ‘other’ we define ourselves by what we are not. When that ‘other’ wanes in power or influence we are left with an identity crisis. Perhaps a legitimate question is ‘is there a future for the Orange Order?’.

The Orange Order is in decline…

Northern Ireland Orange OrderAnd I can’t say I’m too sorry to hear it. Membership of the order in Northern Ireland has more than halved in the last 60 years. Grand Secretary Drew Nelson blames the decline primarily on the increasing secularisation in Northern Ireland, and that the order was suffering the same fate as churches with people turning away from religion. Interesting and heavily ironic. As an organisation that encourages its members to be church-goers it too is struggling with the church. Or perhaps people are turning away from bad religion as experienced in the Orange Order. Growing up in East Belfast there certainly seemed little connection with church as I knew it to the drinking and sectarianism of the local bands and orangemen. Nelson’s second reason for the decline is:

“Secondly, there’s the whole ethos of the state in Northern Ireland – it appears to be leaning somewhat against the Orange Order.”

In which he refers to PSNI members having to inform superiors of their membership of the order. Just right too. I wouldn’t want any policemen or women to be members of any sort of sectarian, never mind historically misguided organisation which brings ambiguity at best to the gospel of Jesus. The Jesus who told us to love our enemies and to serve – which seem to be things the Orange Order has forgotten or fails to practise.

Could it also be suggested that the fall in membership of the Orange Order is also a result of the ending of the troubles and many trying to move away from the sectarianism that has been eating away at us for the last who knows how long?

Integrated Education – time to take it seriously?

I remember reading Brian Mawhinney’s book and being fascinated and appalled by the vitriol that came his way for his part in bringing in integrated education.  I’ve long thought that part of our problem of a divided society begins with education. When children from differing religious backgrounds don’t get the opportunity to mix, no wonder suspicions and caricatures grow. I grew up in a loyalist part of Belfast where we were told you could tell Catholics because their eyes were closer together.  Zoomtard (although growing up in the Republic of Ireland) was told the same thing about Protestants. My attitudes began to change through school – not that we were an integrated school – it was mostly protestant but was mixed. In fact I think it is one of the only secondary schools in Northern Ireland which has a school motto in Gaelic – it certainly was back then. As I grew up with friends from differing religious backgrounds, the other ‘side’ became people who were my friends who I loved and laughed with. The integrated education debate has stirred again with Johann Hari’s comment piece in today’s Independent, although to say:

But here’s the good news: there is a proven way out. There is a policy that has been shown to erode these hatreds. They are called integrated schools – and the parents of Northern Ireland are calling for them. Today, only five per cent of children in Northern Ireland go to a mixed school. The other 95 per cent are segregated in sectarian enclaves where they project feverish fantasies on to the other side. Violence is an inevitable bedsore where two uncomprehending tribes rub past each other in a small space.

But that 5 per cent hold the key. A six-year study by Queen’s University, Belfast has looked at the long-term consequences of being schooled alongside The Enemy. They interviewed adults who attended these schools – and found that whatever their parents’ attitudes, they were “significantly more likely” to oppose sectarianism. They had “far” more friends across the divide,

Is perhaps a little overly optimistic.

The issue is certainly raising hackles within the hierarchy of the Catholic church. Although more related to the issue of  school management reform, Cardinal Brady is using the argument of protecting religious freedom for maintaining the status quo and safeguarding the “right of parents to have their children educated at Catholic schools”. In the broader picture of division and sectarianism how should the church respond?  Is playing the religious freedom card an appropriate resonse? One does have to ask the question – are the Catholic Bishops who called academic selction at 11 an ‘injustice’ willing to bring the same biblical understanding to ending their grip on schools? Are the Protestant churches prepared to stand with the Catholic Church and call for an end to segregated education? No matter what we teach children in citizenship classes, it is only when friendships can be built that prove the divide is one constructed for the sectarian means of some is a hollow one…

It’s not the quick fix, but it certainly would be an important step…

Sammy Wilson takes Northern Ireland politics to a new level of farce

sammy-wilson1Never one to shy away from controversy Sammy is at it again. I once encountered him once at a Q&A session at Queen’s and was impressed by his sharpness and handle on the issues. This sense appears to have deserted our environment minister in recent weeks. From foreign workers, and now to the very subject of his assembly portfolio he likes to be his own man. Northern Ireland’s environment minister has banned a UK government advertising campaign. Yes the unionist has turned against the Union he seeks to uphold. Sammy calls the advertising campaign on reducing CO2 output ‘insidious propaganda’. As someone who doesn’t believe that human causation is one of the main factors in climate change at least he is demonstrating some consistency. It seems ridiculous enough that our environment minister thinks this way, but why on earth appoint such a person to the post in the first place? I’ve never thought the DUP particularly well hinged but surely they can’t be so crazy? Enter party leader Peter Robinson, who told the NI assembly that Sammy was entitled to his opinions but that they did not reflect the party as a whole. Now Peter please stop talking such shite. The DUP in their manifesto and as official party policy are committed to reducing CO2 output, the very subject of the banned ads. So the DUP put someone in a post who even disagrees with their own policies in the portfolio he is given, never mind most of the other parties, and then defend him? The Green party and a host of others are calling for Sammy’s resignation. You can sign the petition here. At least Sammy is showing some integrity and not rapidly backtracking as many politicians do. The biggest question however is what sort of game are the DUP playing? Why go to such ridiculous lengths to defend Sammy their constant source of controversy?  Surely they would be better off without him and all the flak he attracts, or perhaps that flak distracts from  what the DUP is actually doing (or not doing s the case may be)?

Ulster says….give us a few weeks

Momentous times. who would have thought 10, 20 years ago Big Ian would be sitting down with Gerry, ready to go into government, and especially with Martin McGuinness as his deputy first minister. In true point scoring style of course it couldn’t happen immediately and they have to wait a few weeks. The announcement prompted what will no doubt be the first of a number of resignations from both parties as the extremists show their unhappiness. I wonder sometimes do we realise just what has been achieved here, and how much the world looks on at a country that has spent most of the latter half of the 20th century ripping itself apart. Do we realise that we are being held up as a model of post-conflict society? Yes it is far from perfect and the divisions and attitudes are still there. The cost has been massive, and we must recognise that. For those who have lost family members, to see some of those responsible sitting in suits in Stormont must be stomach churning. We must address the fact that often to have peace means setting justice aside, that it requires drawing a line and moving on. Those are easy words for me to say I realise. I’m excited about May 8th and hope the politicians repay the trust and faith the public has placed in them as they get on with the task of governing. We all know how disastrous direct rule has been, at last again we have local people clued into (we hope) local issues. We have the first chinese (HK) born political representative in Europe. There are things to celebrate. We mustn’t however forget the work put in to get us to this place. Paisley and Adams are taking the plaudits but the real work was done by David Trimble and John Hume – mean of incredible courage, sadly maligned and cast aside. The Alliance party, the only middle ground party with members from both sides of the divide led with integrity by Lord Alderdice also deserves a mention.Perhaps in the coming years their contribution will be recognised properly, and the hard yards put in by the middle ground parties to bring the extremes together will pay off (Although obviously the ulster unionists need to shed the grey old men in suits image and have some good policies). As we look to the future I wonder how the next election will pan out, when the only thing on the table will be the day to day issues. Will we then see a balancing out of our political landscape?

Waiting impatiently

Voting day is one of the few days I realise what a privilege it is to live in a democracy. The feeling of walking into the polling station (dodging the slightly dodgy looking youth and nice old woman wanting to give me more bits of election bumf) and numbering your ballot paper really is a marvellously empowering feeling. At least for me anyway. I do think we’re a bit lazy here in Northern Ireland though. What’s all this not starting to count until 9am the next day. I want to be glued to the TV right now seeing the election results come in, drinking in the turnout stats and latest permutations of seats and percentage votes. The BBC text updates just aren’t quite the same. You can’t tune into the TV when you’re at work. Another thing while i’m on my soapbox. It seemed to me that the parties weren’t really trying to hard to get my vote. Eventually getting the publicity two days before and not one knock on the door. Is this the same for everyone else?

How many times did a politician call at your house to canvass for your vote?
  Three times
  Four or more times
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