“Northern Ireland: A New Dawn?” – Address by Archbishop Seán Brady at Ecumenical Lenten Lecture Series, Rathfarnham Parish, Dublin
4 MARCH 2005
“NORTHERN IRELAND: A NEW DAWN?”
ADDRESS BY ARCHBISHOP SEÁN BRADY AT
ECUMENICAL LENTEN LECTURE SERIES RATHFARNHAM PARISH, DUBLIN
* The courage and determination of the McCartney family to ensure justice for
their brother, Robert, has been an outstanding example of how the power of love,
the love of another person, the love of noble ideals such as justice, fairness
and freedom, can rise up and render transparent and weak the efforts of others
to bully, frighten and control whole communities.
* It is time for Catholics to set aside their historic reservations about the
police, and to assume their full civic responsibility for an agreed and
representative system of law and order.
Archbishop Eames, Rev. Woods, Ladies and gentlemen,
When the late Father Liam Carey wrote to me some months ago, on behalf of the three
parishes, to invite me to speak here tonight, I felt at once flattered, honoured
and challenged. I was aware that Father Carey, in his earlier years, had worked
here in Dublin in the area of Adult Education and Community Development. I suppose
it was this great interest in authentic and inclusive development that led him to
get involved in the Lenten Ecumenical Lectures Series, which he and Reverend Ted
Woods were organising together.
In a letter to me on 30 November 2004 Father Carey promised to keep me informed
of developments and arrangements concerning this programme. Well, the Lord had
other plans for Father Carey. I am hoping that this evening he will keep me
inspired during the developments and arrangements of this evening’s proceedings.
I am also happy to note that in these parishes: the Church of the Holy Spirit
and the Church of the Annunciation, there are two former students of the Irish
College, Rome: Father Eamon McNerney and Father Des Hayden and also that Father
Joe Hanlon is Parish Priest.
The title of this evening’s talk which Archbishop Eames and I have been asked to
address is: Northern Ireland – A New Dawn? Last evening when I mentioned the title
to a friend he said: “A new ridge of low pressure or a trough of deep depression
might be a more accurate description of the present situation”.
I am well aware that a lot of people are getting tired of the peace process in
Northern Ireland. They are becoming rather cynical and are tempted to say: ‘what
peace process’? and, in a sense one cannot blame them. There are good reasons
for a certain amount of weariness and disillusionment and disgust and confusion
about this whole process and yet the Church does not tire. It does not tire of
preaching the Good News – the Good News of peace.
The Church proclaims the Good News that brings salvation. Of course that salvation
is achieved definitively in the new life that awaits the righteous after death. But
that salvation also permeates the present world in areas such as the economy and
labour; technology and communications; society and politics; the international
community and relations among cultures and peoples.
The Church proclaims the Gospel that brings genuine freedom, not only internally
to the person but also to temporal realities. As the Church proclaims that freedom,
she is mindful of the solemn advice, given by Paul to Timothy when he said: “Preach
the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exalt, be
unfailing in patience and in teaching”. Clearly Paul understood that the journey
to peace and freedom, like discipleship itself, required unfailing patience and
perseverance, both in season and out of season.
Another Pauline character who understood this need for patient perseverance in
the search for peace was the great American pastor and non-violent civil rights
leader, Martin Luther King. On the 28th August 1963 he made what is generally
regarded as one of the most inspirational speeches of the twentieth century.
In it Pastor King took up the biblical theme of the slow, often uncertain journey
of God’s people from captivity to the land of freedom and promise. He
addressed a rally of some 200,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington with
the following words: ‘When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village
and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up
that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles,
Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of
the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are
free at last!”.
The crowds arose in prolonged applause and, as you know, this passionate cry for
freedom became not only the legacy but also the final epitaph of Martin Luther
King. Clearly this heroic Christian advocate of non-violent social and political
change had touched on something very fundamental to the human spirit – the search
In the years that followed, that search for freedom, that dream of new relationships
between peoples of different nationalities, races and religious faith, took hold
across the world. Thanks to television and radio, people quickly became caught
up in the vision of new possibilities for the whole human family – the possibility
of real equality, with respect for diversity; of real justice and solidarity, with
a sense of responsibility for each other; of a new solidarity and global concern
for others, particularly for the starving and the poor. It was also the time of
the Second Vatican Council.
This was also a period of new impetus in Ecumenical and inter-faith relations, of
the aggiornamento and rinnovamento of the Catholic Church which would spur on new
journeys of dialogue, affection and respect between the communities of Christian
faith, not least here in Ireland.
In Northern Ireland, this dream of new possibilities, of which Martin Luther King
spoke, found expression in the Civil Rights Movement. That Movement arose from a
new level of awareness of social, political and economic inequalities. What was
to happen next, however, was to change all of our lives to this present day. While
the search for civil and political rights in the US remained largely faithful to
the non-violent methodology espoused by Martin Luther King, the journey in Northern
Ireland was to take a very different direction. In a complex chain of action and
reaction, which defies any simple moral analysis, tempting though that might be,
Northern Ireland quickly descended into the dark malaise of violence and political
atrophy, which we have come to know as The Troubles. What could be aptly described,
in the context of tonight’s presentation, as the dark night of Northern Ireland’s
soul. More importantly, and I worry that younger generations will forget this,
it was a period of immense human suffering, misery, death and pain. It was a far
cry from freedom, a far cry from justice, a far cry from the more dignified and
prosperous life which those engaged in violence on all sides were in some sense
claiming to protect or promote.
As we consider the question at the heart of this evening’s talk – Northern Ireland:
a New Dawn? – two aspects of this period continue to be of particular interest to
The first is the very narrow concept of freedom which dominated then and continues
to frustrate the dawning of a new era in Northern Ireland. We have a tradition in
Ireland of understanding our freedom as a ‘freedom from’, notably freedom from
British rule, or possibly, for Protestants in the north, freedom from Catholic
domination. By any standards this is a narrow and profoundly outdated notion of
freedom. The biblical concept of freedom, captured in Martin Luther King’s
programmatic address, is a much richer and deeper concept. It includes the notion
of ‘freedom for’ – freedom for the other, freedom for responsibility, freedom for
truth, freedom for service, freedom for the good of others as well as for oneself.
It is a concept of freedom, which sees sin, selfishness, anger, revenge, disordered
passions and appetites as forms of personal and collective slavery. We must be
freed from all forms of slavery if we are to experience life to the full. Critically,
though, freedom from fear is the most fundamental freedom of all.
Perfect love, the Scriptures tell us, casts out all fear. Those who wish to hold
us back from loving others or acting freely within and beyond our own tradition will
often use fear as their first weapon against our freedom.
This is a particularly poignant point in the light of recent events in the Short
Strand and in other places. The courage and determination of the McCartney family
to ensure justice for their brother, Robert, has been an outstanding example of
how the power of love, the love of another person, the love of noble ideals such
as justice, fairness and freedom, can rise up and render transparent and weak the
efforts of others to bully, frighten and control whole communities for their own
selfish or political ends. For my part, I would like to express my wholehearted
support to the calls from the McCartney family for anyone with information about
the vicious and brutal murder of Robert McCartney to come forward to the police
and to help to secure a conviction for his murder through the courts. It is not
good enough; it is not consistent with the principle of freedom, for people to
present this information in a way, which cannot be used to secure a conviction.
Surely it is time for Catholics in Northern Ireland to set aside their historic
reservations about the Police, however well founded they may have been, and to
assume their full civic responsibility for an agreed and representative system
of law and order. A community which was prepared to make a deal which included
accepting shared responsibility for devolved powers over policing in December,
cannot credibly fail to support co-operation with policing on such a grave and
criminal matter in March.
I am convinced that the existence and established reputation of the office of
the Police Ombudsman alone should be enough to ensure the confidence of anyone
who has information to fulfil his or her obligation before God to bring those
responsible for the murder of Robert McCartney to justice. I appeal to them,
for the sake of their conscience and in the name of freedom and justice, to do
so and to do so urgently.
For I believe that it is not only dawning, but it is becoming crystal clear
that to protect the common good, it is up to the lawful, public authority to
exercise the right and the duty to inflict punishments according to the Criminal
Code. This right belongs to the lawful public authority alone, not to some
self-appointed private illegal groups who specialize in the destruction of
evidence of a case rather than its production in a court of law in order to
secure a conviction. The power to inflict punishment is entrusted to the Courts.
That Court of law is not only independent of party political influence, it is
also independent of the Legislature and the Executive. This applies right across
the board in any authentic democracy.
The second aspect of the early troubles which attracts my particular interest
this evening is the role of the four main Churches at this time – the Presbyterian,
Church of Ireland, Methodist and Catholic Churches. There was a time at the
beginning of the troubles when political discussion was often deadlocked, and
many people would not even speak to one another. It was then that many courageous
men and women at a local level, out of Christian conviction, and often led by
their clergy, established points of contact, places of encounter and dialogue
amidst the bitterness and division. At a leadership level, the leaders of the
four main Churches began the Ballymascanlon Talks. It was a hugely significant
breakthrough at the time of the early seventies. Visually, they provided a powerful
symbol of the possibility of mutual respect and dialogue in the midst of an
increasingly divided and violent society. It is my own conviction that, in
addition to the calming and restraining influence of the main Churches on the
dangerous dynamics of that time, the language and concepts which emerged from
the dialogue between the main Churches at a local and leadership level, became
in large part, the language and inspiration of what has become known as the
Peace Process. As one Unionist politician commented recently:
‘On balance, churches have been a stabilising influence. Although the “two
communities” are now highly segregated, on the whole there is probably more
civility between them than there would have been without the presence of the
church. The churches have been one of the factors that have prevented Northern
Ireland from following the path of Kosovo or Bosnia.’
The words reconciliation, forgiveness, truth, integrity, peace, conversion,
repentance, mutual respect, interdependence, equality, parity of esteem, all
of these terms found their place in the specifically religious vocabulary of
the people of Northern Ireland. Long before others ever began to use these
words here they were used by those who acted out of a heroic conviction of faith
and who engaged with one another in the patient search for peace and understanding.
I mention this not simply to give credit to the Churches, though I do feel their
role has often been overlooked. I do so rather to point out that the dream of peace,
as Martin Luther King described it, is something that comes from, and belongs to,
the people themselves, collectively. Indeed, the failure to maintain a broader
social base and to invest more widely in forms of social and bridging capital other
than party politics has been partly responsible, in my view, for the wearying start
-stop nature of the peace process in Northern Ireland. As the Compendium of the
Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church points out: ‘the goal which believers must
put before themselves is that of establishing community relationships among people.
It is not one of pursuing selfish or strategic interests. ‘The Christian vision of
political society places paramount importance on the value of community, both as a
model for organising life in society and as a style of everyday living.’ The
Compendium also goes on to say that:
An authentic democracy is the result of a convinced acceptance of the
values that inspire democratic procedures. Those values are the dignity
of every human person, the respect of human rights, commitment to the
common good as the purpose and guiding criterion for political life.
That final phrase commitment to the common good is critical in our current context.
It is not personal or party mandates which provide the first point of reference for
authentic democracy, but the orientation of that mandate toward the common good of
society as a whole. This is consistent with the biblical view that peace is a vision,
a dream, a hope which all of the people possess collectively. When individuals vote
overwhelmingly in favour of a shared vision of peace, it implies that they are willing
to negotiate on some of their deepest held aspirations, for the sake of the greater
good of all. Those who receive the mandate to strive for that peace from within a
particular political party or tradition, not only receive the right to represent
and negotiate for the aspirations of their own voters. They also receive a solemn
responsibility to deliver that peace according to the values and aspirations which
society as a whole has collectively endorsed.
In my view, this is the moral implication of the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement.
That referendum was an act of self-determination, overwhelmingly endorsed by the people
of Ireland on both sides of the border. It was a mandate for an agreed, collective and
inclusive vision of partnership and peace, for a new beginning to democracy based on
equality and the use of purely peaceful and morally upright means.
The unfolding of that Agreement has, at times, been frustrated and frustrating. At
different points different factors were to blame. The most pervasive and consistent
factor was, of course, the failure to build confidence and trust. This has led to
many false dawns and disappointing days.
As I said at the beginning, it has also led to a growing weariness and disillusionment
about the very prospect of peace itself. But, as the history of salvation constantly
reminds us, it is sometimes in the midst of weariness and confusion that new and more
realistic possibilities emerge and the light of a new and more authentic dawn breaks
For my part, I hope that out of all of this soul-searching and confusion, there will
emerge a clearer idea of what is the purpose of political activity. My hope is that
it will begin to dawn on all of us that the purpose of political life is not the
political party but the human person and the common good.
I earnestly hope that it may begin to dawn on people also that you can only build
genuine peace on truth, not on lies, falsehood and deceit. You may ask to whom am
I referring? I am talking about anyone who tells lies, any person or group who
deliberately conceals their true intent, activity or corporate personality, while
at the same time sues for peace. You can’t build trust between people who lie to
I also hope that people are becoming more aware of the danger of handing over their
hard won freedom of thought, action and conscience to the bullying mob for the sake
of some outdated and oppressive sense of community loyalty. This is not freedom but
a new and brutal form of oppression. And once the people stop being afraid, once
they find the courage to stand-up and say enough is enough, it is amazing how quickly
things can change.
What is clear is that in the midst of the confusion and disillusionment of the current
crisis, we have reached a fork in the road, a defining moment on the journey towards
a lasting peace. And like any defining moment in the scriptures, it is a moment of
opportunity as well as challenge. The opportunity is to build the peace process and
the principles of the Good Friday Agreement on a more certain and transparent moral
basis. A situation where all paramilitary groups have given up their weapons, their
threats and their subversive economies and finally honoured the will of the people
for a normalised society and a normal opportunity for life and for living, and where
the rest, as they say, will be politics.
What is certainly becoming clearer every day is that a fundamental shift is taking
place in the peace process. The language of constructive ambiguity and moral murk
has had its day. People want the real thing. They want transparency and accountability.
They want prosperity and freedom. They want local power and effective law and order.
They want actions not words.
It is only when this begins to happen, when the people themselves begin to take
responsibility again for the pursuit of peace, for exposing the contradictions
within their own community, as well as in others, that a truly new dawn for Northern
Ireland will really begin to emerge. I believe that the current impasse, if handled
properly, if faced up to with courage, integrity and a concern for the common good,
could turn out to be that moment of darkness before the dawn. And when it comes,
those who in the name of Jesus have constantly rejected violence and sought the
good of others as well as themselves, will be able to join together in singing,
‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we’re free at last!’
Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Brenda Drumm Communications Officer (087 233 7797)
NOTES TO EDITORS:
* Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Seán Brady, is Primate of All Ireland and President
of the Irish Bishops’ Conference.