Brexit will create challenges and alter our relationship with our nearest neighbour – Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

01 Jan 2019


Homily notes of   Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin

Church of Our Lady Queen of Peace, Merrion Road, 1 January 2019

“Political office and political responsibility constantly challenge those called to the service of their country to make every effort to protect those who live there and to create the conditions for a worthy and just future”.  These are words taken from the Message of Pope Francis for the World Day of Peace 2019 entitled: Good Politics is at the Service of Peace.

This morning we begin a New Year.  It promises to be a difficult and perplexing year here in Ireland and throughout the World. 

In Ireland, the consequences of Brexit will inevitably create new challenges, no matter what the details of Brexit may be.  One hundred years after the significant all-Ireland parliamentary elections of 1918, our relationship with our nearest neighbour will alter.  That relationship had attained new levels of peaceful and fruitful connection, especially because of the Good Friday agreement and  our common membership of the European Union. 

One of the challenges of politics in this period of change is to safeguard what has be attained over recent years.  We should remember the early builders of the formidable change in Ireland and in Europe.  They were men and women who knew how to rise above prejudice and appeal to what is best and what is most noble in people’s hearts.   This was politics at its best.  That is what politics needs today worldwide.

However, for some time now clouds have been appearing on the horizon.  Right across Europe narrow nationalism has begun to reappear.  By narrow nationalism I do not refer to love of, or pride in one’s nation and history.   I refer rather to misuse and exploitation of national feelings for other scopes.

The very notion of politics and the role of politics and especially of confidence in politics and politicians is under threat in many corners of Europe and farther afield.  The notion of openness and understanding that is at the basis of a Europe of peace, had within it an unescapable logic of reaching out beyond its own borders; this is now being undermined by policies of narrow nationalism characterised by hostility to minorities and migrants.  

Let me come back to words of Pope Francis’ message: “When the exercise of political power aims only at protecting the interests of a few privileged individuals, the future is compromised and young people can be tempted to lose confidence…”  We need a politics that embraces and attracts young people towards a politics of service. 

Thank God, this has been a characteristic of many young men and women in Ireland. Ireland has indeed much to be proud of in what its young men and women have achieved here at home and in in humanitarian service around the world.  I think of the work for peace that is carried out by our defence forces, our Garda Síochána, our diplomats, our development organisations, our lay and religious missionaries and also in a way, not often mentioned, by sectors of our business community in fostering economic development.

However, Ireland is not immune to the negative trends that appear on the horizon worldwide.  2019 will be a challenging year for politics and politicians and those who form public opinion.

Ireland despite its progress is immersed and trapped in a series of social crises that seem almost intractable to politics.  I am talking about the crises of homelessness, healthcare and access to an education system, especially for the poorest.  Homelessness, healthcare and education are words that are on everybody’s lips and when that happens genuine concern can easily fall victim to a sort of a sense of immunity and therefore of immobility.   Homelessness, healthcare and education are challenges that politics in Ireland must face without procrastination. People want answers in facts and achievements and not in words and spin.  Good politics is at the service of peace.  Poor politics will only serve the emergence of negativity and frustration in society and will lead young people to mistrust democracy itself.

The task of resolving these challenges will certainly be made more difficult as they must be addressed within the framework of the challenges of Brexit; talk of Brexit must however not be allowed to smother them.  One of my hopes for the coming year is that every policy decision regarding Brexit will have within it an inbuilt window analysing its effects on the poorest.

Housing, healthcare and education are not just crises of the moment.  They are factors that negatively influence the possibility of young people to be fully themselves and be protagonists in the future of society.  Without having a fair chance of being protagonists of their own future young people will fall prey to other factors.  How often am I told that young people are exploited to work for drug barons simply because they have no other offer of earning a living?

        The Christmas season is a season which challenges us to a deeper reflection on what power and thus of politics really mean.  At the birth of Jesus, the God of power and might finds his place far from the traditional centres of power.   Jesus is born in utter humility.  The lives of power of Emperors and Governors go on mindlessly within their own norms and customs. Their idea of power has no regard for poverty.  They become concerned only when their own position is threatened.  Herod‘s only interest in a possible new King of the Jews is to find ways to eliminate him.

Public opinion, if that is what we can call the popular expectations at the time, looked forward to the coming of a Messiah in terms of power.  Jesus turns our ideas of power head-over-heels. In the birth of Jesus, God humbles himself.  He does not disdain the poverty of a stable.  He teaches us a new understanding of power.

Is it a dream to imagine a future of world politics as service?    I think that most of us would agree that that ideal has been weakened in these years.   My generation seems to be leaving the generation to come a world that is much more precarious. That is sad.

Finally, 2019 will be a challenging year for the Church; an opportunity which if missed will only foster a further crisis of trust and a further distancing of young people from the Church and from the message of Jesus Christ.  The Church too must learn in depth the message of the humility of the birth of Jesus.  Pope Francis challenged the Irish Bishops during his visit: “Do not repeat the attitudes of aloofness and clericalism that at times in your history have given the real image of an authoritarian, harsh and autocratic Church”.  In 2019 the Irish Church must seek to learn that lesson, not as a sign of setback but as a recognition of where its true strength is to be found.

I return to the words of Pope Francis that I quoted at the opening of this homily.  “Political office and political responsibility constantly challenge those called to the service of their country to make every effort to protect those who live there and to create the conditions for a worthy and just future”.

Politics is more than just the job of politicians!  It is a task that cannot be left to any one social category.   It is a challenge to us all.  We get the society that we wish, whether we chose it or whether we simply leave things to others. Politics is about participation.  2019 offers us the challenge to realise that idea. Let us not fail generations to come by failing to take that opportunity.

May the inspiration of the Holy Spirit enlighten our country and our world in this coming year.  May Mary, Patron of this Church of Our Lady Queen of Peace, accompany us with her intercession.


  • Archbishop Martin will preach the Homily at Mass to celebrate World Day of Peace 2019 and the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God, with Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, Apostolic Nuncio,  in the Church of Our Lady Queen of Peace, Merrion Road, Dublin at 11am
  • Further Information: Annette O Donnell, Director of Communications, Archdiocese of Dublin, 01 8360723