Belfast Telegraph

Why our politicians could do with a belt of crozier

By Alf McCreary

This week the leaders of the main Churches encouraged our politicians to sustain "the momentum and energy" generated by the Haass talks.

What momentum, you might ask, if you watched the clearly disillusioned Dr Haass on television on Thursday night?

The clergy stated that they firmly believed "that a peaceful and reconciled society is possible," but, regrettably, it's a long time 'a-comin'.

The clergy also state that: "Responsibility for building peace and the development of mutual respect and tolerance does not lie with our political leaders alone, but is shared by every individual."

You cannot blame the clerics for such a worthy statement, which has all the hallmarks of a carefully agreed document which wishes to offend no-one, and which is anxious to pull its punches.

Take, for example, the comment that the responsibility for "mutual respect and tolerance" is shared by every individual. But what about the many thousands of people like me who have worked long for respect and tolerance but, as yet, the politicians have not delivered?

Of course they have a difficult task, but that is what they are paid to do. I have respect for those who are trying to show leadership, but I am tired of hearing our politicians in general being treated with deferential respect, because it is something which many of them do not deserve.

All too often they look to the ballot box first, and to the narrow sectarianism of those who elect them. I am also fed up with local politicians who have the brass neck to ask why we need help from outside.

The short answer is that after more than four decades of trying, our politicians are still incapable of leading us out of the quagmire of sectarian confrontation. However, like the clergy we must live in hope but not in a bland kind of hope which ignores the fact that many of our politicians have an extremely thick skin, and that they might benefit more from a symbolic belt with a clerical crozier, rather than from endlessly understanding pats on the back.

If our politicians are really serious about reconciliation and community building, rather than doing the other side down, they should read a brilliant new book, Knowing Mandela, by the distinguished journalist John Carlin who covered politics in South Africa in the crucial years after Mandela's release from prison.

My wife gave it to me as a Christmas present and I am nearly finished it already. The book provides an intimate but hard-headed portrait of an extraordinary man who, more than anyone else, prevented a blood bath in South Africa.

Mandela was a consummate politician who, like Abraham Lincoln, out-thought his former political enemies, but also bound them together in a team of all the best talents.

Mandela had great inner steel, though he was heartbroken by the infidelities of his former wife Winnie. Most of all, however, he treated his political opponents with grace, respect and dignity, and he brought out the best in them.

I cannot say this about some of our politicians who daily reflect the lack of respect, indeed contempt, for each other which stems from our sectarian divisions. How much we need a Mandela, and a De Klerk, in our political wilderness. Sadly, however, we must press on without them.

Perhaps the first step would be for our politicians to seek out the humanity in each other, rather than look for political divisions, and to treat each other with dignity and respect. That, at least, would be a start.

Goggins tribute

A genuinely great human being

I did not know personally the former Northern Ireland Minister Paul Goggins who died this week, but after reading much material in order to write his obituary, I was impressed by his sheer goodness and his high political motives. Sadly, like me you may often find that it is only after a person dies that you realise what a great human being they were.

I did not know personally the former Northern Ireland Minister Paul Goggins who died this week, but after reading much material in order to write his obituary, I was impressed by his sheer goodness and his high political motives. Sadly, like me you may often find that it is only after a person dies that you realise what a great human being they were.

Building peace

Inspiring city's all four corners

As part of the 4 Corners Festival, faith groups involved in peace-building are invited to two events in Belfast City Hall this month.

Those from the north and west of the city are invited to attend next Thursday, January 16, and those from the south and east are invited on Tuesday, January 21. Both events will take place from 4pm, and refreshments will be served. It's great to spread the good news.

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