Belfast Telegraph

Let's hope politics can be healing

By Rev Dr Norman Hamilton

Whether politics is an art or a science may intrigue the academics, but for many of us in Northern Ireland it is a deeply dispiriting and often quite ugly spectacle.

Let me balance that by saying unequivocally that our leaders deserve a great deal of respect and support, for they are in the public eye and often have to make tough choices - sometimes between the bad and the very bad.

Yet respect and support need to be earned, as well as given, and can quickly evaporate. The very poor language so often used in our public discourse is a sad commentary on us all.

From Stormont, local council chambers, public meetings or via the media, there comes a steady drip of language that demeans and denigrates both people and ideas.

And, let it be said, it is not only voiced by politicians but by too many of us in wider society - just look at the blogs on many news items or the responses of audiences on radio and television.

We have created a society where public debate is often characterised by aggression and a deep unwillingness to listen. It is no wonder, therefore, that on our streets and in our communities tension and bitterness are evidenced in hate crime, contested space and deteriorating relationships.

We are mentoring each other very badly. To our shame, we have consciously normalised language and attitudes which I believe are not the marks of a healthy, contented, progressive and tolerant society.

This reality is in stark contrast to the high aspirations of the OFMDFM community relations strategy published in 2013, entitled Together: Building a United Community.

Even the title captures the fact that real work is needed to build relationships and a more visionary future.

So as a society, and as communities, groups and individuals, there is a simple, hard choice to be made, for we cannot face in opposite directions at the same time.

With two elections coming up, is it too much to hope that politics at every level will embrace the art of healing our fractured relationships rather than stoke the fires of more division?

The Very Rev Dr Norman Hamilton OBE is the Public Affairs Convener, Presbyterian Church in Ireland

Belfast Telegraph


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