Belfast Telegraph

Alf McCreary: GFA anniversary showed we can't hope for progress while voting for deadlock

Strong message: the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in conversation with former priest Denis Bradley in Belfast earlier this week
Strong message: the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in conversation with former priest Denis Bradley in Belfast earlier this week
Alf McCreary

By Alf McCreary

The visit to Belfast this week by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) was further proof that it has attracted attention at the highest levels of Church and State.

He was taking part in a British Council event at the Ulster University.

Whatever we think of the GFA, it is clearly still the only political show in town, even if Stormont remains empty.

Last week I spoke to leading church figures here and I was impressed by the way they responded without hesitation to my request for a comment on the GFA.

One cleric sent me a message from Budapest, another emailed me from Bilbao.

What they all had was a commitment to what had been achieved by the GFA and a clear passion that it must not be abandoned.

Lord Eames, the Church of Ireland Primate in 1998, underlined that the Agreement "opened a door out of the misery of years of suffering. No one questions how far we have moved forward but the sad reality is that we have a long journey to complete before all the dreams of 1998 can be realised".

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Fr Patrick McCafferty said: "It was a hard won agreement and we should not underestimate the personal cost to some of the key players."

He added, bluntly: "It would be a colossal tragedy if the Agreement were to be negated by the egotism and bigotry of some politicians of today, who lack the greatness of mind and heart that many of the architects of the 1998 Agreement possessed."

A former Presbyterian Moderator, Dr John Dunlop, was equally blunt.

He reminded politicians that their responsibility is to make the Agreement work and said: "It's not their responsibility to wreck it."

I welcome such forthright comments from these clerical figures because they are prepared to speak out.

One of the problems facing leaders of the major churches is to combine their Christian mission of encouraging reconciliation and too often patting the politicians on the shoulders, even though many of the same politicians need a kick up the transom.

However, we get the politicians we deserve because we vote for them. It is depressing to measure the current crop against those who hammered out the GFA with courage, vision and, in some cases, at great personal cost.

Yet it is wrong to blame the politicians entirely, because we share much of that blame. During the past week I have read church statements and listened to prayers all week where clergy and laity asked God to guide the politicians to find agreement.

Sadly, we in Northern Ireland are good at passing the buck to God. Does God just suddenly decide one day to exert more influence on our politicians in order to make shared government work properly?

It does not work that way. The new testament sets out clearly that the way ahead in every society is to respect and help your neighbour. So why don't we do what God tells us?

As I have often said, many people go to church here and pray for peace, but then they vote for political deadlock.

They don't mean to do so, but they don't think it through.

If they really want peace and power-sharing they should vote for the middle parties who might make it happen and not for the extremist blocs whose 'orange versus green' politics are mutually contradictory.

When, if ever, will the penny drop? My over-riding emotion this week was one of great sadness that the hopes of April 10, 1998, have gradually been buried by the disenchantment on all sides at the lack of political progress.

People still want peace and renewed efforts to solve our shared problems in health, education, jobs and other issues, but how do we get there?

One of the most telling comments to me last week came from Fr Brian D'Arcy, who likened the current political impasse to the comment by GK Chesterton about Christianity.

He said: "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried."

The same could truly be said of the Good Friday Agreement and its aftermath.

Belfast Telegraph


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