Belfast Telegraph

Talks deadlock a damning indictment of our leaders

By Alf McCreary

The Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke, has issued a thoughtful statement following the end of the Haass talks.

He does not refer to it as a "failure" but suggests that "full agreement has not been reached" and that "we still hope for future rapprochement".

He also reflects on the Biblical meaning of 'forbearance' which, he suggests, means "not demanding everything we believe that we could legitimately or even reasonably demand of another person. It is a holding back of ourselves in a spirit of generosity". Given that definition, I doubt whether most of our Stormont politicians would recognise 'forbearance' even if they tripped over it.

Archbishop Clarke would win the Nobel Prize for diplomacy, if such an award was available. I have a great respect for him as a person of integrity and deeply Christian virtues, and as a good man in high office who is trying to be as helpful as possible.

However, I look to the Old Testament and to a prophet like Amos who held nothing back.

If he were alive today, he might address our politicians in the following manner: "No doubt you faced very difficult problems in finding a solution in a province where no-one wants to share a common identity, but clearly you were not up to the task.

"Your failure is an affront to Dr Haass and his colleagues, whom you invited to come from America to help you reach an agreement, which you have dismally failed to achieve so far.

"I do not wish to listen to your blame game, or to your feeble attempts to paper over the cracks and to claim that your efforts were not a total failure.

"Because you were unable to reach an agreement when the international light was focused on you so clearly, you let yourselves down and you let down the people of Northern Ireland, including the younger generation who have become so disillusioned with your lack of leadership that they are losing all faith in the political process.

"By failing to agree to the Haass proposals, you have failed to seize the opportunity to move ahead of your constituents and to show the courage of true leadership.

"You have also condemned Northern Ireland to continued political deadlock at a time when we need to focus all our energies and talents on improving life for everyone in this small, divided province where far too many people mistakenly believe that the world owes us a living.

"Sadly, however, most of you will be re-elected again by the people of Northern Ireland who pay lip service to peace and reconciliation, but in their voting pattern they continually opt for confrontation.

"And so we stumble along from crisis to crisis. When is this going to end?"

End of sermon, but let me share with you part of a Lenten talk which I gave in St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast, some time ago.

On that occasion I said: "I want a society where we will have politics and not a sectarian pantomime, where tomorrow is more important than today. Both sides want to win, but who in God's name wants a solution?"

That speech was delivered on March 16 ,1976, which is almost 38 years ago, and what has essentially changed in our politics since then?

Of course, there have been welcome and hard-won gains, but when it comes to the crunch, as it did in the Haass talks, too many on both sides still want to win.

Forbearance is not even a small part of our political agenda, nearly four decades on.

So let's tell it as it is.

Exemplar

We should emulate Christ, not Mandela

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Justin Welby, in his New Year Message, has asked people to emulate the late Nelson Mandela in an effort to make the world a better place in 2014.

I know what he means, and Mandela is as good a role model as any. However, I am wondering why the Archbishop did not make it a priority for us to emulate his own leader Jesus Christ?

Perhaps Mandela is more newsworthy nowadays.

Generosity

Let's celebrate their spirit of giving

Christmas and the New Year is traditionally a time for giving, and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has announced donations of £420,000 to the Moderators' Appeal to alleviate suffering in Syria and the Phillipines.

Other churches and individuals like the Black Santa have also raised large sums to help needy people in other parts of the world.

So let's give credit to those who make good headlines in times of need.

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