The Irish Question
Ireland the brave, Ireland the soul’s shelter. May Patrick lead Ireland to charity and Humility.
Has this finally been settled by the coming together in the Good Friday Agreement fostered by Blair and Eire’s leaders?
I would say yes or very nearly so. But the Irish Nationalists North and South of the border nurse ambitions for a united Ireland and those hopes will not have been extinguished by the Good Friday accords. You cannot suddenly and arbitrarily subjugate those aspirations which have dwelt in the Irish breast since the time of Cromwell and his oppression of the Irish. Clearly the Good Friday understanding has left Irish unity to be decided by the majority in Northern Ireland and not a moment sooner. At least Blair succeeded in halting the bloodletting.
2. The Future for Ireland
What does the future hold for Ireland North and South? A scenically beautiful and gracious country with verdant countryside, coast lines, Loughs (inland lakes), rivers (the Shannon), ranges of mountains (the Mountains of Marne), and peaks (Croagh Patrick and Knock), not to mention its bogs and colourful cities: Cork City, Dublin, Londonderry and Belfast. The people of Ireland have an easy going and amusing manner built upon Christianity despite the Troubles in the North from 1969-2000 which divided Catholic from Protestant, civilian from British Soldier, citizen from Police Officer and government from governed. Clearly these accords in 1999-2000 have achieved a lot to end the internecine strife. Don’t underestimate that result. However weary of struggle the Provisionals may have been in 1999/2000 they could have inflicted their misery for years to come – that was their very raison d’etre. Like it or not they were politically motivated to wear down their Protestant political opponents and very nearly succeeded in doing so. The Protestant party is a majority party in the North but by no large margin and diminishing at that. In the South the parties: Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are not divided on sectarian lines. That is a great hope for a united Ireland with no sectarianism, if and when unity is achieved. There is real hope for a living and peaceful Ireland based on the Good Friday understandings.
3. What is the way forward?
Build on what Blair has achieved and the rapport between Sinn Fein and the Protestant Party in the Stormont Assembly who are the two major parties from each camp. Ireland is essentially a pastoral country and should not lose its innate character. Of course the Irish stride the globe in England, the USA and Australia, to name only some of the countries the Irish have emigrated to over the past 250 years. That is their character “to go forth and make disciples of all nations” as Christ commanded his apostles on the mountainside. They may not all go to Church but the Irish have Catholicism deep in their Irish souls – even Paisley would not disagree with that. He was an Irishman through and through like all Orangemen who march in Londonderry. The Catholic Irish shun sectarianism – eventually Gerry Adams will lose the way – he is not popular in Eire despite the odd polling victory in the South, based on Proportional Representation. When Adams and McGuiness (the old guard) have gone the way will be open to fusion in the Assembly and Ulster. Do the people of Ulster favour a united Ireland? I say they emphatically reject that old chestnut and cul de sac. They desire amity and comity amongst the Irish of all persuasions, inside and outside the province of Ulster, that province still an integral part of the U.K.
4. The Role of the Catholic Church in Ireland since 1945.
Catholic Ireland has been a notable example of Roman Catholicism in European Christendom since St. Oliver Plunkett’s day, Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop of Armagh dies 1st July 1681 at Tyburn. Little is known about St Patrick who becomes all things to all Irish men and women. I am concerned to define the channel through the Archbishops of Armagh of old, to Cardinal O’Faich and Cardinal Brady in the post-war period. In my experience Irish Catholicism was always pure and strong and to the point. I knew some of her Catholic Priests in English Catholic parishes in my youth and later. The Irish Catholic laity, so close to her priests, have had an enormous influence on England due to settlement and intermarriage and breeding of children. Thus England has herself become Irish especially the Catholic English. You will meet very few pre-Reformation Recusant English Catholic families. They have all but died out. But as they departed the Catholic Irish have entered full stage. This Irish Catholic heritage in England seen and unseen has provided great strength to England politically and militarily and that morale boost has driven through the Good Friday Accord (even Blair has now become a Catholic post 2008 and his wife Cherie Booth QC, probably of Irish Catholic stock from Liverpool). I argue Irish Catholicism has not lost its sting and punch thank God. Some of its priests used to go too far in chastisement of the young as we now hear. That is very unfashionable yet a fault on the right side. Its two Cardinals (O’Faich in the Troubles) and (Brady latterly) properly adhered to their Episcopal authority and lineage.
In O’Faich’s case he rightly flagged up the injustice of British imposed Internment and certain senseless atrocities by the British military during the Troubles. (I disagree with him on the 30th January 1972 deaths of the Catholic civilians on the Bogside). He could be equally trenchant about the provisionals’ callous killings of members of the security forces in Ulster, not to mention tit for tat killings. Brady was criticized severely for permitting priests to remain in circulation who were suspected of sexual indecency. It is now accepted as bad practice to pursue that policy but not long ago that Episcopal practice was not universally understood and disapproved. It takes time to evolve understanding, practice and policy. The journalistic and adversarial clamouring outside Brady’s bishopric was unsavoury. Are we to presume the successor to Plunkett aided and abetted these priestly sexual misdemeanours. Plainly no, then stand back and “let the dog see the rabbit”. i.e. The Irish Catholic Church with its own chosen advisors will resolve these matters. Brady and his successors must be given time and space, I argue.
An attempt has been made to ridicule and traduce modern Irish Catholicism and its bishops. It has rightly been repelled. Thus the future for Ireland north and south lies in true Irishness: Catholic and Orange. But the crucial and prevailing religion in Ireland has always been Roman Catholic. That revitalised Irish Catholicism will lead Ireland forward not to political unity but to Christian humility and charity. The Catholic Archbishop of Armagh as Primate of all Ireland unites Ireland under his Mitre and Crook. He is the true Pastor of Ireland and there will always be religious diversity within his primacy. It is through Armagh that Ireland will come together. The Good Shepherd will not neglect the lands of Saint Patrick and he Patrick so loved by all the Irish.