A post–election reflection by Archbishop Michael Jackson
The in–between times are upon us …
Often in Holy Scripture we see that it is during the ‘in–between times’ that true transformation happens. Throughout history when the people of God are in transition, physically or politically, new things can happen because new perspectives cannot be avoided or sidestepped. Christian people describe this as the work of the Holy Spirit. Most of us recognize that a time of energetic activity calls for a follow–up time of reflection and reassessment on what has happened. It is in this way that fresh priorities emerge and take precedence as new public policy is shaped. A further hope is that a new road map of co–operation emerges and captures the imagination of everyone as democratic government begins afresh with new faces and new expectations.
Across the whole of Ireland, new political things are happening. New political work is being done. New futures are unfolding, tired structures are being revived. The hope of all of us is that such fresh movement will benefit all who are in need of personal security in their own lives and opportunity to contribute in their life in the community. While this requires economic stability and economic growth, it is the use of wealth that drives a wholesome policy of government rather than wealth and productivity in and of itself.
In the Republic of Ireland, the outworking of last weekend’s election is still unfolding. Political parties of all hues are actively seeking ways not only to find the numbers required to form a Government but to build a society based on a generous sense of public duty and providing a tangible dividend for a broad range of people including the ‘squeezed middle’ and the marginalised and dispossessed. From earliest times, a yardstick of the integrity of any society has been how it cares for the poor, for minorities and for those at its margins. In Northern Ireland, the Stormont Assembly has been re–established and re–energised, addressing the essential day–to–day issues of civic life and infrastructural provision. Many people worked hard to make this happen and without their commitment beyond the call of duty, we would not have the chances of shaping a fresh future that beckons us forward.
The phrase ‘in–between times’ therefore resonates right across Ireland in a variety of ways. The long shadow of ‘Brexit done’ sheds itself over everyone because of our historic connections and our cultural and economic relationships in our thirty–two county life. Few have a sense of security as to how Brexit will affect us in our relationships with one another when 2021 dawns.
The danger of anaesthesia is becoming a greater threat than the danger of amnesia. Not only are we failing to remember how scandalous social exclusions are. We are ceasing to be touched by them as human beings. The more normalised the housing crisis, the homelessness crisis and the hospital crisis become in the Republic of Ireland, the more callous our carelessness becomes regarding those who have no voice and who have no purchase in our society. While these matters became the headline issues during the election campaigns and need to remain central to the new world of government, there was also a profound cry heard regarding the deepening experience of disconnection and marginalization. It is now as acutely felt in rural Ireland as it is in urban Ireland. Social theory and social Gospel both tell us that what looks to me like the margin is in fact the centre of life for another person. Centre and margin, margin and centre, need to meet and to make the dialogue of life and the dialogue of ideas happen.
My prayer is for wisdom of decision and generosity of understanding on the part of those who will govern anew in the Republic of Ireland and on the part of those who govern afresh in Northern Ireland. The holding of public office is a unique opportunity to serve and to enhance the common good. Peace is our gift in the light of the Belfast–Good Friday Agreement. Peace is our currency of co–operation locally and further afield. Politicians owe it to their citizens to ensure peace and to build flourishing societies.
During this month Dublin City University, through the Church of Ireland Centre, produced ‘Praying Together – Prayers for Primary School Assemblies’, edited by Jacqui Wilkinson. One of the prayers, written by the Rt Revd Michael Burrows, captures the hope that children and adults might share and speak for the whole of Ireland. Here it is:
God of all nations
We pray for Ireland, this beautiful country.
Bless all who live here, wherever they come from.
Bless those who rule us, because they need our prayers.
Make our country a peaceful and happy place.
Help us to be proud of it, to play our part as young citizens,
And to make sure those who come after us can enjoy it too. Amen
Dublin and Glendalough