Lord Patten: “… the problem at heart is not the sausages you get from Sainsbury’s but the porkies that we all get … from Downing Street”

Chris Patten delivering inaugural Seamus Mallon Lecture for Hume Foundation over Zoom

Lord Patten delivered the inaugural Seamus Mallon Lecture this evening, organised by the The John & Pat Hume Foundation. His talk looked back at his time as a direct rule minister: “An appointment to the Northern Ireland Office was often compared with being sent by a Communist Party general secretary in the Soviet Union to manage a power station in Siberia.” He recalled some of his encounters with Seamus Mallon, wishing that there were: “more political leaders in Northern Ireland …

Read more…

Orange Institution and Politics…

Much has been said in recent times about how Unionist voices are not being heard, however, when Reverend Mervyn Gibson appeared on ‘Talkback’ recently it was one of those times when I wished this sentiment was true. Reverend Gibson was interviewed in his capacity as the Grand Secretary of the Orange Institution; however, his appearance was at times a mix of poor representation, misrepresentation and it also added further confusion as to what the Orange Institution stands for. It also …

Read more…

Treating children fairly

While it is frequently claimed that Northern Ireland has an excellent schools system, it is clear that it is also a divided system. That division is not based only on religion, but also according to whether a pupil attends a grammar or a non-selective school, which is in turn related to the wealth of the parents. The system clearly separates children, despite the need of our society to come together to heal division. This week’s Holywell Trust Forward Together podcast …

Read more…

Northern Ireland today is different from 1998

Northern Ireland is a different place today, than when the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998. It is not just that many more people here today do not feel aligned to the traditional unionist and nationalist/republican identities, but we have many more ‘new citizens’ from other places. Lilian Seenoi-Barr is a well-known advocate for black and minority ethnic communities in Northern Ireland, as director of the North West Migrants Forum. In the latest Holywell Trust Forward Together podcast Lilian …

Read more…

Edwin Poots’ camp suggests Paul Givan could be First Minister with role split from party leadership

The process to depose and replace Arlene Foster as DUP leader and First Minister is turning into the kind of page-turner James Patterson could be proud of. This morning’s new chapter comes from Ciaran Barnes in the Sunday Life and Suzanne Breen on BBC NI’s Sunday Politics. Edwin Poots’ camp is briefing that he wants to be party leader but not First Minister. Breen suggested that fellow Lagan Valley MLA Paul Givan is in line to be his pick for …

Read more…

‘We’re so glad to be back’ vs. ‘Doesn’t the Irish Government understand that churches are essential services?’: North & South diverge on Church Reopenings

The front page of last weekend’s Irish News featured the headline: ‘We’re so Glad to be Back’. The story documented Catholics’ return to Mass in Northern Ireland, noting that Protestant churches are scheduled to reopen on Good Friday. The Irish News makes it clear that many Christians are thankful for the chance to gather, just in time for Easter. But at the same time, Christian worship has not ceased during lockdown: my research found that 87% of the island’s churches …

Read more…

Reflecting on the Church Leaders’ St Patrick’s Day Confession: “We have often been captive churches; not captive to the word of God, but to the idols of state and nation.”

For St Patrick’s Day, the Irish Church Leaders released a joint statement which deals directly with how the churches have been implicated in the island’s troubled past. The Church Leaders Group consists of the Catholic and Church of Ireland Archbishops of Armagh, the Presbyterian Moderator, the Methodist President, and the President of the Irish Council of Churches. The statement references 2021 as a year of important (and divisive) centenaries, then goes on to articulate what is in my judgement the …

Read more…

The State of Us … Previewing the seventh annual Imagine! Festival of Ideas and Politics (22-28 March)

A quick rummage through the Imagine! Belfast programme coming up between 22–28 March. Under the strapline of The State of Us, there’ll be exhibitions, workshops, lectures, film, comedy, music, spoken word, lectures, theatre and quizzes. Voices from at home and abroad. The festival isn’t afraid to challenge. It doesn’t expect participants to agree with everything that is said. It’s about making people think. Widening their horizons. Broadening their understanding. Developing their empathy. Helping them figure out why – and if – they truly believe the hunches and biases they may have been living with for a lifetime.

Can Ireland’s Churches be Something Other than a Building? New Research on Religion during the Pandemic

The annual worldwide Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (18-25 January) has just passed. Over the years it has been celebrated by Ireland’s more enthusiastic ecumenists, especially those who saw inter-church cooperation as essential for contributing to the healing of societal divisions, north and south. This year, all prayers and events marking Christian Unity have been virtual, owing to the pandemic. Yet there is evidence that the pandemic could be an unexpected catalyst for inter-church cooperation. My latest research report, …

Read more…

Belfast 4 Corners Festival starts next Sunday. All events free to watch online…

Northern Ireland’s first-ever inter-Church arts festival will proceed despite Covid-19 by going on-line. The Belfast 4 Corners Festival, now in its ninth year, co-founded by its Joint Chairs, Presbyterian minister, Rev Steve Stockman and Catholic priest, Fr Martin Magill, will live stream 30 events from January 31 to February 7. The festival announced its lineup on its website 4cornersfestival.com The festival said they had to abandon plans to invite a limited number of members of the public to attend some …

Read more…

A return to Ireland’s fundamentalist and simplifying past is to “throw yourself out of sync with history…”

So at the weekend Eoghan Harris took steady aim at one of the south’s most sacred cows. Unlike most of official Ireland, he looked at the first Bloody Sunday through the prism of a Liam Weldon song, Dark Horse on the Wind that warned how “the warriors spring from the earth to maim and kill their own”: RTÉ’s non-stop stream of nationalist necrophilia, with no balancing programmes such as Spotlight on the Troubles and Cops on the Frontline. RTÉ’s latest offering, Bloody Sunday, …

Read more…

Everything is Spiritual by Rob Bell: Part Memoir, Part Hymn for Humanity

My eyes had already welled up with tears after the first three pages of Rob Bell’s latest book, Everything is Spiritual: Who we are and What we’re doing Here. Those early pages took me to his grandmother’s front porch on a windswept farm in central Michigan, introducing me to the grief and love that shaped him and set his life on its course. My emotional response testifies to Bell’s skill as a storyteller, which makes Everything is Spiritual a quick, …

Read more…

Church as ‘doing life with all kinds of people’: Review of ‘On the Brühl’

On the Brühl, a documentary short profiling the work of Carrickfergus native Rev Barry Sloan in the German city of Chemnitz, has won the best short film documentary at the 2020 Burbank International Film Festival. The film is framed by images of far-right anti-immigrant protests in Chemnitz in 2018. Between the scenes of police in riot gear, On the Brühl juxtaposes those violent events with the warm, welcoming community-based meeting hub, ‘Inspire’, that Sloan helped establish in the city in …

Read more…

Love’s Betrayal: The Decline of Catholicism and the Rise of New Religions in Ireland by Peter Mulholland: New Insights on Recent Religious History

In Love’s Betrayal: The Decline of Catholicism and the Rise of New Religions in Ireland (Peter Lang Publishers, 2019) Peter Mulholland offers a frank and often bruising account of the decline of the authority of the Catholic Church in Ireland since the middle of the twentieth century. Mulholland follows in the footsteps of ground-breaking studies, such as those by Tom Inglis (Moral Monopoly, 1987, 1998) and Louise Fuller (Irish Catholicism Since 1950, 2002). What sets Mulholland’s work apart is how …

Read more…

Religion, Spirituality and the Search for Meaning during the Covid-19 Pandemic

According to many accounts, there has been a modest resurgence of religious practice in Ireland and the UK during the covid-19 pandemic. Nationally representative surveys commissioned by the Iona Institute and Tearfund found that surprisingly high numbers of people were accessing religion virtually, and that people were praying more. My own survey of faith leaders on the island of Ireland confirmed these trends, as have further polls by Christian Aid, Catholic Voices/York St John University, Dublin City University, and Durham …

Read more…

Féile Discussion: British or Irish or both? Unionism, Protestantism and the national question …

The Virtual Féile is well underway, with events continuing through Sunday. Monday, I took part in a lunchtime discussion on unionism around the theme of ‘British, or Irish or both: unionism, Protestantism and the national question’. It was chaired by Prof Jennifer Todd and my conversation partner was Prof Christine Bell. The conversation was framed in this way: Until the late 19thcentury, it was commonplace for unionists and Protestants of all varieties to see no problem in identifying as Irish. The …

Read more…

Will genuine reconciliation ever be possible?

Alex Kane is never short of opinions; after all, that is his job. One of his latest tweets has gotten people talking: I’ve spent many, many years, reflecting on the possibility of genuine reconciliation between unionism and republicanism (either in NI in UK, or in a united Ireland). My conclusion: it will never be possible. The chasms are now unbridgeable. — Alex.Kane (@AlexKane221b) July 6, 2020 Alex does get stick for being a pessimist, but I prefer to think of …

Read more…

Integrating society, creating shared spaces, enabling conversations

Integrated education should not be perceived as a threat to anyone’s sense of identity, but the sector needs to consider how it promotes itself across all of the community, says Roisin Marshall, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE). She was talking in the latest Forward Together podcast from the Holywell Trust. “Integration isn’t about dumbing down anyone’s identity,” she says. “It’s about enabling people to have conversations which are sometimes about not agreeing with each …

Read more…

‘My coping mechanism is talking, seeking peace and reconciliation’

  Alan McBride’s personal journey is well known, but remarkable nonetheless. It was in 1993 that his wife Sharon and her father Desmond Frizzell were killed in an IRA bomb attack on the family fish shop in Belfast’s Shankill Road. But with immense dignity, Alan has since dedicated his life to reconciliation and progress, as well as campaigning on behalf of victims. He is the latest interviewee in the Holywell Trust Forward Together podcasts. Alan admits that initially after Sharon …

Read more…

In review: why the abortion debate landed where it landed

To begin with, the Northern Ireland Act 1998 specifically authorises Parliament to make laws for Northern Ireland (Section 5(6)) and, in return, the Northern Ireland Assembly to amend laws made by Parliament to the extent that they affect Northern Ireland, provided that the matter has been “transferred” (devolved – see section 6). In theory, there could be an unending game of ping pong as the Assembly asserts its will and Parliament asserts its sovereignty.  Thus the Sewell convention, which is …

Read more…