The following reflections are inspired by Steve Stockman’s “An Open Letter to Northern Ireland’s Political Leaders” (PS September 2015) and Esmond Birnie’s response.
The central issue raised by Stockman and Birnie, is whether there is a distinctively Christian input on issues debated in the public arena. Birnie, seems to disagree with Stockman’s conclusion that all polticians are prone to selfish and partisan behaviour irrespective of the kind of political framework and institutions in which they have to operate. He implies that Northern Ireland politics has been prone to “periodic crisis”, in contrast with politics, say, in “London, Dublin, Washington or Berlin”, because of the political institutions as set up by the 1998 peace-process, with slight modifications in 2007.
Birnie argues further that one main reason why politics in Northern Ireland have been in continual crisis of one kind or another is because “we have pursued a 'peace at all costs' so called peace process”, resulting in “moral compromises in order to keep everyone talking, to keep all parties at the table and the room.” This preoccupation with “peace at all costs”, he contends, has forced Northern Ireland politicians to ignore the fundamental issues on which they legitimately disagree. He cites as an example the disagreement about “austerity” fiscal policies by the Government since 2010 and seems to castigate Irish Church leaders for their anti-austerity stance in a statement made last year. Continue reading