Mishal Husain was standing in for Andrew Marr this morning and she interviewed Fr Martin Magill about…Like the good priest himself, I don’t need to finish that sentence. You know what it was about.
Nothing too new emerged from the interview. Mishal gently raised the question of politics being at the heart of a sermon in a church; Martin met it with the comment that Jesus himself was political. Mmm. You could debate that one for a fortnight.
The British media have generally concluded that Fr Magill’s intervention was a good and timely one. In a way, they imply, the failure of Sinn Féin and the DUP to make politics in the north of Ireland work is why the New IRA launched the assault that killed Lyra McKee. That’s definitely not the case. The ‘dissidents’ in Derry were mounting their attacks long before Lyra McKee was shot, and it wasn’t because Stormont wasn’t working that they were motivated to do so. In fact, they daubed slogans about Martin McGuinness during his time in Stormont, calling him a traitor – hence McGuinness’s famous ‘traitors to Ireland’ comment after the killing of PSNI officer Ronan Kerr.
I believe Martin Magill is a good man and I’ll credit him with good intentions (although I’d love to know if his bishop sanctioned his words in advance). But I think Martin fell into the trap of lazy thinking about politics.
It’s difficult to look at two opposed political parties and their policies, and then make a judgement; it’s easier to look at two political parties and see one as bad as the other, and to for God’s sake get on with it. That makes as much sense as the passionate people who appear on TV in Britain and demand that the British government just get on and leave the EU NOW.
The fact is, Sinn Féin are accusing the DUP of blocking a number of entitlements here, including an Irish Language Act and equal marriage. The DUP are denying, among other things, an Irish language act and equal marriage. Since Fr Magill was a friend of Lyra McKee and admired her, I’d presume he sees a demand of equal marriage as a reasonable demand and blockage of it as unreasonable and unjust.
But that’s not how it came out. It came out as ‘The two of you get your coats off and back to work NOW!”, and the serried ranks of the congregation/audience, spotting a nice simple ‘plague on all your houses’ moment, leapt to their feet and applauded.
So yes, it’s good that the British and Irish governments have got off their behinds and are attempting to restore Stormont, even though I’m convinced that place has passed its sell-by date. But it is never good to assume, because two parties are on either end of a political seesaw, that the seesaw must be evenly balanced. It rarely is, and the same goes for the collapse of Stormont. It’s a pity Fr Magill has given credence to the Daily Mail school of politics.