President and Armagh service – a letter in today’s Irish Times by Joe McVeigh

A chara, – I have nothing but respect and admiration for the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, John McDowell. I got to know him while he was Bishop of Clogher and I regard him as a good and holy man and as a friend. He did great work here while in the Clogher diocese to heal this community and to further peace and mutual understanding.

He was present for the visit of President Michael D Higgins to Enniskillen a few years ago. The President visited both our churches and Bishop John welcomed him.

On the issue of the service that is to take place in the Church of Ireland Cathedral in Armagh, I have to take issue with him and with the other participating religious leaders. However laudable their intent, the marking of the centenary of partition and the creation of the state of Northern Ireland in this manner could never be non-political.

The hostile reaction of sections of political unionism to the decision of President Michael D Higgins not to attend the event merely proved this point.

Both partition and the creation of the Northern Ireland state represent unresolved structural injustices to nationalists and republicans. By suggesting that these injustices and their attendant hurts are “in the past” is, in itself, adopting a political position.

Admittedly, it is a view held by many who saw the Belfast Agreement as a final settlement rather than as offering a peaceful pathway toward a final settlement.

The controversy raises an interesting question; is reconciliation possible in the context of continued structural injustice? For example, could we have imagined the South African reconciliation process proceeding without the dismantling of the apartheid system? Is it just possible that the most we can hope for on this side of our unresolved political problems is that the common decency of people can be harnessed to confront those within political unionism who seem determined to keep us locked within an iniquitous and intolerant Neverland?

The carnival of reaction that James Connolly predicted in both parts of a partitioned Ireland is, unfortunately, still a reality in the failed political entity that is Northern Ireland.

Is mise,



Co Fermanagh.

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