Church of Ireland General Synod

Presidential Address

The Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke, delivering his Presidential Address to the General Synod on 12th May

Posted 28 May 2016

Primate warns of Brexit uncertainty for Church and society in Ireland

In his presidential address to the Church of Ireland General Synod, held from 12th-14th May at the Royal Marine Hotel, Dún Laoghaire, the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke, warned that if the result of the 23rd June UK referendum on membership of the European Union leads to the UK leaving the EU – a so-called ‘Brexit’ – “life on this island, and hence in our Church, may be rendered very different”.

He called on all citizens “to consider carefully the consequences of their decision-making for the whole community”. (See Archbishops’ Press Conference report below.)

The Archbishop also issued a reminder of “the responsibilities we have been given for those who have come to western Europe, in the hope of finding safety and security, as they flee from violence and destruction in their own countries”.

He commented that it was “the countries of the west that have, over decades, exacerbated the political situation in most of those countries that are now disintegrating before our eyes, and we cannot now pretend that we have no moral responsibilities”.


Referring to the current Decade of Centenaries in Ireland, Dr Clarke said that this particular year was “central to these commemorations as the centenaries of both the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme fall within weeks of one another”.

He said that both were “highly complex affairs” as well as being “deeply symbolic and emblematic”.

The Archbishop described how he plans to join with Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Eamon Martin, in late June in leading a group of young people from across the island and from Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic community backgrounds on a three-day journey, starting at the new memorial wall in Glasnevin cemetery and on to visit the battlefields of the Somme and the Irish Peace Park in Messines.


Dr Clarke said he was “particularly enthusiastic” about the Church of Ireland undergoing a comprehensive, objective and external review of itself as a Church community.

He commented: “This should take place before our own commemorations in 2019 – not a centenary in this case, but a sesquicentenary – marking 150 years since the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland. It would mean inviting others from outside the Church of Ireland to look at us, lovingly but also critically, to tell us where we as a Christian tradition on this island need to strike out in new directions, while also valuing what we have received through succeeding generations of men and women who sought God’s glory in faithful service of Christ and his Church.”


The Primate said he was aware that there may be some misunderstanding as to the nature and scope of the ‘Long- Term Church’ project on which the Church of Ireland had embarked.

He said: “We need to be very clear that we should never imagine that the mission of the Church throughout every diocese and local community can somehow be ‘achieved’ by a central Church initiative. It is almost always in a local context – whether diocese, parish, or other local community or even through an event – that men, women and children are enabled to meet Jesus Christ and to grow into a greater maturity as his disciples.”

However, he said that the central Church could and should give as much support as possible in helping the local Church in its mission and service.


Archbishop Clarke paid tribute to outgoing Chief Officer and Secretary-General Adrian Clements for the “massive contribution” that he had made to the Church.

Dr Clarke said that Mr Clements and Robert Neill, who was nearing the conclusion of his chairmanship of the Executive Committee of the Representative Church Body, had done “an immeasurable service” to the Church of Ireland.

The Primate said it was “a great pleasure” to welcome David Ritchie as the new Chief Officer and Secretary-General.

Archbishops’ Press Conference

Speaking at the General Synod press conference, the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke, elaborated on his presidential address comments on the possibility of the UK leaving the European Union following the 23rd June referendum on the matter.

He said that such a development would lead to a situation in which the current “ease of relationships” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland “would probably be more difficult”. He said there would be social, economic and political consequences.

The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, said that a pro-Brexit vote would create “tremendous warning lights”.

Dr Jackson said there had been considerable “rapprochement” across Ireland as a result of the recent peace process and that a pro-Brexit vote would have a “massive effect”, especially given the fact that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland share the same land mass.

In particular, Archbishop Jackson referred to the ease of travel across the border as well as economic issues that would arise if Northern Ireland were no longer part of the EU.

Dr Jackson said that people had “a right and a duty” to vote and that if they chose not to vote they should be prepared to give good reasons for not doing so. He also indicated that he felt it was important that Irish people should explain their concerns about a pro-Brexit vote to people in England in particular.

Asked about the Primates’ Meeting of last January seeking to place certain restrictions on the US Episcopal Church (TEC) in the life of the Anglican Communion, including “requiring” that TEC would, for a period of three years, no longer represent the Anglican Communion on ecumenical or interfaith bodies, Dr Clarke said that the word ‘require’ was “ambiguous”, although he did not think that it had been used deliberately in such a way.

Archbishop Clarke said that “the Primates’ Meeting clearly does not have juridical authority” over the other instruments of communion in the Anglican Communion and indicated that he had made this clear at the Primates’ Meeting in question.

In reflecting on the recent meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Lusaka, Zambia, Dr Clarke said that the mood of the meeting had been very much one of “walking together”.

Regarding the withdrawal of Bill No. 2 in connection with the reorganisation of diocesan boundaries, Dr Jackson said that he felt that a layer of synodical consultation had been insufficient and that this had led to a special synod for Dublin and Glendalough.

However, he said he would be sad if the wider debate on episcopal ministry disappeared.

Asked about his aversion to the widely used term, ‘The North’, in referring to Northern Ireland, Dr Jackson said that it seemed to suggest “part of something that got away” rather than truly recognising its particular identity.

Archbishop Clarke said he hoped that the commemoration of the Battle of the Somme would include a recognition that soldiers from every part of Ireland and of differing traditions had been involved.