COI Gazette – 20th April 2018

Marking 20th anniversary of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement

Archbishop Eamon Martin & Archbishop Richard Clarke

Archbishop Eamon Martin & Archbishop Richard Clarke

Archbishop Richard Clarke, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, and Archbishop Eamon Martin, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, have issued a joint statement to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement.

“As we mark the 20th Anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement tomorrow, we wish to give thanks together to God for all that has been achieved in building peace since that historic moment.

“The Good Friday Agreement sought to address contentious political problems in the context of decades of violence, divided communities and immense suffering and death on our streets. As such, it was a complex and, in places, controversial document.




“Who are you?” followed by “Where are you from?” and an array of similar questions. Yes, people who are not from this island can feel daunted by how much we want to know about each other. It is a peculiar quality of people in both jurisdictions that we want to know who we are talking to. Mostly, it has little to do with wanting to know the religion of the other person or nosiness. In large part, it is a simple desire to make a human connection with other people, because relationships are important to us. There is a sad irony that we live on an island where the value of relationships runs deeply, yet our history is marked by such fractured relationships, causing immense wounds and death. Given our history, there is important symbolism in the fact that the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic Primates of All- Ireland have issued a joint statement to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement (front page).

The statement is realistic, as it points out several important aspects around the agreement:

• It recognises that the context that gave rise to the agreement was of “decades of violence, divided communities and immense suffering and death on our streets.” As Northern Ireland sought agreement 20 years ago, it was in the context of deep wounds and human suffering;

• It noted that the agreement was a “complex and, in places, controversial document.” There were parts of it that were painful and difficult to accept. It was also an intricate document that addressed a web of relationships.

There is an acknowledgement that the years since the agreement were very different to those that had preceded it. The statement talks of the “generation of young people who are growing up without the sounds of bomb or bullet on a daily basis; for the livelihoods and businesses which have not been destroyed; for the families and neighbourhoods who have been spared the heartbreaking pain and trauma of death or serious injury.” Such a contrast to what had gone before that is worth acknowledging, and being thankful for.

The statement injects a dose of realism into any reflection on the agreement. It is the recognition that, whilst the agreement offered a framework for a new beginning, yet: “No single political agreement can be expected, of itself, to solve or heal the deep wounds in any society.” Any agreement, regardless of how carefully crafted, cannot be a substitute for the other vital ingredients of building peace – a willingness to rise above sectional interests and to work for the common good of all.

Given the fact that we are marking the 20th anniversary of the agreement whilst not having a functioning Executive, it is tempting to lose hope. That is where faith, rather than the prevailing political circumstances, has something to say, according to the statement: “We are always beginning. We are always making a fresh start. It was in the light of the Resurrection that St Paul urged us to be ‘ambassadors’ of reconciliation.”

A new resource called Be Reconciled was launched on the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement to inspire and equip local churches in peacemaking. The press statement to accompany the launch sums it up nicely: “This timing is not a political move but a prophetic one, in the sense that it calls the Church to look back to the reconciling message of the Gospel and forward to the reconciliation of all things through Christ. Whatever anyone’s views about the Good Friday Agreement, it’s clear our society still has a long way to go when it comes to peacebuilding. Politics and legal agreements can only ever take us so far together.” It is hard to argue with that!


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Letters to the Editor

Eighth Amendment Referendum

AS ONE who followed carefully the discussion leading up to the passing of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution in 1983, and being a member of the House of Bishops under three years later, when there continued to be much discussion of issues surrounding the interpretation and application of that constitutional provision, I am concerned that the message from the Church of Ireland is changing.

The agreed position was always that the questions surrounding abortion should be addressed by legislation and not by constitutional provision.

Quite simply, the issue of abortion should not be dealt within the Constitution. It is this position, previously advocated by the Church of Ireland, that is being addressed in the forthcoming Referendum, namely that the legislature is the proper context in which to provide a legal framework surrounding abortion.

The issue of a modified constitutional provision, as suggested in recent statements, is neither the issue before the people of Ireland, nor is it in line with the position that the Church of Ireland has consistently taken.

John R. W. Neill (Archbishop) Bennettsbridge Co. Kilkenny

REGARDING THE recent front page on the Primates’ ‘advice’ on the forthcoming abortion referendum in the Irish Republic, several issues bother me.

Firstly, as it was visually linked to a large Pro-Life caption, it seems to indicate some sort of harmony with their particular campaign approach.

I always understood that Anglicanism was not a magisterium, but rather a spiritual approach that valued diversity and allowed for independent thinking?

Secondly, as regards the Pro-Life campaign, they overlook major pastoral issues in terms of the many women who endure back street abortions, sexual violence and exploitation, domestic violence, coercive control and very often life-threatening childbirth situations.

To my mind this is not Pro-life, but anti-life, and their slogans such as “the root cause of abortion is selfishness” do not respect the struggles and suffering of many women.

Thirdly, at the very least, when this is such a hugely pastoral issue for women, surely we need to hear a wider variety of opinion and, in particular, the voices of women?

Grace Clunie (Revd) Armagh


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