President Higgins’ visit to Enniskillen – a ‘reaching out past the barriers and suspicions’
A visit by President Michael D. Higgins to Enniskillen last week (Wednesday 16th September) both affirmed the warm relations among the community’s local Churches and complemented the Queen’s diamond jubilee visit to the town in 2012.
Following a visit to Erne Integrated College – where the President and his wife, Sabina, were entertained by the school choir and where the President commended the school for its role in “working together to realise a truly reconciled society” – the visitors, accompanied by clergy from St Michael’s Roman Catholic church, walked across Church Street to St Macartin’s Cathedral, a walk designed to symbolise Enniskillen’s community togetherness.
The possibility of the visit was first mooted when Msgr Peter O’Reilly, of St Michael’s, and the Dean of Clogher, the Very Revd Kenneth Hall, were guests of the Queen at Windsor Castle last year during President Higgins’ state visit to England.
As the Harvest Thanksgiving season arrives, it is important that the economic plight of farmers within our own European Union is remembered. While EU agriculture ministers announced a €500m (£365m) aid package for farmers on 7th September, both the Irish Farmers’ Association and the Ulster Farmers’ Union swiftly issued statements saying that the measure was inadequate to meet what has become a crisis situation. Then last week, after the EU gave more details of the agricultural aid package, both organizations remained dissatisfied. RTÉ has pointed out that prices for beef, pork and milk have been pushed down due to a combination of factors, including changing dietary habits, slowing Chinese demand and a Russian embargo on Western products in response to sanctions over the Ukraine conflict.
Indeed, could it be other than a crisis when there is currently a loss of between eight and 10 pence on every litre of milk produced in Northern Ireland alone? The gravity of the situation was illustrated by the fact that, coinciding with the 7th September meeting, a massive demonstration was held in Brussels by thousands of farmers from different countries, with tractors blocking the city’s streets.
Following last week’s EU Agriculture Ministers’ meeting, Irish Farmers’ Association President Eddie Downey said that “Ireland’s share of the €420m targeted aid from the EU’s €500m support package … at €13.7m, while welcome, is totally inadequate to deal with the income difficulties on farms at this time”. Mr Downey said that farmers would expect Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney to mirror the decisions of other countries on top-ups from national funds,
which the EU Commission package explicitly allows, “to ensure Irish farmers are not at a competitive disadvantage”. He called on the Minister and the EU Commission to ban below cost selling at retailer level and to take decisive action to break the global input supplier cartels which he said were becoming “ever more apparent”.
Also last week, Ulster Farmers’ Union President Ian Marshall said that the €36.1m allocated to the UK “will not solve the crisis facing agriculture” and added that it fell “far short of what is needed to help farm families through the difficult autumn and winter of 2015”. The UFU described the package as “largely meaningless in terms of addressing market volatility and the short- term problems facing the industry”. The UFU also expressed its disappointment that “intervention even on a temporary basis wasn’t mentioned as it had the potential to put a realistic floor into the market”. A statement indicated that discussions remained ongoing with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development as to how best to maximize the Northern Ireland share, and how this “very limited pot of funds” would best be allocated in Northern Ireland.
Farming is of fundamental importance. It is all too easy for city dwellers to lose sight of the fact that, without the farmers, there would be no food on ordinary people’s tables, let alone on the tables of the restaurants of Brussels or wherever. The scale of farming across the EU is nothing less than immense and, for that reason, it is a matter of much concern when representatives of farmers are so dissatisfied with what has been put forward at EU headquarters.
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Letters to the Editor
THE GAZETTE’S 11th September Editorial makes appropriate and timely reference to the current migrant crisis which has engaged our minds over recent months.
In such times of social, economic and political crises, I commend the Archbishop of Armagh for his wisdom, leadership and guidance in focusing our thoughts and pointing us towards the teaching of Holy Scripture.
It is imperative that we follow the teaching of St Paul in the Epistle to the Hebrews: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing, some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”
The Archbishop has reminded all of us to stay focused on the human costs of persecution, of which we incidentally know little or nothing. Dr Clarke has also challenged us “to look to the goodwill of local communities to take in and embrace manageable numbers of refugee families in their towns and cities …”
As the Gazette reported, his comments are echoed both by Archbishop Welby and Bishop Nick Baines, who calls for “strategic attention” to tackling the problems at their source.
In my daily professional work as a psychologist working with migrants who have experienced trauma, fear, hopelessness, acute and chronic fear anxiety disorders, suicidal thoughts and much more, I am constantly reminded of the ubiquitous need for human empathy, wisdom, intelligent responses and discernment and, above all, grace and understanding.
These are people in a strange land which for most is a very frightening experience of the unknown. Have we not a biblical mandate to reach out to those migrants and offer the right hand of friendship? These people have personal identities which are under threat culturally and spiritually. Some of my clients are Muslim, many have no faith at all and some are influenced by New Ageism or atheism. I constantly ask myself: What would Jesus do?
It’s time to remove the labels and overcome the stereotypical thinking that prevents us from reaching out to others. Love does overcome all fear, as the Bible teaches us.
Whilst we cannot deal with the extreme political complexities in their country of origin, we can persist in prayer that intelligent means of coping with the mass influx of people will be found in the coming days, with meaningful political decisions that will be seen to work.
We can, however, at a more practical level, consider offering refuge to one individual and show our faith in action by extending our hospitality to migrants and relieving them of their human suffering.
I appeal to all parishioners, the business community and property owners to consider giving a free room or rooms to enable these people to find a new life and practical support by our Church of Ireland.
Arthur Cassidy (Dr), Portadown, Co. Armagh
THE SUBJECT of immigration has been filling our television screens, raising grave concerns about what is going on in the world.
Some feel that Europe cannot cope with this number of migrants and others feel that we should open the doors wide out of humanitarian compassion, and both viewpoints have a valid argument.
I must admit that I was rather surprised when I recently entered the ‘Faith Room’ in Heathrow Airport Terminal 5, on return from a hospital appointment in London, to find that the entire room was filled with ardent Muslims praying fervently on their prayer mats to Allah; there was not room for me even to enter.
No chairs were provided, as the Muslims need the floor to pray, so really no Christians or Jews or members of any other faith are able to pray comfortably or read according to their own beliefs, as the dominant activity is that of adherents to Islam.
Most of the migrants that hope to make Europe their home are also Muslim, which will change the demographics of Europe for ever, at least from the statistic of Christianity being the major religion.
I visited Budapest earlier this year with a group of Christians from Northern Ireland who were supporting a Christian worker from Cloughy, Co. Down, and his Hungarian wife and he showed us around the Jewish area of the city. He has since written to express concern that the huge influx of Muslims into Central Europe is already making the Jewish community nervous.
If so many Muslims insist on praying toward the East, surely the East should be solving their problems, not the West. We may be experiencing one of the biggest upheavals in the Western world since the founding of Christianity.
Mary and Joseph were refugees in Egypt when Herod killed all the infants in Bethlehem, but they returned to Israel after the trouble was over. They didn’t stay for the rest of their lives. That’s one example of immigration in the Bible.
To the Israelites fleeing Egypt, God said: “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt. You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20: 2, 3) The challenge for Christians and Jews across Europe is that Allah is not the God of the Bible, yet Islam could end up being in the ascendancy.
Colin Nevin, Bangor, Co.Down
Bible, Prayer Book and visiting book
I SUBSCRIBE wholeheartedly to the welcome and necessary sentiments concerning the Bible, Prayer Book and visiting book, as expressed in the recent letters of Canon Crooks and Dean Griffin.
The over-emphasis on some forms of modern communication has created difficulties in churches, along with the downgrading of The Book of Common Prayer. The Monaghan poet, Patrick Kavanagh, often referred to the Protestant who, fearing that his/ her Irishness might appear to be slightly suspect or even dwindling, always wore it prominently onhis/her sleeve for all to observe. Kavanagh could award the same verdict on those now inclined to change the Church – for very dubious reasons! Mind you, they would possibly regard the term ‘Protestant’ as a bit ‘iffy’ and certainly not to used in public.
William A. B. Crowe, Altnagelvin Londonderry
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