Saturday, May 07, 2005

E-day plus 2 - the Irish Question

When I first became aware of the Irish Question - the rather euphemistic way of referring to the fact that there is a religious/political divide in the community of Northern Ireland/Ulster (the two sides don't even agree on what to call the place) - the extremes in the community consisted of active paramilitary units, but the bulk of the community was represented by moderate political parties - the moderate nationalist/Catholic SDLP, and the moderate loyalist/Protestant Ulster Unionist Party. There was even a fairly strong Alliance party, that sought to represent both communities.

Since then, the Good Friday Agreement and other steps towards peace have resulted in an end to publicised terrorist acts (although the violent elements in the communities are still there), but the different communities have become more polarized. In this election, the strongly Republican Sinn Fein party took one additional seat in parliament (particularly remarkable given the fact that its reputation had been severely tarnished by recent acts of violence which were handled in a way which seemed to show that Sinn Fein didn't really understand how to work in a peaceful way) and the strongly loyalist Democratic Unionist Party took several more. The moderate UUP - with its Nobel Prize winning leader John Trimble - were pretty much electorally wiped out - they have just one seat in parliament.

It is safe to say that this is not going to make easier any political settlement to accommodate the aspirations of both communities - tricky since they are basically diametrically opposed. In the meantime, before yet another person talks about how much trouble religion causes, it is worth reflecting upon how far removed both sides are from Christianity. Christianity is about placing other people's needs before mine; it is about submitting to human authorities; it is about loving my neighbour, who turns out to be the person I might have least in common with. This is not achieved by marching around the province to celebrate the battles in which the other community was beaten. There might be a higher concentration of evangelical Christians in Ulster than there is anywhere else in the UK (according to Operation World) - but their way of life is not always a good testimony to the power of the gospel. Unfortunately, this has its clearest expression in the publically-expressed attitudes of Rev. Ian Paisley, who has now effectively become the undisputed leader of the Unionist community in Northern Ireland. Neither is Christianity demonstrated by intimidation, setting up an "alternative" to the legal system, and seeking the (if necessary) violent overthrow of an existing power.

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