A land of a hundred thousand welcomes?

7.5.2024 | Moderator, Church in Society

Last week, Presbterian Moderator, Right Reverend Dr Sam Mawhinney, met with other faith leaders and members of both Houses of the Oireachtas, to discuss the subject of immigration to Ireland. The special event took place in Leinster House and was hosted by An Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl TD.

Entitled ‘Faith communities and Parliament in cooperation, to address the challenges and opportunities which immigration presents,’ Dr Piaras Mac Éinrí, who has written extensively and been published widely on immigration into, and emigration out of Ireland, was the guest speaker. A lecturer in migration studies and geography at University College Cork’s School of the Human Environment, Dr Mac Éinrí outlined the historic and current situation in the country alongside the global context.

Speaking about the event Dr Mawhinney said, “I very much welcomed the opportunity to attend the dinner, and would like to thank Ceann Comhairle Ó Fearghaíl for his kind invitation. The event was not only very informative, but helpful in terms of thinking about an issue that has come to the fore in recent months. One thing that struck me was the significant change that has taken place in Ireland over a relatively short space of time, especially when Dr Mac Éinrí said that today, 20% of people in Ireland were born outside of the country, a very high figure that highlights the nature of the change in immigration that has taken place.

“The meeting came at a time when there is increasing discussion in the country around immigration, and political and diplomatic disagreement on the matter, which can feed into tensions that already exist.”

Dr Mawhinney said that in many of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s congregations, north and south, especially, but not exclusively in larger towns and cities, the Church is seeing and welcoming an increasing number of people from overseas.

“In my own church, Adelaide Road in Dublin, our congregation is diverse and reflects the changing face of the city and a society that is increasingly multi-cultural. For many years, and under previous ministers as well, we have sought to help and support folk, Christian and non-Christian alike, through our international café, supporting people practically and spiritually.

“The Bible commends hospitality as a basic Christian response and a demonstration of the outworking of our faith. We read in Matthew’s gospel that Jesus tells us “… in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” In this guiding principle, I believe that we can have confidence in the gospel and the Lordship of Jesus Christ as the basis for dialogue in setting values for Ireland.” Dr Mawhinney said.

In 2023, Tullamore Presbyterian Church in County Offaly was recognised as a ‘Church of Sanctuary’ by the independent voluntary organisation Places of Sanctuary Ireland for its ongoing work in welcoming and supporting asylum seekers, refugees and those who have also settled from overseas.

While many congregations have also embraced those seeking a new life away from strife and danger, the Moderator explained that PCI had a range of services and initiatives run by the Church centrally, and by its presbyteries. The International Meeting Point in south Belfast, for example, was opened in 2010 and exists to meet the practical and spiritual needs of migrants and asylum seekers across the city. A similar project aimed at creating the same kind of support opened in the north of the city in 2019.

“As Presbyterians it has always been important for us to play our part, not only in our local communities, but also in wider civic and public life, which I would like to thank again, the Ceann Comhairle for his invitation,” Dr Mawhinney said.

“No one at the meeting doubted the complexity of the situation, which was highlighted on a number of occasions, as was the need for broader engagement, and greater understanding of what is an issue of growing significance for many in communities across Ireland, and worry for some.”

Dr Mawhinney concluded by saying, “In all of this, we need to remember that we are talking about men women and children who, for whatever reason, have needed to leave their home and seek a better, or safer life, here. And while there needs to be systems and processes in place that are robust, as well as being fair and just, we do need to ask ourselves if we are we still the land of a hundred thousand welcomes, and what ‘Cead Mile Failte’ really means in 21st century?”

Photos: (1) Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl TD, welcoming his guests to the dinner, which took place in his private dining room (2) Leinster House, the seat of the Houses of the Oireachtas (3&4) Dr Piaras Mac Éinrí addressing the meeting. Photo credit (1,3&4) Communications Unit, Houses of the Oireachtas Service.

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