To mark the centenary of the Seanad’s establishment, the upper house of the Oireachtas is undertaking a consultation which will give Senators an opportunity to listen to the voice of people across the island from all traditions and opinions. The Council for Public Affairs, authorised by the General Assembly to speak on behalf of the Church and engage with statutory bodies, put forward to the Committee a number of observations, including:
- Careful conversations on the constitutional future of the island of Ireland should not presume a pre-determined direction of travel and must also allow for discussion about the changing nature of relationships across these islands, east and west, as well as north and south.
- Practical considerations regarding constitutional change will be based on unstable foundations if the hurt and pain of the past is not acknowledged and recognised alongside very real fears about the future
- A singular focus on practical considerations risks side-stepping the harder conversations about cultural and social differences, and the even more difficult work of engaging hearts and minds
- Finding ways to include perspectives from ‘New Irish’ communities will enrich the Committee’s process.
Speaking after the hearing, Mr Kane said, “As an all-Ireland denomination our Christian witness and involvement in local communities across our 500-plus congregations is part of the warp and weft of life on the island north and south. That involvement is also part and parcel of the public life in both jurisdictions, demonstrated by for example, by our Moderator’s participation in July’s annual National Day of Commemoration in Dublin, and last month’s State Funeral of her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth in London.
“As we stated in our response to the Seanad’s open call for submissions, ‘Given a denomination of such size and geographical spread, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ view on the constitutional future of the island of Ireland amongst Presbyterian people. Whilst it may be broadly correct to assume that Presbyterians in the North generally identify with a unionist perspective, and those in the South are more sympathetic to a narrative of constitutional change, it would be wrong to conclude that there is homogeneity among Presbyterians in either jurisdiction.’” he said.
“That was just one of the points we made to the Committee today, as the largest Protestant denomination in Northern Ireland, together with our observation that careful conversations on the constitutional future of the island of Ireland should not presume a pre-determined direction of travel.”
As the Committee undertakes its deliberations and considers submissions from individuals and groups across the island, Mr Kane continued, “PCI has never shied away from these difficult conversations and has a strong track record, actively working in public and in private to build good relationships, across these islands, in order to further peace and reconciliation. It is our desire to engage positively and that the discussion might be broadened out to the changing nature of relationships across these islands.
“Often the rules of engagement in conversations such as these make it difficult, if not impossible for those from a perceived Protestant/unionist background to participate. Over this past ‘Decade of Centenaries’ as a Church we have sought to create inclusive opportunities to pause, reflect, and consider what society can learn as we think about future relationships across these islands, north and south, east and west.”
“However that future unfolds, one thing is very clear; reconciliation absolutely must be at its heart. And reconciliation is not easy, nor can it be a quick fix. As a Church we haven’t always got this right, and this is reflected in our book Considering Grace which catalogues Presbyterian experiences of the Troubles. Without first acknowledging the hurt and pain of the past, and recognising the very real fears about the future, any conversations about constitutional change will be built on unstable shifting sand. The Psalmist reminds us that reconciliation is the space between mercy, truth, justice and peace. No matter the dream, or the aspiration, this must be recognised, acknowledged and understood,” he explained.
“Our own denomination’s Vision for Society Statement challenges us to embody grace-filled relationships in a broken and divided world, and to work together for the common good, whatever the constitutional future of these islands. Last September, in an event marking the centenary of the creation of Northern Ireland and the partition of the island of Ireland, former Moderator Very Rev Dr David Bruce said at the time that:
North, south, east and west on these islands present us with a web of opportunities to grow – economically, culturally, spiritually, if we have the vision for it… We must work tirelessly to sort out the new configurations of our cultural, commercial and spiritual connections… Whatever a new Ireland resembles, it will not be because someone was victorious, while another was defeated. If it looks like that, it won’t be a new Ireland.
Mr Kane concluded by saying, “We were grateful to have had the opportunity to present to the Committee today, and look forward to seeing the outcome of its deliberations.”
Photos (1) Public Consultation Committee meeting in the Seanad Chamber chaired by An Cathaoirleach Senator Mark Daly, with PCI representatives Rev Daniel Kane, Convener of the Council for Public Affairs, and the denomination’s Public Affairs Officer, Karen Jardine. Very Rev Dr Norman Hamilton also took part in the public hearing as a private individual (2) Rev Daniel Kane delivering his remarks (3) Senators and participants at today's hearing and (4) Karen Jardine addressing the Committee (Credit Seanad Éireann).
You can read PCI's response to Seanad Éireann’s Public Consultation paper on the Constitutional Future of the island of Ireland here.