‘I pray for our politicians as NI enters its second century’

As Northern Ireland marks its century, my prayer is for healing of the past, honour in the present, and hope for the future.

Friday, 25th June 2021, 2:50 pm
Huge crowds gathered to greet King George V in Belfast in 1921 (NATIONAL MUSEUMS NI, ULSTER MUSEUM COLLECTION)
Huge crowds gathered to greet King George V in Belfast in 1921 (NATIONAL MUSEUMS NI, ULSTER MUSEUM COLLECTION)

I love this place, in all its beauty and its pain. I love the people and the landscape and our rich spiritual heritage. I love that Northern Ireland is 100 years old, even if few know what to do with that fact.

Our history is painful, bloody, and contested, and yet our people are generous and welcoming.

Our problems are the same as many other places – our healthcare system is stretched by unrealistic demands and our education system is failing far too many. There is no such thing as a unionist or nationalist pothole or rates bill, and coronavirus affects us all regardless of religious belief or political persuasion. The impact of lockdown will be felt for many years by people from every part of our wee country.

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I am Northern Irish, British, and Irish. I have never understood why I cannot be all three, though what does it mean to be Irish or British or Northern Irish anyway? Each part enhances rather than diminishes the other.

I want to see a united island but not necessarily a united Ireland. I want to see a stronger union – east, west and north, south. I want to see a Northern Ireland with strong links with Ireland, Britain, the EU and the rest of the world.

I am not a politician, and I don’t envy their task. I do pray for them, not as regularly as I should, but I try.

They have committed in the Good Friday Agreement, along with all of us, to ​“endeavour to strive in every practical way towards reconciliation”. We all need to commit to do more of this locally.

It would also be nice if politicians from around the world would stop using Northern Ireland as a political football, and I do hope they have actually read the Agreement that they are so keen to uphold – it’s really not that long.

The Agreement itself was an important step on our journey to peace but was not, and is not, the end of the road. I voted for it, aware that it would have painful implications for some. It wasn’t perfect, but like many I hoped a process of truth and reconciliation would follow. It didn’t.

It is easy for me to forgive – I did not lose anyone close to me in the Troubles. I take some solace in the fact that justice will ultimately be done – God is in charge. But I am also challenged by the grace and mercy Jesus has extended to me. Working out what all this means for society is the challenge.

There are no easy answers to the past, or to the current impasse. A global pandemic saw the political parties here work together, but even then the dysfunction was barely disguised below the surface. Mandatory coalition seems doomed.

The NI protocol shouldn’t be a partisan issue – it affects loyalist and republican sausages alike! It will take time to resolve – both the EU and the UK knew there would be issues.

Assuming all sides are genuine about wanting the best for Northern Ireland, then solutions can be found which could give Northern Ireland a unique status and special access to two important markets.

We can and must build a new society. Our past has shaped us, and it always will shape us, but it does not define us. We must look forward to the next 100 years.

The greatest lie of the enemy is that ​“things will always be this way”. My prayer is for healing of the past, honour in the present, and hope for the future.

Dostoevsky reminds us that to live without hope is to cease to live, because hope drives out fear.

Like Jeremiah, we seek both the peace and prosperity of this land. We pray that it will be a place of storytellers and risk-takers.

We pray that we will continue to be known the world over for our hospitality. We pray that there will be a new missionary movement – that there will be such an outpouring of the Spirit that simply cannot be contained in our wee country. More Lord.

– Peter Lynas is director of the UK Evangelical Alliance, trustee of Causeway Coast Vineyard Church, and a “repentant barrister”. This piece first appeared online at www.eauk.org