This week our research assistant Holly, who is studying for a Masters in conflict transformation, reflects on Northern Ireland’s current political impasse. In response, Holly makes three hopeful proposals amidst this political impasse…
Over the past twenty years in Northern Ireland, through great efforts, we have seen co-operation and unexpected advancements in the relationship between our politicians and political parties. Yet, recently, it appears that any progress which had been made has been halted, particularly in the wake of a number of affairs. To name a few, these have taken form in the shape of the collapse of the Executive, the RHI scandal, and the ever looming Brexit. Circumstances such as these have contributed to the rapid deterioration of what once were civil, but delicate, relations between parties and politicians.
This is not to discredit any of the developing, and difficult, steps that have been taken to retain a sense of unity within our political sphere, but at a society level it causes frustration and leaves many with defeatist, hopeless and resigned attitudes. As an individual passionate about politics in Northern Ireland, I find myself constantly asking a long list of never ending questions, such as, ‘Will our politicians ever agree?’, ‘Can Northern Ireland ever move forward?’. This is due in part to the fact that I believe we deserve a coherent and cooperative government. I believe that we need to care for the most vulnerable members in our communities who are overlooked in this political power struggle. Ultimately, I believe that Northern Ireland deserves better. In response, I propose there are three interlocking and complimentary necessary actions which we can do to project hope in this political impasse, which take their form in; Education, Engagement and Prayer.
It can be mutually agreed that often political matters are complex, tiring and sometimes controversial. However, the key to being empowered to form coherent and constructive opinions, is through education. Proverbs 18:15 states that ‘The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out’, and in this instance, it simply isn’t enough just to know an overview of current affairs. We must educate, by delving into the detail, acquiring knowledge and using wisdom in the outlets through which we choose to receive it. Particularly, the continuous negative portrayal of politics in the media is not healthy or constructive, but instead can cause further damage and isolation to numerous communities. Our society places a high standing on education, and I believe that we should take full advantage of the outlets in which we can receive and gain as much knowledge as possible. If we don’t keep up to date (no matter how boring, tiresome or indeed aggravating it may be), then how can we ever make an impact or help enlist changes in our communities and societies?
To engage with politics is to have a hand in directly impacting your community, which I believe is a wonderful privilege and one we should not take for granted. By, this I don’t mean all of a suddenly becoming aggressively party political, or becoming Twitter’s newest resident keyboard warrior. Instead, political engagement can be done from a place of grace, compassion and encouragement. This is not to say that you cannot disagree, in fact it is very important to do so. It means that we should make conscious efforts not to become detrimental to the advancement of political efforts, even when a controversial scandal arises. Additionally, when incidents and drama arise it is so easy to disengage with politics, but this is the opposite of what we should do. It’s important to encourage and support our politicians, particularly when they have made tremendous efforts to boost morale and address the needs of citizens in their community. In a digital age, it has been made easier to contact politicians. This can easily be done by drafting an email in response to a political move you disagree with, or indeed a simple ‘Well done, thank you!’ to their positive actions which have benefitted your community.
Inherently the most important of the three actions, specifically if we want to see constructive transformations in politics, is that we must pray. As the Church we should believe and trust that God can do ‘exceedingly abundantly above all which we ask or think’ (Ephesians 3:20). Personally, I often voice my frustration at the political impasse, compose a tweet and then pray later. However, if I am to believe God is going to heal political divisions and substantially change the heart of politics here, then prayer should be the first thing that both myself, and the Church do. Mark 11:24 tells us that ‘whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours’, and as Christians we shouldn’t shy away from praying bold and courageous prayers. I believe that if we as the Church unite and pray together for our politicians, political parties and policies, that we can and will see a shift towards harmonious, uplifting and respectful relationships.
As the Church, it's important to remember that God’s heart is for this land and for this people. We need to remind ourselves of the hope, light and forgiveness that He has brought to us, and in turn we must reciprocate these back into the political sphere. Our wee country is brimming with political potential, and imagine how matters can positively change if we engage, educate and pray.