from Good Friday to Holy Saturday in 20 years



St Patrick may have been able to drive out the snakes from the island of Ireland, but reconciliation between the traditions on the Island seems a miracle beyond even Paddy.

The chaos called Brexit has brought into sharp relief what observers of the Northern Ireland political scene over the last two decades have known all along - it is possible to have peace without reconciliation.

The 20 years that have elapsed since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement forces reflection on the journey travelled. The deal brokered by Senator George Mitchell was indeed extraordinary: it literally brought many antagonists into the same room for the first time. But it resembled less a magic wand and more a shopping list for how to deal with both the future and past. It committed the signatories to a shared future, but it only mandated a process by which to achieve it. That was not an oversight on the Agreement's part, for reconciliation can only be achieved by those who were once enemies.

Most of the shopping list agreed to in 1998 is still unfulfilled. Whilst enormous progress was made in terms of policing and the decommissioning of weapons, dealing with the past is still a long way off. For me, the symbol of a lack of reconciliation is an empty flagpole, the only solution so far found to the failure to agree on shared symbols for the population.

The framework within which the Agreement was signed was, of course, the European Union. It meant that the Border, though a potent symbol for both traditions, was relatively easy to deal with in the negotiations. It has allowed the Church of Ireland to refer to it as a 'jurisdictional boundary' in at least one job advert I've seen. I don't think I have ever met a person of any tradition in the North who wants a physical border on the island or delays on the way to Dublin or Donegal. Like many other good things brought by the EU, they often go unacknowledged, especially by governments who would prefer to take the credit.

Should hard Brexit occur, it will reveal a twenty year journey from Good Friday only as far as Holy Saturday. Some things have died, to be sure, but we are still waiting for the new life to truly be born. In the Christian calendar, Holy Saturday represents that space between end of violence and coming of reconciliation and true peace. It is a lonely, desolate and difficult space where we are forced the contemplate the unpredictability of life and the cost of violence. It is the in-between place where the seeds of peace have been sown, and watered in the blood of the innocent, but the green shoots of new life have yet to appear.

For politicians, this is a warning that peace does not come in pieces of paper and signatures (ask Neville Chamberlain) unless followed by sustained and determined implementation. The case for peace and reconciliation must be argued and won in each community, boardroom, Orange Hall, and GAA club again and again and again, For Churches, especially those on the island of Ireland, it is a challenge to help Christians find a theological language to describe the current situation as well as theological models that empower them in the ongoing ministry of reconciliation. `David Ervine of the PUP once said: 'When the Churches picked up the chalice of peace, it has 400 years of dust on it.' Brexit will reveal just how dusty it remains.

#GoodFridayAgreement #ireland #reconciliation #Brexit

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