Mullingar parish hosts major symposium on ‘Brexit, borders and the common good’.

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A wide spectrum of political and community leaders came together for a symposium entitled Brexit, Borders and the Common Good, in Mullingar.Among those attending were government ministers, TDs and local representatives, members of the public service, churches, community and voluntary groups, as well as young people. The purpose of the event was to enable respectful and informed discussion around the issue of Brexit. Taking place on the morning of 27 September, the venue was All Saint’s Church of Ireland, Mullingar.

The two distinguished speakers were Archbishop John Mc Dowell (Archbishop of Armagh, and Primate of the Church of Ireland), as well as Professor Katy Hayward, Professor of Political Sociology at Queens University Belfast. She is an acknowledged expert on Brexit, as well as being author of the recently published book, What Do We Know and What Should We Do About the Irish Border? The Symposium was chaired by Bishop Pat Storey, the Church of Ireland Bishop of Meath and Kildare.

Due to Covid-19 attendance had to be by invitation. A wide spectrum of opinion on the matter was invited.

Brexit and the Northern Ireland Protocol has raised fears in parts of the Loyalist/Unionist community in the north and the ‘Irish Sea Border’ seems to have become a lightning rod to raise fear and damage confidence.

Speaking of his hopes for the symposium Canon Alastair Graham, rector of All Saint’s church and organiser of the event, had this to say. “In light of developments in the north regarding Brexit it seemed both appropriate and important that those of us in the midlands of Ireland would be informed of the situation. To help us in that we were delighted to have the priviledge of hearing from two such distingusihed speakers.”

Archbishop McDowell, Bishop Pat Storey, Prof Katy Hayward and Canon Alastair Graham (l to r). Photo courtesy of John McCauley.

In her presentation Prof Hayward observed that “Where there is uncertainty fear can grow.” and that “… uncertainty and fear around Brexit has not yet passed.” She also said there was “… a sense that the tectonic plates are shifting.”

Prof Hayward noted that Brexit had raised existential questions for communities with regard to “territory, identity and borders”. Towards the end of her presentation, being conscious of diminishing levels of trust, she posed a question – “Is there a way of preventing a deepening of divisions?”

Archbishop McDowell began his presentation by saying that, “Brexit, and now Covid-19, have exposed divisions in our society to such a degree that we are in danger of no longer being able to understand and act in the common good.”

He noted that “More of our society than we think depends on holding back on our individual or group aspirations … and saying that there are some things which can only be good for me if they are also good for you too.” He went on to say, “If we don’t start to think about that we will have a society forever divided into winners and losers. We win a political argument and say ‘right, that’s it’ we know what to do. But in a properly working democracy the people who are not in the majority are not going to go away. What am I going to do about that? Am I going to keep on poking them in the eye … or am I going to say, in the long term we are going to have to occupy the same space together, so we’re going to have to find something we can all gather around”.

Speaking specifically to young people present the archbishop said, “Your vocation is to be the prophets of this country. Prophets are usually associated with predicting the future, but that wasn’t their public role in Israel. Prophets call communities back to their true vocation. They renew the vision of what it is to belong to a nation.” He continued, “They help to answer the questions around how do we want to live? What sort of a nation do we want to be”.

After the speakers made their presentations there was an opportunity for those attending to ask questions

Introducing the symposium Bishop Storey said, “There have been many events organised, and conferences held over the years, and I hope this occasion will make an important contribution to building the reconciliation and understanding that is needed.”

Caption for cover photo: Sorca Clarke TD, Minister Robert Troy TD, Archbishop John McDowell, Bishop Pat Storey, Prof Katy Hayward, Minister Peter Burke TD and Canon Alastair Graham (l to r). Photo courtesy of John McCauley.