Then every four or five years we have the ‘national bidding session’ which most people still call the ‘general election.’ We all know that things are not going to get better, that the country can’t afford half the promises that the politicians make so we all look at it, pretend to listen out of good manners, and think to ourselves, ‘let them at it.’
However, there is one piece of folly that the majority of people hold on to in Northern Ireland and no matter how often this folly is exposed, they simply will not let go of it. The folly is: “Northern Ireland is an integral part of the UK.”
God, if I had a penny for every time I have heard that down the years, I would be a wealthy man. Hopefully the latest insult to the ‘Good people of Ulster’ will finally put the final nail in the coffin of this wishful lie.
Did you see the pictures of the big political debaters in the paper before the event last Thursday evening? I did, and out of the seven main political leaders in the United Kingdom, I had no idea who three of them were. I recognized Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage, the labour man and the prime minister. There were three women. I think one was the woman from Scotland and I have no idea who the other two were.
But there was no sign of Peter, Gerry or Mr Ford, whose first name escapes me. I had to look up the name of the leader of the SDLP before I wrote this because I was not sure; it is Alasdair McDonnell. Mike Nesbitt was not behind a microphone either, a place he used to be very comfortable. Think what you like about Nesbitt and his politics, he was a decent interviewer on the TV.
The five leaders of the parties in Northern Ireland were completely ignored; they are not considered leaders of UK political parties.
On the 9th November 1990, Peter Brooke, famously said, “Britain had no "selfish strategic or economic interest" in Northern Ireland and would accept unification, if the people wished it. It is not the aspiration to a sovereign, united Ireland against which we set our face, but its violent expression.”
That speech sounds a bit like a man who says to his wife, ‘I’m married to you but I really don’t care if you stay or go. It’s up to you.’
Let’s be totally honest about it: the best that Britain does is tolerate us. We are costing them a fair bit of money but on the scale of things it is not too much and as long as we are quiet then we shall be alright. Britain will keep throwing money in and we shall be like an embarrassing alcoholic brother, put up with as long as we don’t go too far.
We all know this, even those of us who are of a republican mind-set, but we don’t like to admit it to ourselves.
In 1985, government spending per head of the population in NI was £3,108 compared to a UK average of £2,109. Corresponding figures for 2000, £6,424 v £4,709, and 2013, £10,876 here against a UK average of £8,788, hide the fact that the tax intake from NI is far short of what we spend. The difference between what NI pays in tax and what we spend is now over £10 billion.
No wonder the BBC wouldn’t let our men near the debate; what have we to offer, a begging plate for more money.
In the interests of journalistic integrity, I decided to figure out who the other three leaders were. I had a good idea one of them was the Scottish prime minister, and I was right.
Nicola Sturgeon, officially called the First Minister of Scotland, but in reality their PM, came down looking for a better deal for Scotland and demanding the power to raise more taxes.
The leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood, came along demanding more power for Wales and the third woman, the leader of the Green party, Natalie Bennett, who was born in New South Wales in 1966 (the year England won the World Cup, lest ye forget) was there promoting her policies.
But when you think about it, what could we add to the national debate: a better road through Cullybackey—a dual carriageway all the way to Derry or Londonderry or Stroke City or whatever you want to call it—a big flag for the city hall.
In fairness, we could have promoted tourism. Our lads could have offered a free week at Twaddell Campsite for anyone that wanted it: a week in the new hotel and golf resort at the Giant’s Causeway, if ever it is built!
I didn’t watch the debate, I had more important things to do. The debate was really about two men, Cameron and Miliband and how they would save England from the woes that it faces.
David Cameron and Ed Miliband do what politicians the world over always do: they presented themselves as saviours of the country. They stand up in front of the podium and they tell us that they shall make everything alright. They promise us more money, a better NHS and a smaller teacher-pupil ratio. We listen and they talk.
I didn’t listen.
I didn’t listen because I had something better to do. The debate was on Holy Thursday evening and I went to the Mass of the Last Supper and paid my respects to the real saviour.
The chapel was well full so I was not the only one who recognized that here was a saviour who could really produce the goods.
Think of all the saviours who have gone before. There was Karl Marx who came up with the idea of Communism, then there were the labour people who came up with socialism. In the last century the great saviour of Germany, Adolf Hitler, turned out to be a bit of a disaster, as did Chairman Mao of China.
The best man ever we have seen at portraying himself as saviour is Barak Obama. When Obama gets up to speak as a candidate he is unbeatable and his rhetoric would make any person want to believe him.
Now poor old Camron, Miliband and, for that matter, Obama are not bad men. They are not standing up there telling us lies for the sake of it. But they know, as we know, that the solving of the world’s problems is beyond the remit of any one person.
When the next person gets into Downing Street they are going to have to deal with the real figures of the British economy not the imaginary ones that we all like to believe, and he will have to act accordingly.
So David and Ed spoke to the land, while we simple people went to Mass. In all my days reflecting on the matters of life, the universe and everything, I cannot think of a better example of the difference between those who see Jesus as saviour and those who believe humanity can save ourselves.
Our chapel is built on a piece of level ground and the carpark is a bit away from the front door so you have to walk a short way through our ‘lawn’ to get to the entrance.
There is something beautiful about watching the people walk towards the church, a people coming to pay homage to their God. They are quiet and usually walk slowly; you can see there is something sacred in their actions.
And so, on Thursday evening, the simple people of the land left their homes and went to pay homage to their God. We sat and watched as people had their feet washed, symbolizing the service that we are supposed to do for each other, and we listened to a story about a man who stood in mental agony in a garden, making a decision to lay down his life for his friends.
Jesus died that we might be free; free from death and free from the fear of sin.
All over the United Kingdom people listened to David ‘et al’ and wanted to hear ‘what is in this for me.’ There is no real thought of neighbour or friend, just a bidding session to buy a few votes.
Then there are the opinion polls, the after debate analysis, the spin doctors and the newspaper coverage. This is the world doing what the world does best: promising the moon and the stars and everyone knowing that although these men try their best they cannot produce the goods.
There is something incredibly deep about Easter, and all the talk of general elections and voting cannot take it away or drown out the voice of the man who spoke from the cross. We all respond to the person with the message and deep in our heart we all know that we need a saviour: it is part of the human condition, we are made that way.
When God made us he made us in such a way that we would respond to the saviour, that our heart would tell us that there is something more in this life that we need, that material things are not the be all and end all of everything.
One of the most remarkable talks I have ever witnessed was the last interview that Christopher Hitchens gave to Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight shortly before he died. Hitchens, for those of you who don’t remember him, was one of those super atheists who wrote books and toured the world proclaiming mockery of God and Jesus.
Hitchens, God love him, was dying of cancer; by now he knew that his atheist friends had no answer for him and that he was facing the moment of real truth, the moment when a person knows that life is coming to an end and either this is the totality of existence or there is an afterlife.
Paxman asked Hitchens, who had by this time lost all his hair and looked very ill, what he would do if he discovered that there was an afterlife. Hitchens replied, in a rather chastened voice,
“I would be pleasantly surprised.”
Somehow, I knew or felt, for it is not my place to judge, that Christopher Hitchens would not be turned away by God, that he would not reject God and that their meeting would not be all that bad. Hitchens was coming to the end and had come to realize that even he needed a saviour, and he had enough humility to admit the fact, even if he didn’t say the words.
What a death it must be to leave this world with hatred for God in your heart—and there are people who do this, but I don’t think Hitchens did.
The poor politicians on Thursday evening were trying to drown out the still voice deep in the heart of every man that knows we need God, that we are not self-sufficient. The world can never completely drown out this voice; no matter how hard we try there will always come a point when we have to choose whether we want God or not.
Sitting in the chapel with a couple or three hundred other people, I had already made my choice. Let the politicians promise us whatever they want, life has taught me that real true peace, the type of peace that gets us through anything, does not come from this world.
Yes, I am thankful for the NHS, the pension I hope to enjoy and the welfare state. I do not be-cry all the good work done by our politicians, but I also know that these things, valuable as they are, do not bring real happiness and that David or Ed can only do so much.
I like God. I like the fact that there is a God who looks after everything and forgives us our silly foibles. Thankfully his mercy is boundless. It must be: we killed him and he didn’t even raise his voice. We kill each other and he just stays silent, ever calling us in our heart to change our ways.
David or Ed, whichever one becomes the next prime minister, will have their work cut out. They are the saviours this week, but their time will pass: we wish them every success in their endeavours.
Each leader got up on Thursday evening and told their truth: each leader got up and presented their way and each leader gave us their vision of life.
At the same time, all over the world, dotted in wee chapels like ours, crowds of people gathered and worshiped the only man who could ever really say it:
“I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
Now that’s a leader worth following.
The views expressed are not necessarily those of the editor but are the views of the writer.
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