Archbishop urges lawyers to promote social and economic rights

Diarmuid Martin delivers Mass in Dublin to mark the opening of the new legal year

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin: ’Society is marked by a serious lack of unity’. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin: ’Society is marked by a serious lack of unity’. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin has urged judges and lawyers, in a society “marked by a serious lack of unity”, to “look more closely at the meaning in law of social and economic rights”.

“Human rights cannot simply be abandoned to the category of vague aspirations,” the Most Reverend Diarmuid Martin said. The administration of justice must contribute to finding ways to “bring to policy a reflection and a language in which the anxieties of the marginalised are more truly understood and recognised widely”.

He was also concerned that Brexit “brings sharply to our horizons new and troubling forces of moving away from a broad and contemporary vision of unity and co-operation”.

New legal year

He was delivering the homily at the annual Mass at St Michan’s Roman Catholic Church in Dublin marking the opening of the new legal year.

The congregation included Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan; Attorney General Seamus Woulfe and senior members of the judiciary and legal professions from Ireland, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In a homily focussing on the importance of unity, Archbishop Martin said justice “will never be attained by polemics and polarisation”.

“Unity is fostered by a society and a culture that brings to our attention the factors, which exclude from the unity the benefits that each citizen is entitled to attain,” he said.

The legal profession “is called to scrupulously respect the unique dignity of every individual and of the various categories of those who could easily drift into being permanently marginalised”.

Love, he said, is the “great commandment” and the foundation of unity but there are some “who feel that today the Church – and they would say even the pope – seems to be soft on the notion of commandment and prefers the term love.”

There are “even those who would propose obedience to the commandments of God and his Church using a language that is anything but loving”. Unity, he stressed “respects diversity”, “is not uniformity” and “should not exclude”. Unity of purpose “is challenged in many ways in our world”.

Kofi Annan

In some responses following the death of former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, it was noted the UN “has not risen to its great challenge and call and that forces of division and protectionism and narrow interest seriously impede the emergence of a new and much needed unity within the family of nations”.

“Brexit, whether you like it or not, is a legitimate political reality but it is also a cultural reality which brings sharply to our horizons new and troubling forces of moving away from a broad and contemporary vision of unity and co-operation.”

The law in the broadest sense of that term is about fostering unity, the law is equal for all and is “more than a rulebook or even the terms of a constitution”.

In too many parts of the world today, laws and constitutions exist on paper but their application is distorted by the lack of a true culture of unity and can become even a parody of unity, “using the language of unity to foster privilege”.

It is necessary to “look more deeply” at the factors which cause division in society and especially those factors that give rise to exclusion, he urged. There is the question of unity in access to the law itself.

While not suggesting those called to administer justice “should not respect the limitations of policy that are forged by the political sphere within a legitimate economic framework”, the administration of justice must contribute to finding ways like that “in which they can bring to policy a reflection and a language in which the anxieties of the marginalised are more truly understood and recognised widely”.

At the annual service at St Michan’s Church of Ireland marking the new legal year, the Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson, presided, with the Archdeacon of Dublin, the Venerable David Pierpoint.

The sermon was given by the Rev Barry Forde, Dean of Residence, Queen’s University, Belfast.

The congregation included visiting judges from Northern Ireland, Scotland and England and Wales as well as political leaders, members of the Irish judiciary, legal profession, gardaí, the Defence Forces and the diplomatic corps.