‘Forces of evil’ will walk into political vacuum in NI, synod warned

Church of Ireland leader Dr Richard Clarke says present hiatus cannot go on indefinitely

Church of Ireland  Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, Reverend Dr Richard Clarke, stressed the importance of restoring the Stormont government in the wake of the murder of 29-year-old journalist Lyra McKee in Derry. File photograph: Dave Meehan

Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, Reverend Dr Richard Clarke, stressed the importance of restoring the Stormont government in the wake of the murder of 29-year-old journalist Lyra McKee in Derry. File photograph: Dave Meehan

 

“Forces of evil” will walk into the vacuum left by the continued lack of government in the North, the leader of the Church of Ireland has warned.

Speaking at a press conference on the first day of the Church of Ireland’s General Synod, which is being held in Derry, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, Reverend Dr Richard Clarke, stressed the importance of restoring the Stormont government in the wake of the murder of 29-year-old journalist Lyra McKee in Derry almost four weeks ago.

“If we leave a vacuum there will be forces that walk into that vacuum and they will be forces of evil, almost certainly,” said Dr Clarke.

Northern Ireland has been without a devolved government since its Assembly collapsed more than two years ago amid a row over a botched renewable heating scheme.

The need to address the question of compensation of for the victims of institutional sexual abuse in the North made the restoration of Stormont even more important, Dr Clarke said.

“It makes even stronger the case for resuming what I would call normal service here in Northern Ireland,” he said. “It should be the responsibility, you would have thought, of the local parties.

“Surely it is another reason why we cannot let this present hiatus go on indefinitely.”

‘Genuine friendship’

Dr Clarke said it was the responsibility of all churches to lead by example in bringing people together in the wake of Ms McKee’s murder.

He said the “genuine friendship” between churches was “so visible” in Derry, and that this sent an important message.

“Through the actual simple things of doing whatever one can together I think sends a message of permission to others,” he said.

“It’s actually saying to others, you may have political differences but we are human beings and those of us who have any faith are actually followers of Jesus Christ.

“I do believe it has an effect, and it’s the effect we have to have.”

Dr Clarke referred to his address to the Synod, in which he had spoken of the “challenges and great sadness” that Ms McKee’s murder had brought to Derry.

“I tried to say that rest of the country shares in the sadness and horror, and it seems to me that one of the great things that Derry has shown is that it can grow beyond all those years of violence and division.

“I think the challenge now, and the hope for the city, is that it shows again that even despite the awfulness of what happened it can grow above that and that it’ll go on doing that.”

The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, said he echoed the sense of “human devastation” following Ms McKee’s murder, and spoke of “the sense, I think, of honour that came through in relation to somebody who had a real task and job of work to do and who was committed to it.

“We talk about speaking truth to power,” he said, “but it’s very important to speak truth to evil, and I think perhaps that’s what’s happened.”

Dr Clarke and Dr Michael Jackson stressed the importance of tackling sectarianism in the North, particularly in the wake of the report on sectarianism published on Wednesday by Professor Duncan Morrow at Ulster University.

“It’s about putting down new markers in society both inside churches and outside churches,” said Dr Jackson, “because churches aren’t where people live all the time, but people in church live in the world all the time.”