By Ann Marie Foley - 15 August, 2019
On the 50th anniversary of the riots which brought British soldiers onto the streets of Derry, local Bishop Donal McKeown has expressed concerns about the rising tensions ahead of Brexit.
Speaking on Vatican Radio on 14 August 2019, Bishop McKeown said, “My concern is about rising tensions, community dissension about the future of the border, unemployment, lack of hope for young people.”
He said that since the Good Friday Agreement Northern Ireland has seen an improved cross-border economy and social life. “The fact that the border is entirely invisible, the fact that people can feel they can breathe and look forward to the future with confidence—all of that is threatened by the need for a hard border as perceived, especially in the context of a no-deal [Brexit] agreement.”
Bishop McKeown said he was concerned that there will be anger if people lose their dual identity, where they can define themselves as Irish or British, have an Irish or British passport and have flexibility of movement across the border.
As 31st October – the date for Britain to leave the European Union – approaches, Bishop McKeown said, “Those who are leading Brexit have to recognise not just the benefits for East Sussex but the challenges for West Derry.”
He expressed concern about the pastoral implications for his diocese which straddles the border and therefore includes people in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
This week is the 50th anniversary of the riot known as the Battle of the Bogside. It was seen as one of the first major battles in the conflict known as “The Troubles”, and sparked widespread violence elsewhere in Northern Ireland. The Troubles were brought to a close in 1998 when the Good Friday Agreement was signed.
Bishop McKeown said that Derry has been very mature in that there has been very little public acknowledgement of the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Bogside.
“We have a situation now where we want to look back on the past, learn from it and ensure we are creating hope for the future – especially for our young people – and not leaving us prisoners of events that happened half a century ago.”
Bishop McKeown spoke about the dialogue between the four main Christian churches – Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist and Anglican – that has been ongoing for several decades. He said these churches want to speak out together to make sure that young people are not given a “destructive narrative” about the past.
An example of this was in the aftermath of the murder of journalist Lyra McKee on Holy Thursday in April this year.
“The Church of Ireland Bishop and myself, we talked about our statements first thing in the morning…then at twelve we carried the Cross on Good Friday through the streets of the city… we then went together up to the site of the murder along with a range of other churches and political parties.”
He felt that this was an example of the ongoing visible presence of the churches.
He said the churches are non-party political and non-partisan, and want to be both encouraging and “critical friends” and prophetic voices, when politicians cannot get things right.