In a courageous initiative, HM The Queen spent four days during May visiting the Republic of Ireland. Is this the beginning of a new era of reconciliation?
The Queen’s visit passed without disruption, marking a deeply significant milestone in relations between the UK and Irish Republic.
It was the first time since 1911 that a Protestant British monarch had set foot in Dublin and the first time that Her Majesty had visited Eire during her 59-year reign.
It was nearly 90 years ago that the Royal Irish Constabulary opened fire on more than 5000 people and killed 14 civilians during the 1920 Bloody Sunday. Fourteen British, including undercover military intelligence officers, and three republican prisoners, were killed on that day, all these events sealing the animosity between the UK and Ireland.
Less than 50 years ago, the uneasy political division between the predominantly Catholic south and largely Protestant north descended into a protracted campaign of violence.
Fuelled by extreme republicans from the Catholic communities in Northern Ireland calling for a reunification of northern Ireland with ‘the rest’ of Ireland, and met by extreme ‘Protestant’ retaliation, civilians on both sides and peacekeeping forces lost their lives and loved ones.
In 1979, the Duke of Edinburgh’s own uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten, was killed by an IRA bomb on his fishing boat, and, during the 1970s and 1980s, IRA bombs exploded in town centres across England.
Although the welcome given to the Queen was warm, and her message to an audience of 2000 expressed regret for the ‘heartache’ and ‘loss’, there were shadows cast on Her Majesty’s visit.
Several aggressive protesters were rounded up and aircraft patrolled the skies. According to Sky News, marksmen kept watch for any attempt by extreme nationalists to disrupt proceedings.
Further, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams told BBC Radio 4 that the Queen’s lack of apology for Britain’s involvement in Irish affairs was ‘disappointing’. He said unless there were to be an official apology, there would always be friction.
His comments came as Prime Minister David Cameron met Commonwealth leaders and Buckingham Palace to debate the preferment of male ascendants to the throne and the ban on a Roman Catholic becoming a British monarch.
According to Rev. Jeremy Brooks, director of ministry for the Protestant Truth Society, far from encouraging discrimination, ‘our Protestant British monarchy has allowed people of all faiths and none to live in peace and thrive in society over the past five centuries’.
‘The abandonment of an expressly Protestant Anglican monarchy in Britain is likely to lead to the disestablishment of the Church of England, could threaten the existence of the British monarchy, and lead to increased religious intolerance and a less harmonious society’.
Yet the Protestant British monarchy has not always allowed people of all faiths to thrive, as witnessed, for example, by the 1829 Roman Catholic Relief Act to end institutionalised discrimination against Catholics.
Regardless of the Queen’s visit to Eire or the succession controversy, the age-old friction between ‘Catholic’ and ‘Protestant’ remains deeply rooted.
True, on a purely theological level, the division between Protestant and Catholic doctrine is completely necessary. The Reformers’ interpretation of Scripture was the only correct one, proving among other things that there is but one mediator to God, Jesus Christ.
But sadly that division has often carried through into political and national allegiances marred by violence and hatred. While nationalism and politics, rather than true faith in Christ, repentance and love, carry the day, there will always be ‘intolerance’ and a ‘less harmonious society’ in the UK, the Irish Republic and across the globe.
The best hope today for reconciliation in Ireland is for people from both religious communities to embrace the gospel of redeeming grace in Christ.