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Church of Ireland Submission to the National Forum on Europe

Dr Kenneth Milne
Friday, 1 February 2002, at Dublin Castle

The Church of Ireland is glad to have been invited to join the special observer pillar of the National Forum and much appreciates the opportunity this affords us to contribute to the Forum’s deliberations.

We welcome the fact that the deliberations of this Forum to date have been largely concerned with the enlargement project, as we welcome the prospect of enlargement of the Union itself, believing that the more widely we share the vision of the founding fathers, such as Monnet, Schumann and others, the more do we enhance the prospects for peace on this continent, and, indeed, for prosperity.

With enlargement will come an intensified religious diversification. The Orthodox churches already have a considerable presence in the European Union, as, indeed, they have in the city of Dublin, and that presence is growing. Islam is very much in our midst in Ireland, and will be an increasing presence in an enlarged Union.
Those of us from the western Christian tradition need to recognise that while we share much with the Orthodox, we have a very different past, and inherit very different folk memories – the importance of which ought not to be underestimated in Ireland, where folk memory can still inhibit reconciliation between Christians brought up in the western tradition. It behoves us to remember, for instance, that the Orthodox, like Moslems, have unhappy and deeply-rooted memories of the medieval crusades which so many of us in the west were taught to regard as heroic.

To some extent, the process of European integration mirrors the ecumenical movement. While the Charter of Fundamental Rights engages the attention of the member states of the Union, the churches are working on a ‘Carta Oecumenica’, which will likewise seek to safeguard diversity in unity. And some of us have had to learn that western assumptions in the matter of human rights may not necessarily be identical with concepts held with integrity by other Christians.

As a church, we envisage our role in the development of the European Union as twofold. We can, on the one hand, endeavour to promote among our membership greater understanding of what the Union is about, that it is more than a free trade area, and try to discern where it may be heading. We should draw inspiration from former president Jacques Delors’s challenge to the churches to ‘give a soul to Europe’. We need to explore the means necessary to achieve such objectives, and try to dispel any misconceptions that there may be, taking into account that attitudes to the Union among Church of Ireland members, north and south, are as varied as those held by the total population of the island.

More prosaically, we can do our bit, through our central and diocesan communications network, to interpret the Union and its workings to the people in the parishes, while at the same time attempting to articulate their concerns. And we can endeavour to enlist their support for the work of this Forum as a mechanism for ‘inclusive and broadly-based debate on Ireland’s participation in the European Union and on its overall functioning and future development’ – to quote the Forum’s terms of reference.

Already, we detect a wish to have European matters far more comprehensively addressed at parliamentary level than has heretofore been the case, so that at least the public is aware of policy and of the part that our public representatives have played in formulating it. Contributions made at the recent local meetings of the forum would suggest that this wish to see the deliberations of our own parliaments on European issues given a higher profile has been taken on board by some politicians.

The Church of Ireland is a member of the Conference of European Churches. Like the other members of that Conference, Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant, we welcome the recent establishment of the Convention. We hope that the convention will take a leaf out of this forum’s book, and will similarly develop a structured dialogue with the organisations of civil society and with churches and religious communities.