17 March 2010

Paul Murphy MP delivers Thomas More Lecture

‘The Apostle Paul’ on making politics dull: 
Paul Murphy MP reflects on peace in Ireland

From The Catholic Herald, 19 March 2010 (click here for the original article):

As an architect of the Good Friday Agreement, and subsequently as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Paul Murphy MP played a pivotal role in bringing an end to violence in the province, writes Richard Pickett.

Despite being a practising Catholic he has succeeded in gaining respect from across the political and religious divide and has even won the nickname "the Apostle Paul" from arch-Unionist politician Ian Paisley.

In a recent lecture given to the Oxford University Newman Society Mr Murphy spoke about his role in driving forward the Northern Irish peace process. He told his audience: "My mission is to make politics as dull in Northern Ireland as they are everywhere else."

He said that he hoped the continuing process of devolution of power would bring about a situation in which schools, hospitals, policing and other bread-and-butter concerns would become the principal focus of political activity in the province.

Mr Murphy told the Newman Society that over a 30-year period 3,500 people had been killed out of a population of just one and a half million.

But one of the most remarkable things about recent Northern Irish politics, he said, had been the willingness of age-old enemies to come together in the face of this trauma.

As an avowed Labour politician Mr Murphy joked that he could never bring himself to enter into coalition with the Conservatives.

Despite this, he said that he felt privileged to have worked alongside people who had been able to set aside a painful and often very personal history for the sake of achieving a lasting peace.

The former Secretary of State observed that the role of religion in the conflict has often been mischaracterised.

Although the names Catholic and Protestant are employed as a common shorthand, the real divisions giving rise to violence have always been political.

Differences over national identity, and not religion, he said, have presented the most significant bar to achieving lasting stability.

Mr Murphy then turned to examine the positive role played by the churches in driving forward the desire for peace.

With Sunday church attendance at around 70 per cent of the province's population Northern Ireland remains the most religiously observant part of Britain and the churches wield a significant moral influence.

Mr Murphy said he felt privileged to be part of the Northern Ireland story, but that the real credit must be given to the people [of the province] themselves. His speech was part of a series of lectures put on by the Society [to examine the role plaid by religion in public life. Cardinal George Pell and Francis Campbell, British Ambassador to the Holy See, have given previous lectures in the series].

Photographs by James Bradley  
Click here for the full flickr set.

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