Arlene’s refusal to meet Pope is act of political cowardice

Posted By: August 22, 2018

Distributed to the U.S. Congress by Irish National Caucus.
“ ‘No Pope here,’ is the extreme Orange (Unionist/Loyalist/Protestant)  battle cry of anti-Catholic bigots in Northern Ireland. It is being heard once again because of Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland (but not to the Six Counties of Northern Ireland). Belfast columnist Brian Feeney in the article below deplores the fact that Arlene Foster is, in effect, boycotting the Pope.
Quite simply Foster is scared to show respect to the Pope because it would infuriate a significant section of her support base. However, it is important to understand this: Anti-Catholicism  in Northern Ireland is not about theological disagreement with Catholicism, but rather a socio-political system and mindset determined to keep Catholics down. Just as anti-Semitism is not really a theological disagreement, but rather an organized system of hostility towards people of the Jewish faith or heritage.The same with anti-Islamism, etc.etc.
Extreme anti-Catholic bigotry in Northern Ireland does not harm the Pope and never has. That was never really its purpose. Its purpose was always to harm, hurt and disrespect the local Catholics in Northern Ireland—to keep uppity Catholics in their place, to show them who the boss is, and to keep the Six Counties loyal to the Queen!”—Fr. Sean McManus

Arlene’s refusal to meet Pope is an act of political cowardice
Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, August 22,  2018

You can understand what the late Martin McGuinness meant about his problems with Arlene Foster.

Her lack of reciprocity got him into trouble. There he was meeting the Queen in Windsor and Belfast. Maybe more importantly, there was the Queen meeting him in Belfast and Windsor. There was the queen muttering a cúpla focal in Dublin.

On the other hand, there was Arlene swanning around with her crown brooch permanently stuck in everyone’s face so obviously that it’s become a prominent feature in Ian Knox’s brilliant caricatures of her. Yet if the person whom that brooch symbolizes can meet McGuinness despite the IRA’s killing of Lord Mountbatten and moreover meet popes, not just one, despite her being the supreme head of Arlene’s Church of Ireland, why can’t Arlene do any of that in any location?

It’s not as if Arlene is a Presbyterian who, outside this benighted place, are notoriously hostile to any expressions of monarchy, priesthood, pomp and ceremony, bells, and smells. You might be able to see her difficulty if that were the case. There might even be some religious reason. On the contrary, the Presbyterian moderator will attend the papal reception in Dublin Castle. So will religious leaders and political representatives from all over Ireland except for the largest party for the time being in The North.

The fact that it took Foster so long to remember that she was going on a family holiday next week raises the suspicion that she thought about going to Dublin to join other political and religious leaders at, mark you, a non-religious reception, and then thought worse of it. The fact that no one from the DUP will be there speaks volumes.

Of course, she’d have faced flak. Isn’t that what political leaders are for? To lead? Didn’t Martin McGuinness face flak after many Republicans thought he’d gone too far but received nothing in return? Hasn’t the current Presbyterian moderator faced flak from within his own Church? Why? Because he showed leadership.

Foster’s failure to go to Dublin and her failure to nominate anyone else in her party to attend, is a supreme example of her political cowardice, her failure of leadership, precisely the sort of myopic politics Peter Robinson has been warning against in recent months. Her inaction marks her out as a political pygmy for whom the world beyond the Ballygawley roundabout is a big, scary place. Some political leaders grow into the position. Foster has shrunk from the position during her tenure, repeatedly demonstrating that she’s out of her depth. Now she’s just a figurehead shorn of any kudos that went with being first minister. We all know who the real DUP leader is these days and where the real power in the party resides.

One consequence is certain. Foster’s failure of nerve guarantees that those Catholic unicorns that some unionists fondly imagine will never vote for Irish unity will remain imaginary. Robinson’s pleas in 2011 that Unionists will have to reach out to northern Catholics if they want to preserve the Union because soon there will no longer be enough Protestants to save it have fallen on deaf ears.

It is not as if Foster’s failure is an act of religious bigotry. It’s not. It’s an entirely political failure. She knows perfectly well that probably more than half of those attending the reception or function in Croke Park no longer believe a word the pope utters. Her attendance, or that of anyone from the DUP, would have had as much religious connotation as that of the majority present who voted for abortion reform and ignore the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception and everything else. No, she’s not taken the trouble to deputze anyone not for religious reasons but for petty, provincial symbolic reasons which no one outside her limited Norn Irn [Noerhern Ireland] political horizons understands.

It seems bizarre that Foster can’t herself understand the contradiction that the very fact that she refuses to perform symbolic actions as Martin McGuinness did,  is in itself a symbolic action. She remains unable to answer why the Queen can perform symbolic actions which Foster won’t even send a DUP representative to perform, and yet still remains the Queen, and more highly regarded because of those symbolic gestures.