Powerful question on Ireland’s UN role

Powerful question on Ireland’s UN role Former US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power featured on RTÉ Radio 1’s Drivetime

In a recent column, I wrote that I’m never ashamed to be Irish despite reservations about aspects of culture and government policies, but I was certainly proud when, last week, we got a seat on the UN Security Council.

The issue was discussed when Samantha Power, former US ambassador to the UN, was interviewed on Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1) on Thursday. She raised a pertinent point – now that we’ve got the seat, what are we going to do with it?

She advised us not to be too deferential to the permanent members and also to prioritise. One of her priorities was climate change and she thought we could do well in that area.

The UN peacekeeping activities of our soldiers are a source of ongoing pride, but I also fear we will be too deferential to fashionable agendas. When we had a consistent life ethic here at home, with no death penalty and no abortion, we had much more consistency and moral stature, but now we are compromised.

Power was thoughtful and articulate, always worth listening to. I thought she could have been more even-handed, but, being a Democrat  in an election year, she launched a few typical broadsides at President Trump – whether she was accurate or not is not the point. I fear she didn’t do much to reduce the polarisation that US society is riven by.

Issues of race and inequity featured in Heart and Soul (BBC World Service) last Sunday morning. But there was no polarisation here as Irish journalist Colm Flynn told the story of Catholic husband and wife team George and Mimi Limbach who provide, in Philadelphia, meaningful work in computer recycling for ex-prisoners, or ‘returning citizens’ as they were nicely called.

George went to a Jesuit school while Mimi was inspired by reading her parent’s religious pamphlets. Now grandparents, they were committed to giving dignity and a chance at redemption to the released prisoners.

In Philadelphia there was a 67% re-offending rate, but it was only 5% among those who had worked through the recycling programme.

Flynn pointed out that of the 2.3 million people behind bars in the USA 60% were black or Hispanic and that many argued this was rooted in racism. Such debates often polarise into conflicts between the hang ‘em/flog ‘em brigade and the bleeding heart liberals, but here was a more nuanced approach – more bridge building than bridge burning. As George said: “If we believe in punishment and reformation we believe in forgiveness and redemption.”

The gravity of the crimes and the suffering of victims were not ignored. George said that sympathy for the victims and care for the perpetrators who had served their time were not mutually exclusive. Mimi saw that the time served was often transformative for the prisoners – they needed that time away, as St Francis and St Ignatius did.

She reckoned some of the ex-prisoners would be dead now if they hadn’t been incarcerated.

Sunday Morning Live returned to BBC1 last Sunday morning and I was glad to see Sally Phillips joining Sean Fletcher as co-host. I’ve long been a fan of her acting and was impressed by her documentary, A World Without Down Syndrome? which highlighted the way Down syndrome children are being ‘screened out’.

I hope she’ll bring extra width and depth to the programme. Other differences for this season included guests joining the discussion remotely rather than being in studio – more lockdown fallout.

The opening section of religious stories in the media is still a bit too light and long for my liking – it included silly items about sniffing candles with fragrances reminiscent of places we miss during lockdown and sticking our heads in ice cubes to set us up for the day.

There was upbeat coverage of a drive-in religious service in the Bushmills Northern Ireland and a light hearted interview with and Anglican vicar who is spreading the faith through social media, including an online breakfast!

But more serious matters were included, including an exploration of how Britain should deal with its colonial and slave owning past. It was a well-balanced discussion with a variety of perspectives as to what reactions were appropriate.

I liked the segment on Fathers’ Day – we were introduced to a parish group ‘Who Let the Dads Out’, a support group for fathers – one man had been persuaded to join by his wife and it had led him to the Christian Faith. Good outcome.

Pick of the Week
RTÉ1, Sunday June 28, 11 am  

Fr Damian McNeice celebrates Mass in the RTÉ studios, Donnybrook, with members of the Palestrina Choir of St Mary’s Pro Cathedral, Dublin.

Songs of Praise
BBC1, Sunday, June 28, 1.15 pm

Claire McCollum shares her love of her home of Northern Ireland by looking back on some of the best faith stories from across the region.

NEW! Footprints of God: Paul
EWTN, Sunday, June 28, 9 pm

Steve Ray hosts a fast-paced travelogue-documentary focused on the life of St Paul and the locations of his ministry.