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23 March 2017

Northern Ireland: where is our citizenship?

Northern Ireland: where is our citizenship?

Negotiations continue in Northern Ireland following the election on 2 March. This call to the ballot box took place only 10 months after the last election and was centred on a scandal around the Renewable Heating Incentive scheme and questions regarding the involvement of the First Minister.

On the face of it, this election wouldn't appear to have seen much change, with only a minor shift in the finishing order of the parties. In the detail however are major movements which point to a possible turning point in Northern Irish politics. Firstly this election saw an increased turnout of almost 10 per cent, likely as a reaction to the heating scheme scandal (either in opposition or in support of the DUP who received most of the blame). The statistic that turned most heads was the surge of votes received by Sinn Fein. The leading Nationalist party increased its support by over 50,000 votes, that's a 3.9 per cent swing. What gave these statistical changes even more impact was the cost cutting measure of reducing the number of seats by 18 (a reduction from six to five in each constituency). The Unionist parties bore the brunt of this.

History was made as Unionists failed to secure a majority for the first time ever. The DUP lead over Sinn Fein narrowed to just one seat, 28 seats for the DUP and 27 for Sinn Fein. Following the election result Sinn Fein have renewed calls for an Irish border poll, at the same time Scotland are once again calling for an independence referendum.

This election is just one small part of an ever-shifting political landscape around the globe, where identity and nationalism are critical factors. The rhetoric of the Trump campaign employed the notions of nationalism with "Make America Great Again" as its tagline. In the UK, the EU referendum provoked a "little Englander" mentality for some and saw a resurgence of  European identity for others. The latest call for a second Scottish referendum has reminded us of another strengthened sense of nationalism, this time in Scotland.  In Northern Ireland, where identity and politics are almost synonymous, old battle lines are being drawn once more. How do we as Christians fit into this landscape?

I find it is helpful to think in terms of citizenship. We are citizens of the world, of our nations and of heaven.  As citizens, we have privileges and responsibilities. We have a sense of identity and relationship with those around us. It's also helpful to think in terms of ambassadors; 2 Corinthians 5 presents a deeply political image of a people sent with purpose to carry the mission and values of another kingdom. Representatives, mediators of one place to another.

In a post-truth context, we stop believing each other and so we stop trusting each other. Community is damaged and we stop loving each other the way we should. In the culture wars that we are seeing around us both globally and locally, truth, trust and love are the casualties. As Christians who care deeply about truth, trust and love, seeing them as central to our faith and the person of Jesus Christ, we should both be embodying these values and advocating them.

So in the vacuum that has followed the NI election what does it look like to embody love, truth and trust in Northern Ireland today? When everything is in flux what does it look like for us to bring an eternal perspective to the table?