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20 June 2013

The legacy of the G8

The legacy of the G8

You won't have missed the fact that Northern Ireland has just hosted the G8 Summit. The secret service and world media have now gone and the £50 million security operation ended. As we return to our own little sense of normality in this part of the world many are now asking what was achieved and was it worth all the fuss? What will be the legacy of this G8?

Well, the Lough Erne G8 Declaration is at least one outcome from the two day talks. It's an attempt to deal with the issues of transparency and fairness of taxes and trade between the West and developing countries. One thing to notice though is that every one of the 10 points in the declaration contains a should and not a will. Have a look yourself but for example; tax authorities across the world should automatically share information to fight the scourge of tax evasion. This should represents a danger that what happened in Las Fermanagh could stay in Fermanagh and have no real effect on the starving and poverty-stricken in places like Africa. We now need to hold our government and the other G8 nations to account and remind them that this is the beginning of something and not the end. The declaration is not perfect but it's a good starting point for a long-overdue seismic shift towards global economic justice. It's something to be celebrated, to build upon and is perhaps some small way that Northern Ireland can contribute to these global issues far beyond our own humble means.

But will this G8 leave any other legacy for Northern Ireland?

This year we're fifteen years on from the Good Friday Agreement. We have our own Assembly, a local coalition government and support for policing and justice. The institutions are in place and there are encouraging commitments to remove all of our peace walls within 10 years. There is still much to do though on issues like parades, flags and the past. Greater still are those issues that lie just under the surface, relationships that need to be restored and spiritual heart-transplants, which could transcend legal agreements and institutions. For too long in Northern Ireland we've lived in that gap in the declaration between should and will, between our aspirations and our reality. This has been familiar space to us, we've known what we should do, what we've needed to do, but actually doing something has, at times, seemed as foreign as Africa.

But things are on the move again. The G8 seems to have ridden on a welcome wave, a resurgence of belief and potential that this is actually becoming a very different place. As prime minister, David Cameron said: "Today the world has seen the new Northern Ireland. Not only beautiful, but a Northern Ireland which is open for business, a Northern Ireland that is bringing down the peace walls which have separated its people for so long; a Northern Ireland determined to be defined by a shared future, not by a divided past."

It's true - there is a new and almost tangible determination to carry on with unfinished business, a healthy frustration with the status quo. The flags protests are not a distant memory by any means and there will be more hornets' nests ahead but the fact that the G8 was able to be hosted here at all has rightly been hailed as a triumph around the world. This is a time to give thanks for Northern Ireland being at the centre of a global story of hope.

Lastly as the G8 leaves town, we are also left with a challenge. As part of the body of Christ living in this post-conflict culture we must close the gap between our should and will….

We will play our part as peacemakers. We will forgive those who have wronged us and bless those who seek to curse. We will not be defined by our past. We will teach our children and grandchildren the ancient paths as well as some new ones, less bloodied and less trodden. We will go beyond the legalism of peace agreements into the grace of new relationships. We will.