Dear Friends

In the usual rather last minute manner, I am writing these words on the evening of the 15th of the month (of April), but this fact means that I have fresh in my mind an important pastoral experience from earlier  today.

As readers will be well aware, the question of accommodation provision for refugees from the war in Ukraine, and for people from many troubled countries who seek international protection here, has become a major subject of public discussion. The government has faced in this context enormous challenges which could not have been envisaged even three years ago, and many local communities have shared in responding to that challenge with gracious hospitality. There have been unhappy moments of tension, inflamed undoubtedly by the unforgiving world of social media, but by and large the response of Irish people and of local churches too has been worthy of a nation which for so long exported its own citizens in search of employment and security in other lands. I have mentioned here before by way of example the remarkable way in which the Church of Ireland church in Killarney has become a focal point of sanctuary, prayer and friendship for the very large Ukrainian community, many of the Orthodox tradition  , who live in the area. Other parishes too have opened doors, embraced strangers who have become friends and assisted with translation so that worship becomes readily accessible.

This morning, April 15, along with Canon Jane Galbraith and others, I had the opportunity to visit five focal points of accommodation and education for those who have been recent arrivals to Roscrea. That town, which deserves hearty  plaudits for the manner of its response to a huge challenge, has also unhappily received a certain amount  of negative publicity in recent months particularly as a result of events and protests at the Racket Hall Hotel. Indeed my ecumenical opposite number, Bishop Fintan Monahan of Killaloe, and I very much ventured into the public square via some reflections we offered on the questions and opportunities presented by the hotel protest. In particular we were concerned by the lasting effect on young children of noisy negative  scenes they might have encountered arriving at what they presumed to be a place of safety.

My follow up visit this morning led me to reflect on certain further points

  • it was wonderful to witness the integration of children of so many nations, including a number from the Racket Hall, in our own Church of Ireland School in Roscrea, to sense their happiness in the classroom and to hear children of eleven and twelve themselves rightly praising teachers who have welcomed them and encouraged them so much in matters especially of language
  • In the same school, it was fascinating to visit an adult English class which is now regularly held there and which is assisting Ukrainian women in particular to develop linguistic confidence
  • In another location, it was moving to learn of the stories of those who have  risked so much to come among us in search of protection. Sometimes we can be a trifle dismissive of these accounts until we actually hear them at close  hand …. Involving journeys for days in small boats, paying large sums to travel in a truck with animals … and so on. These are not people who have come to milk our resources …. These are for example  accountants, teachers , hospital consultants and other health workers who would love to be working safely at home, but now aspire in due course to offer their skills for example to our own health service which so greatly needs such talent .
  • In the Racket Hall hotel, where thankfully there is no longer obviously a protest at the gate and where amazing work has been done to create an atmosphere where families can truly feel at home ( eg by doing their own cooking using food they enjoy and which is part of their culture ) I was particularly struck by the versatility and commitment of hotel staff themselves who in a very short time had to be suitably up-skilled to deal with the type of hospitality and care to which the premises is now devoted. (But it has to be admitted that dark often online threats of arson attacks in such contexts are a source of continuing real anxiety and require an obvious security presence. )
  • In another part of town, where the emphasis is specifically on Ukrainian war refugees, it was instructive to learn how such refugees are gradually moving on from hotels to specially- purposed centres and indeed to individual houses, and how it also remains important ( and financially incentivised) for Irish people who have  spare rooms in their homes to make them available. There is anxiety however concerning how –  in and from June – we will see the impact of the altered  government policy which means that at least in theory new arrivals from Ukraine will not be guaranteed accommodation for longer than ninety days.

All the points I have just made are largely glimpses of the obvious, but I found it refreshing and encouraging to witness the situation on the ground in Roscrea with my own eyes. Other towns within and beyond this diocese could tell similar stories, and amidst it all one is conscious of the capacity of committed , generous , passionate yet often also quiet people to make a difference. Of course the problems associated with this situation will not disappear overnight … for example individual towns may be chronically short of already over worked GPs, and there may be understandable frustration when the only functioning hotel in a town is no longer available to its surrounding community. But those who work for understanding and integration are doing heroic things which very often is motivated by a deeply Christian quest for equality and justice. Moreover, when local and European and national elections face us in the coming months, we will need to be very shrewd and courageous in our response to those who frankly will seek to use the issue of immigration in a destructive and cynical and even cruel way.  My feeling  is that in our words of prayer and comment leading up to those elections, voices of faith will  have a major role in the promotion of restraint and moderation and tolerance.


Some other important items

– by the time these notes appear the Revd Willa Goodfellow from the United States will have commenced part time ministry based in Camp Co Kerry and will be assisting Canon Jim Stephens in the Tralee / Dingle parishes. Willa has been planning most enthusiastically for this new chapter in life and ministry for almost two years, and at last visa challenges have concluded so as   to allow her to commence a post – retirement but nevertheless I’m sure valued and busy ministry amongst us. Willa is joined in Camp by Helen Keeffe who has already been involved in Reader ministry in the States and who has much to offer us in that content and in matters educational.

  • on Sunday May 12, at 4pm in St Mary’s Cathedral, the dean is extending an invitation to all those involved in ministry to gather at the cathedral for a liturgical celebration, choral evensong and hospitality. This is intended as a very convivial occasion involving the widest definition of ‘ ministry ‘ … we think for example of those who serve on diocesan boards and committees, those who keep the wheels turning, and whose patient continuance in welldoing is the bedrock on which the mission of the church is built.
  • On Sunday June 16 at 5pm there will be an installation of chapter members in Tuam Cathedral. This is part of the continuing process of converging the two former dioceses now within Tuam, Limerick and Killaloe by making some members of the Tuam diocesan chapter also members of that in Limerick & Killaloe, and vice versa
  • Around the end of August we look forward to welcoming the Revd John McGinty as part time priest in charge of the Clonfert parishes. John too comes to us from The Episcopal Church USA with a fine record in pastoral and academic terms … but he has abundant Irish ancestry and has been a regular visitor here through the years. We hope he will find much happiness as he comes to live in Banagher.
  • As I write we have recently appointed and will soon name a new addition to our diocesan staff team who will provide valuable assistance to Canon Kevin O Brien and his colleagues in the area of Safeguarding Compliance. The purpose of this important appointment will be to resource and assist our parishes in the areas of compliance and training, and to give people a definite sense of positivity and confidence in the whole complex area of Safeguarding.

Michael Tuam Limerick and Killaloe