Authors of A Dialogue of Hope: Critical Thinking for Critical Times and members of Messenger Publications were received by President Michael D. Higgins on Wednesday 24 January at Áras an Úachtaráin. The Dialogue of Hope group, consisting of Gerry O’Hanlon SJ, David Begg, Michael Cronin, Iseult Honohan, Dermot Lane, Dermot McCarthy, and Fergus O’Ferrall, are calling for an alternative vision for Ireland based on common values and a more participatory democracy.
“We had a wide-ranging discussion with the President for about an hour and a half,” said convenor of the group Gerry O’Hanlon SJ. “It was informative and stimulating. He had clearly read our book with interest and he was extremely encouraging in his response. The conversation ranged extensively – from rock music, through economic and social theory, to spirituality and theology, and with lots in-between!”
In particular, the group made the point that religion, theology, and faith have a role to play in shaping the economy. It was thought that we have a chance to re-imagine the role of religion in society, for example, one that is closer to the message of Jesus Christ among the outcasts and the poor, and that religion would be a good dialogue partner in this new space that has been created. In addition to church leaders who have already met with the government to discuss these kind of issues, the Dialogue of Hope group envisaged that different groups within churches would also have a contribution to make in order to keep the conversation going.
Many have contacted the group with an interest in continuing the dialogue, including Brendan Howlin from the Labour Party; the Taoiseach’s Office; and the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland in Clonskeagh, Dublin. Queen’s University in Belfast have invited the group to participate in a seminar related to the environment in March. Indeed, President Higgins expressed great interest in the Irish response to the Pope’s encyclical on the environment Laudato Si’. The group has written to parties and church leaders and they will meet again in two weeks to decide on next steps.
Regarding the President’s reception at Áras an Úachtaráin, Gerry O’Hanlon SJ said: “It gave us a sense that although what we were saying was different from what the prevailing status quo is that we had some support and encouragement at that kind of level, and that was very encouraging”.
A Dialogue of Hope: Critical Thinking for Critical Times is available for purchase through Messenger Publications.