Visiting Northern Ireland for the G8 summit meeting at the Lough Erne resort at Enniskillen, President Barack Obama appeared to suggest in a speech that sectarian schools serve to divide the people of the region. Speaking to an audience of some 2,000 young people, Catholics and Protestants, Obama repeated a frequently disproved claim that Catholic education undermines national unity. At Belfast's Waterfront hall, Obama said “If towns remain divided—if Catholics have their schools and buildings and Protestants have theirs, if we can’t see ourselves in one another and fear or resentment are allowed to harden—that too encourages division and discourages cooperation.”
In the past, Obama has made much of his Irish ancestry, which he acquired through his American mother. On a visit to Ireland during his first term, Obama visited the village of Moneygall, from whence one of his ancestors emerged.
Just across the water in Scotland, to where many of Northern Ireland's (mostly Protestant) people trace their lineage, the Vatican's prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Muller told an audience on June 15 that Catholic education provided a rare place where "intellectual training, moral discipline and religious commitment would come together." In a homily on June 14, the archbishop said at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Glasgow, that "the Catholic school is vitally important … a critical component of the Church,’ adding that Catholic education provides young people with a wonderful opportunity to ‘grow up with Jesus."
Obama drew parallels between the Civil Rights era of the United States with Catholics' demands for equal rights in Northern Ireland and the conflict between Irish terrorists and the British government. He urged listeners to work towards positive change. “And I know because in America, we too have had to work hard over the decades, slowly, gradually, sometimes painfully in fits and starts to keep protecting our union,” Obama said.
Getting personal, Obama referred to his upbringing, saying “my own parents’ marriage would have been illegal in certain states” — he continued, “but over time, laws changed, and hearts and minds changed, sometimes driven by courageous lawmakers, but more often driven by committed citizens.”
Despite Northern Ireland’s history of bloody conflict over human rights and the contention between security forces and terrorists, Obama expressed hope that progress toward peace in that region serves as a “blueprint” for other parts of the world. “We need you to get this right,” Obama said. “And what’s more, you set an example for those who seek a peace of their own. Because beyond these shores, right now, in scattered corners of the world, there are people living in the grip of conflict — ethnic conflict, religious conflict, tribal conflicts — and they know something better is out there.”
“So as your leaders step forward to address your challenges…they’ll nee d you, young people, to keep pushing them to create a space for them to change attitudes. Because ultimately whether your communities deal with the past and face the future united, together, isn’t something you have to wait for someone else to do. That’s a choice you have to make right now. It’s within your power to bring about change.”
Obama suggested a road map to reach the goal he set. “Whether you are a good neighbor to someone from the other side of past battles — that’s up to you,” he said. “Whether you treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve — that’s up to you. Whether you let your kids play with kids who attend a different church — that’s your decision. Whether you take a stand against violence and hatred, and tell extremists on both sides that no matter how many times they attack the peace, they will not succeed — that is in your hands.”
“The terms of peace may be negotiated by political leaders, but the fate of peace is up to each of us,” he continued.
The G8 is just one of Obama's trips that have stirred controversy, even while scandals in Washington appeared to have tarnished his once sterling image in the minds of Americans. A poll conducted by CNN/ORC shows that Obama’s approval falling to 45%, down eight points in a month. Also, Obama's “honest and trustworthy” score has dropped as well to 49%, down from 58%. Now, a majority (50%) say he’s not.
Questions over NSA surveillance of American and foreign telephony and internet use, the treatment meted out by the Internal Revenue Service to organizations seeking non-profit status, and the role of the White House in the Benghazi disaster continue to weigh on the White House and Obama.