When John Briggs first suggested I should speak here today, my immediate reaction was to think, yes, I know Archbishop Robin and Christine. I have known them for many years, but there are people here who know them much better than I and who could do justice to this illustrious and historic occasion better than I can. But then, on further reflection, I said, yes, I definitely want to speak and I will be delighted to do so. I want to congratulate today’s honourees, that is, I want to express my joy at their being honoured, in this way, in this place, at this time.

Two weeks ago there was a great assembly of the Followers of Christ in Eastern Europe. It took place in Sibiu in Romania – with an attendance of over 2,000 delegates drawn from the Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox traditions. The leader of the delegation from our Church was Cardinal Walter Kasper, who is from Germany. He made reference to a document which was published this year and which caused offence to some. Referring to the publication of that document, Cardinal Kasper said: “Anything that hurts my friends hurts me”. I yield to the temptation to alter those words slightly and to make them my own saying: ‘Anything that delights and honours my friends delights and honours me’ and so it is a joy for me to be here

I would like to compliment the Armagh City and District Council on this initiative. Naturally I rejoice very much that Archbishop Robin and Christine are being honoured in this way.

When I came to Armagh in 1995 one of the first ceremonies I attended was a Prayer Service for Christian Unity Week in the Church of Ireland Cathedral and the social that followed. There I met Archbishop Robin and Christine Eames for the first time and they welcomed me warmly and in a most friendly manner. I appreciated their courtesy and graciousness more than they know. They probably recognised in me the appearance of someone faced with a daunting task, finding themselves in a very new situation and really not knowing what to do or say at the time. Although I am an Ulsterman, and proud of it, I had then very little experience of life in Northern Ireland and no experience at all of that complicated area of Church/State – both secular and ecclesiastical interface and interaction. So, at that stage, the hand of friendship, the word of advice, and, above all, the example of a man who had already been a bishop for twenty years and Archbishop for almost ten, that kind of experience was invaluable.

I am reluctant to mention rugby today, but let me put it this way. With Robin in the lineout or the scrum, losing against the head was unthinkable. Well, of course, we had to line out together on many and very different occasions. There were the tough ones – like down the line interviews to London from the BBC studio in Belfast and the memorable encounters with the Prime Minister and Secretaries of State in Stormont and Hillsborough in the wake of terrible tragedies and political events of the last thirty years and, of course, there was Omagh, etched out forever in the memory of everyone.

There were, however, far more numerous pleasant occasions like the Christmas and New Year messages on RTE and UTV. There were also visits of a pastoral nature to hospitals and prisons as well as the times we went to Dublin and London together to lobby ministers and Prime Ministers and to Brussels to acquaint ourselves more closely with the workings of the European Union. Of course the Moderators of the Presbyterian Church and the Presidents of the Methodist Church were also involved.

Last Sunday I was in Paris and I saw there a statue of a man, who like Robin Eames, spent some time in Bangor before moving on to France and Italy to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. His name is Columbanus. On the statue were five Latin words, taken from the writings of Columbanus. If you remove freedom – you remove dignity. That is, if you removed someone’s freedom you take away a person’s sense of self-esteem, their sense of self-worth.

That prompted for me the question, but if you confer freedom, as is being done today, what are you doing? I believe it is not a question of conferring a dignity, a worth that is there already, rather it is a matter of recognising the worth and the value of the two people being honoured here today. It is a clear statement that Armagh has been a much better place because of their presence and their outstanding activities here among us over the last twenty years.

I am told that the Freedom of Dublin city confers the right to graze sheep on Stephen’s Green. I don’t know what the equivalent is in the City of Armagh. In any case, I don’t imagine that there will be an influx of livestock from Hillsborough to the Mall. But then, let us not forget we have here the grandson of the man who revolutionized farming on this island with the importation of Massey Ferguson tractors.
I congratulate Archbishop Robin but I also want to congratulate Lady Christine on the honour that is being conferred on her today. They say that moving house is one of the most stressful events in life. She and Robin have moved house many, many times – from Gilnahirk to St. Mark’s to Derry to Down to Armagh. She is on record as saying that they were both fortunate enough to have come from extremely happy homes and that they were at all times very happy themselves. I am sure that that fundamental happiness enabled them to cope with the stress of change and moving very well. But she also found time to become involved with the Mother’s Union and, of course, became World President of the Union. This is testimony to her devotion and fidelity and goodness.

In recent times it has been my happiness to get to know Niall and Michael and their wives and families. I am sure they too are basking in the reflected glory today. I hear many eloquent testimonies from their fortunate ex-patients who speak in glowing praise of their care and proficiency in their professional life.

There is just one serious lacuna in Robin’s CV, in my opinion. He has lived and worked in Antrim and Armagh, Down and Dromore, even Derry, Tyrone and Raphoe, in Donegal, he has sailed in Carlingford, admired the Mournes and the Sperrins but the most beautiful part of Ulster is still to come – Lough Erne and Fermanagh, Cavan and Cuilcagh, Monaghan and the Drumlins. They all beckon for fishing, golf or boating.

Archbishop Robin has courageously agreed to head up an attempt to deal with the past. I wish him well in that attempt and I hope the outcome will be a healing of the hurts that have taken place in the past and we know that past events continue to affect life in Ireland today. Because conflict leaves a deep mark on many, the healing of memory has a critical role in healing the past.
I wish the Commission well in its work. I know that they will do their best to help people appropriately and sensitively. I pray that their work will help to set people free from hatred, revenge and suspicion.

St Augustine believed that people did not desire happiness enough. I certainly desire every happiness for Archbishop Robin and Christine now and in the years to come. I hope that the conferral of this Freedom will be accompanied by the conferral of a far greater freedom – freedom from fear and worry of every kind.