Wednesday 18 September 2019

'Brexit is compounding differences - it is polarising people again into camps' - Archbishop Martin

Archbishop whose diocese straddles the Border warns peace is fragile

Concerns: Archbishop Eamon Martin. Photo: Mark Marlow/The Irish News
Concerns: Archbishop Eamon Martin. Photo: Mark Marlow/The Irish News

Sarah Mac Donald

The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland has warned that communities along the Border will strongly resist becoming "frontier people again" in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

"There is uncertainty and fear out there - people don't want to be dragged backwards," Archbishop Eamon Martin, of Armagh, told the Irish Independent.

He is a Church leader whose diocese straddles the Border, with some parishes in Northern Ireland and others in the Republic.

Dr Martin highlighted how two decades after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, people had grown up in these Border areas "moving quite seamlessly from North to south" for business and personal reasons. But it was now "sad to hear some people almost talking up the differences".

On a practical note, he said: "It is only wise that everyone starts to prepare economically for a range of possibilities that might happen."

Asked about his concerns around Brexit, the Catholic Primate said: "Some of my fears are that this whole debate has compounded difference, it has helped to polarise people again into camps, which is something that, particularly in Northern Ireland, we have to beware of. The increase in 'them' and 'us' talk, the increase in sectarianism, the polarisation of communities and talk about borders and barriers rather than about bridges and what we have in common. We have managed to translate even the Brexit debate into our normal orange and green, nationalist and republican versus unionist and loyalist terms - we are good at that, sadly."

The Derry-born prelate appealed to people to consider the best of what has been achieved on the island of Ireland over the past 20 years, namely the Good Friday Agreement, but added: "What we have achieved is fragile; we should have a big sign up on all that we have achieved saying 'fragile, handle with care'."

He was also critical of the Brexit debate's exclusion of the very people who will be most affected by it.

"In many ways people here have been disenfranchised from a strong say in what is happening. We have all had to keep quiet and entrust it to the high-level boardroom discussions - there is a frustration at that." He expressed the hope that a way through could still be found for post-Brexit survival.

He also spoke of his disappointment at the "gloating" by some pro-abortion politicians during the recent legislative process on the Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Bill.

He thought some of the exchanges in the Oireachtas had been "narrow and hostile".

He also indicated that the Church will seek to support medical professionals who in conscience cannot support the introduction of abortion under the new law, which he described as "a huge moral mistake and one which this country will live to regret".

"I would certainly be calling people to continue to witness to the fact that there are two lives worthy of protection here and therefore our position on this doesn't change; in fact, if anything, it becomes even more clear to us."

On the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland, he said it was "an amazing experience".

"We basically have shown the world how to do a World Meeting of Families, so for me it was a tremendous success. Of course, having Pope Francis here was really wonderful."

At Christmastime he said he was reminded of Pope Francis's belief in the importance of family "as the place where love is experienced, where love grows and the place where people hold each other together and are there for each other".

He wished readers of the Irish Independent every blessing for Christmas and 2019.

Irish Independent

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