Tuesday 21 November 2017

Church 'genuinely concerned' at prospect of a return to hard Border with North - Martin

Archbishop Eamon Martin Photo: Frank McGrath
Archbishop Eamon Martin Photo: Frank McGrath

Sarah Mac Donald

The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland has said he is "genuinely concerned" at the prospect of a return to a hard Border which would risk freedom of movement and "heavily impact Border communities".

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh said the Catholic Church in Ireland, as an all-island institution, wanted "assurances" that movement between Northern Ireland and the Republic would remain the same.

In an interview with 'Vatican Insider', a sister publication of the Italian national 'La Stampa', Dr Martin described himself as "nervous" of Brexit.

"We are genuinely concerned because we do not want what is known as a hard Border," he said.

He said that the Catholic Church in Ireland encompassed the whole island, as did the Irish Bishops' Conference and his own diocese had parishes in Co Armagh and in Co Louth.

"There is no distinction between northern dioceses and southern dioceses. Armagh is my archdiocese where about 60pc of the people are in Northern Ireland, and the remaining 40pc in the Republic," he said.

Paying tribute to the European Union's principles of peace, reconciliation and harmony, the church leader said these had shaped the peace in the North, but he said he was "a bit nervous about the impact that the reconstruction of a Border wall" could have on the peace process.

Speaking ahead of this week's elections in Northern Ireland, the Archbishop appealed to the North's politicians not to sacrifice the progress that has been made over the past 20 years, through the Good Friday Agreement, by returning to the old divisions.

On February 22, the bishops of Northern Ireland wrote a document in which they appealed to politicians to reject the temptation to retreat into partisanship in the face of the growing divisions in our political life and the changing status of the UK within the EU. "We want to calm things down," Dr Martin said of the motivation behind the statement amid the divisive electoral climate and "a return to anger".

"We want to say as bishops our firm no to a harsh language and remind our politicians their vocation to work for the common good and exercise their leadership through the careful practice of compromise and agreement," he said.

Asked what he thought the elections might herald, Dr Martin said: "Maybe little will change: Westminster's power devolution will continue while agreements will be reached in Brexit's negotiations. It certainly won't be simple."

Irish Independent

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