Archbishop Martin calls for united Ireland
A surprise call from the head of the Catholic Church here for a united Ireland has been criticised as potentially damaging to reconciliation efforts.
Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin's forthright support for a united Ireland was reported by music magazine Hot Press this week.
"I do believe that Ireland should be one," he said.
"And I would like to work for that, and continue to work for that, by peaceful means and by persuasion, recognising that there are many people on this island who do not want that."
The Londonderry-born Primate of all Ireland continued by revealing that he believes the current border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is less important than it was, and will become even less so in a modern Europe.
He explained that his own diocese of Armagh straddles the border, with 60% of its parishioners in Northern Ireland and 40% in the Republic - "but we see ourselves as one".
"The vision of a united Europe was one in which political borders would be less important and we'd work more on our common humanity, on our common economic needs, on our common social needs as a people of Europe and I think that has largely happened," he said.
"To the extent I think the border between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland has become increasingly less important, I would like to see that trend continuing."
Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson claimed the Primate's outspoken backing for a united Ireland is risking "deflecting" from reconciliation attempts.
"While the Archbishop is entitled to his views, if wider society concentrated on such a matter, it would run the risk of deflecting from the challenges of reconciliation to focus on division, deepening them instead of removing them," said Mr Dickson.
And a spokesman for the Ulster Unionist Party, hit back at the Archbishop's comments, saying they believed increasing numbers were happy with the border.