Belfast Telegraph

North-South relations need recalibrated: Archbishop

The Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin
The Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin

By Sarah MacDonald

Archbishop Eamon Martin has said that although a referendum on a united Ireland could be divisive at this stage, he "can't believe" that political leaders don't see an opportunity to do something very new to "recalibrate relationships on this island".

Speaking about the impact of Brexit, the Archbishop of Armagh, whose diocese straddles both sides of the border, said people should have hope for the future.

He also urged Northern Ireland's politicians to return to the Assembly, echoing a wider appeal from church leaders.

He said: "I do think that this is a time for us to recalibrate relationships on this island for the greater good of everybody living on the island, and to recalibrate the relationship between this island and Britain and work out what is the new relationship there; and to see what our relationship with Europe is going to be - it is going to be different.

"I have hope for the future. I just can't believe that our political leaders don't see this as a tremendous opportunity to do something very new. Let's look at this as a massive new project for the new decade from 2020 onwards."

He suggested that some of the political inertia in Northern Ireland was because "we got a bit settled. We forgot the hurt, we forgot the trauma and we forgot that living among us there are people like the mothers and fathers of the children (killed in the Troubles) who are getting up every day feeling that pain."

Describing himself as a nationalist, Dr Martin admitted he thinks of the Church in Ireland "as one unit".

"I am the bishop of a diocese with about 40% of my people in parishes south of the border, the rest are north of the border.

"We talk about borders down the Irish Sea or what is the border between North and South going to look like.

"For me that presents a great challenge and a great opportunity for political people both North and South to try to present to us what greater unity looks like; what does greater harmony look like; and what does greater prosperity on this island look like."

He believes there is "an appetite" among business people and the farming sector "to make it work".

But he stressed that "it is essential that our parties return now to the Assembly because it is one thing to say 'get Brexit done' but nothing has really been done. We have no idea yet what the impact is going to be on communities around the border, what the impact is going to be on this island in terms of north-south and east-west trade."

He believes there has been a loss of trust in politicians over the last few years due to the "shenanigans over Brexit" and he urged political leaders to listen carefully to the people who are telling them they "expect them to be back" at Stormont.

The pattern of voting in the recent general election in Northern Ireland showed people "changing their allegiances in order to encourage politicians to go back to work in the Assembly", he continued.

Expressing satisfaction over the talks between Northern Ireland's parties, Dr Martin said he was "hopeful" that this time around they would return to the Assembly. "I would be pretty mad, and most people would be, if it didn't happen. I am hoping that that will bear fruit in the coming weeks.

"The longer this goes on we are noticing the impact on people's hospital appointments being cancelled because of health cuts, we are noticing it in our schools who are struggling to meet their budgets, and we are noticing it in a rising level of sectarianism which was during the summer."

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