Belfast Telegraph

We must take heat out of debate around Brexit, warns archbishop

By Staff Reporter

The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland has warned against "inflammatory" language around the Brexit debate.

Eamon Martin said there was a need for caution on both sides of the argument.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Sunday Independent, Archbishop Martin discussed his memories of the Troubles from his childhood in Londonderry, and how the Good Friday Agreement had transformed society.

The Archbishop of Armagh also touched on the abortion debate, and a likely papal visit in 2018.

Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the Agreement - the culmination of years of peace talks.

Archbishop Martin said much had changed in the last two decades, but the settlement remained "fragile".

"I never stop giving thanks for the new space we are in," he said.

"I grew up in Derry. I think of Christmas time, my grandparents, and my family home in Donegal.

"We had to cross a border, we had to go through a checkpoint with guns pointing at us, we had to be searched - when I went to school our school bags were searched.

"We heard shooting, we heard bombs - and we heard daily of people being killed, many of them innocent civilians caught up in the middle of the awful conflict.

"So all I have to do is think back to my early years to realise the horror that was Northern Ireland in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, and to realise the tremendous achievement that was the peace process.

"Therefore, I say about the Good Friday Agreement: Fragile, handle with care."

Northern Ireland has been without an Assembly for almost a year.

Talks to resolve the impasse have been deadlocked over issues such as legacy and the Irish language.

Archbishop Martin spoke of his hopes for progress in the new year.

He added: "I'm disappointed that we seem to have gone into a kind of vacuum at the moment, with very little sense of direction.

"I know from speaking to my own friends, family and neighbours that people are frustrated, that there appears to be nothing happening.

"So at this time of the year, I once more encourage all those who have any part to play in the new year to redouble their efforts - hopefully in time for the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement."

He also warned of the potential harm to community relations from Brexit.

"On the Brexit discussions, once again I would urge caution," Archbishop Martin added. "We talk a lot about hard borders and soft borders economically, but sometimes the language we use, the positions, the moral high ground we take on either side can be inflammatory when it comes to people on the ground."

The coming year will be a defining one for the Catholic Church in Ireland. The Pope is due to visit in the summer, coinciding with Ireland hosting the World Meeting of the Families, an international Catholic Church event held every three years.

On the papal visit, Archbishop Martin added: "People are quite excited, they're interested, they're intrigued.

"Some of my school friends and maybe others who don't practise regularly themselves, are still fascinated with the idea that Pope Francis might come to Ireland.

"I think that if the visit of Pope Francis makes us stop and pause and think, for me that will be really worthwhile."

The archbishop was interviewed before a parliamentary committee in the Republic voted to recommend changes to abortion law.

The cross-party group is in favour of repealing the 8th amendment to the Constitution of Ireland, which acknowledges "the right to life of the unborn and with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother".

Archbishop Martin said he was "deeply troubled", adding: "I'm just shocked to think that these recommendations appear to be encouraging an even more liberal and unrestricted abortion regime for Ireland than we have in Britain."

Belfast Telegraph

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