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MLAs should do deal on Irish Language Act and get on with power-sharing, says new bishop of Raphoe

By Alf McCreary

The new Catholic Bishop of Raphoe Alan McGuckian has strongly urged Stormont politicians to agree on the Irish Language Act and preserve the power-sharing principles of the Good Friday Agreement, which he says, is "a great gift to everyone".

The Cloughmills man, who was ordained in Letterkenny last Sunday, is the first Irish Jesuit bishop.

He is a fluent Irish speaker and scholar who has translated a biography of St Ignatius, the Jesuits' founder, into Gaelic.

Born in 1953 and the youngest of six children, he is a member of the well-known McGuckian family in north Antrim. His brother John B McGuckian is a former chairman of the Industrial Development Board, pro-chancellor of Queen's University, and a successful businessman. His two older brothers are Jesuit priests.

Speaking exclusively yesterday to the Belfast Telegraph from his new diocese in Donegal, he said: "Given the support there is for the local national languages of Wales and Scotland, it is obvious that there should be the same support for the traditional Irish language here.

"There is a great richness in the Irish language and I would like to see the Stormont politicians working together to make the Irish Language Act a reality.

"I know Protestants who became interested in the Irish origin of the place names where they live and they began to explore the Irish language in more depth.

"I would like to see the DUP supporters and other people beginning to find some affinity with the Irish language and not see it as a threat."

Bishop McGuckian is a strong supporter of power-sharing. He said: "The Good Friday Agreement was a wonderful achievement because it gave the right to people on both sides to be there and to be what they are. We need political leaders who are prepared to work out the principles of the Good Friday Agreement. It was a great gift to us and it is important that we do not let it slip."

Asked about his views on Taioseach Leo Varadkar's backing for the Pride march in Belfast last Saturday, he said: "One of the Christian teachings is to respect people in the way that you would want them to respect you.

"So, obviously, I respect the right of everyone, including the Taoiseach, to hold his or her point of view on same-sex marriage and all those related issues. The politicians have a role to play on these matters, but as a teaching bishop I hold firmly to the biblical view that marriage is only between one man and one woman."

Bishop McGuckian takes up his new role at a time when there has been talk of a referendum on the eighth amendment of the Irish Constitution, which recognises the right to life of an unborn child, something he strongly supports.

"There is a right to life at every stage, from the beginning to the end. This is not only a religious stance, but it is also self-evident and I believe strongly that the Irish Constitution should continue to back that right."

For the past 11 years Bishop McGuckian has been working in the Down and Connor Diocese in the Living Church project, a major initiative to encourage co-responsibility for the mission of the Church between clergy and laity.

He joined the Jesuits in 1972 after one year of a BA course at Queen's. He said: "I had a powerful conviction that God wanted me to be a priest. It was a difficult decision, but I made it. I joined the Jesuits because my older brothers Bernard and Michael were Jesuits, and I liked what I saw." As a Jesuit he had a variety of ministries, and at one stage he trained as a radio producer and ran the Jesuits' Communication Centre in Dublin.

He also taught at Clongowes Wood College, and served as chaplain to Ulster University, and also as chaplain to the Irish speaking schools in Down and Connor.

Asked if he had been surprised when Pope Francis announced his appointment on June 9, he said: "It is not the expectation of a Jesuit to become a bishop, and when I had the phone call telling me of my appointment I was really shocked. It will be a huge change to my life, but I will give it my all. If there is any place in the world to be a bishop, it's hard to beat Donegal."

Bishop McGuckian leaves today for his annual pilgrimage to walk part of the Camino de Santiago.

Belfast Telegraph

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