Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All recently gave an interview to the Vatican Insider, a sister publication of Italian daily newspaper La Stampa. The interview took place during the Irish Bishops’ Ad Limina visit to Rome last January.
Archbishop Eamon Martin spoke to Vatican Insider’s Francesca Lozito and he told her that the Church is genuinely concerned at the prospect of a return to a hard border with the North. He said, “For the Catholic Church there is only one country. The Irish Bishops’ Conference is one. There is no distinction between northern dioceses and southern diocese. Armagh is my archdiocese where about 60% of the people are in Northern Ireland, and the remaining 40% in the Republic. I live in a parish that is in Northern Ireland. Therefore, the Church does not need a border between the two sides. Moreover, we are genuinely concerned because we do not want what is known as a hard border; an actual border that would heavily impact border communities.”
Speaking about the statement issued by the Bishops in Northern Ireland Archbishop Eamon saidToday Northern Ireland is in a dangerous state of uncertainty because of Brexit: the country could find itself once again split in two by a physical border. The next elections will be held on March 2 in a climate that raises a lot of concern within the Church.
On February 22, the bishops of Northern Ireland wrote a document addressed directly to politicians in which they said “at this time, with growing divisions in our political life locally and the negotiation of change in our status in the European Union, we ask that you reject the temptation to retreat into partisanship”. Asked why they published this document, Archbishop Eamon said, “Because we want to calm things down, especially in recent weeks where an identity ‘stigmatization is emerging within the electoral climate, 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. Therefore, we also want to warn politicians to be careful not to sacrifice the progress we have made over the past 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement.
“In Northern Ireland, thanks to the Good Friday Agreement nationalists and unionists, republicans and loyalist were able to share power. The two main parties DUP and Sinn Fein who in the past represented the divisions have worked together in the government.”
Asked about what might happen after the 2 March Assembly Elections, Archbishop Eamon said, “Frankly, I do not know. Maybe little will change: Westminster’s power devolution will continue while agreements will be reached in Brexit’s negotiations. It is certainly “not simple” what is happening before the elections however, what will happen after it is more important.
Archbishop Eamon said that one of the consequences of returning of borders would be freedom of movement would be at stake. He said, “As one Church, we want to have assurances that the possibility to move between the North and the Republic will remain the same as today.”
Asked about the differences between northern and southern Catholics Archbishop Eamon said, “The differences between northern and southern Catholics are essentially cultural. In the north, Catholics are a minority in an environment where the majority are Protestant (Unionist or Loyalist). The Catholic identity in Northern Ireland is seen as something related to the years of the conflict (in which sectarianism struck Catholics, editor’s note) and the contribution of solidarity that the Catholic community has brought during the Troubles. On the other hand, the Republic’s Church is often described as dominant. Eire is very often defined as a “Catholic state.” Therefore, from a cultural point of view there are two different stories. However, I am of the opinion not to force them too much.”
Archbishop Eamon said “the Church wants to be a peaceful voice of reconciliation amid the risk of returning to the old divisions that have inflamed our past.”
Asked about what unites all of Ireland in 2017, Archbishop Eamon said, “I think that nowadays the impact of secularization is the same. Consequently, the entailed moral and social issues and challenges are the same.”
For more on the Vatican Insider interview see their website.