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Primate appeals to politicians to work together as Brexit looms

By Sarah Mac Donald - 29 January, 2019

“I would ask this question: we are only seven or eight weeks from the proposed date of exit. I wonder are we really thinking enough about the impact on people on the ground?”

The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland has appealed to politicians in Ireland and Britain to stop talking at each other and work together with just eight weeks to go before Britain exits the EU on 29 March 2019.

In an interview with iCatholic, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh warned that border communities in Ireland are “anxious” about what might happen and “fearful for their livelihoods”.

The Archbishop also referred to comments made by the Taoiseach in an interview with Bloomberg Television during the World Economic Forum in Davos, in which Mr Varadkar said that in a no-deal scenario, a hard border “would involve customs posts, it would involve people in uniform and it may involve the need, for example, for cameras, physical infrastructure, possibly a police presence or army presence to back it up”.

The Primate said the Taoiseach was “painting a picture of the doomsday scenario”.

He added, “A lot of people are thinking this; they are wondering what is going to happen. In fairness to the Taoiseach I think he was really saying there is the danger that we might revert back to a time of border checkpoints and those border checkpoints or customs checkpoints would need security and help around them.”

Archbishop Martin, whose diocese straddles the border, said there were communities along the border who are very uncertain at this time. He noted how a demonstration along the border was held at the weekend in his own diocese to highlight that border communities are anxious about what might happen.

“They too, like the Taoiseach and others, are wondering what is going to happen and when you have uncertainty like that it is only natural that people will be fearful – they will be fearful for their livelihoods.”

Referring to the tens of thousands of people who cross the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic in order to go about their daily work, he stressed that a hard border would impact on freedom of movement but also on tourism.

“I would ask this question: we are only seven or eight weeks from the proposed date of exit. I wonder are we really thinking enough about the impact on people on the ground?

“Along with my fellow church leaders I have been having meetings with business people, community people, educationalists, people involved in health alongside local MLAs and political leaders. This is a time for us to talk with each other and not to talk at each other about Brexit. It does appear that we need to get our act together to ensure that there is peace and reconciliation and all those things that we have worked so hard to achieve in recent years.”

Referring to the car bombing in his home city of Derry last weekend he said, “That horrific bombing – which was so near to being a terrible catastrophe – so near to the loss of life, reminds us of where we have come from.

“I think it is so important that we work with each other now. I would call on the political leaders in Northern Ireland, political leaders North and South on this island, the UK government, the Irish government, all of our local Assembly members to get together at this point to show some leadership because the communities are calling for that.”

But in Northern Ireland itself, the impasse at Stormont had left Northern Ireland without an Assembly for more than two years.

“What that does is it puts people back into their corners where we do tend towards rhetoric and shouting at each other and scoring points – we win you lose – we lose you win. This is a time when we need to work together for a win–win for all people on this island.”

He stressed that borders can be created in people’s minds and hearts and he appealed to all to seek to build bridges not barriers.

“I grew up along the border in Derry City; I know what it was like to cross the border and the difficulties … so many people in our communities are aware of that and they do not want to go back to it.”

He said political leaders need to help people unpack words like “backstop” and “hard border” that had become “part of the jargon of this whole debate”.

“It is very important for our political leaders and our community leaders to help unpack the reality of what may happen or what we can avoid.”

He added, “The Taoiseach’s remarks are calling us to say how can we avoid a situation which we all have in our memories – where our communities were divided by walls, barbed wire, concrete barriers, by guns and by bullets – we have to avoid that at all costs.”

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