Northern Ireland news

Northern Ireland 'disenfranchised' in Brexit debate

People in Northern Ireland have been left without a strong voice in the Brexit debate, says Archbishop Eamon Martin. Picture by Mark Marlow

PEOPLE in Northern Ireland have been left without an effective voice in the Brexit debate, Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin has said.

Brexit had also led to increasing polarisation and 'them and us' talk, he said.

"It's unfortunate that we've managed to translate even the Brexit debate into our normal orange and green, nationalist and republican versus unionist and loyalist terms," said Dr Martin.

"We are good at that, sadly."

Although firmly against a 'hard' Brexit, Dr Martin said it was "only wise to prepare economically for a range of possibilities" of what might happen after March 29 next year, when the UK is due to leave the EU.

"People here have been disenfranchised from a strong say in what's happening," he said.

"Brexit to us seems to be something that's happening in Brussels or Strasbourg or London.

"In some ways we've all had to keep our lips tight and keep quiet, and entrust it to high level discussions."

This has contributed to people feeling frustrated at the lack of progress and clarity in the Brexit process.

The continuing absence of government at Stormont - the Assembly is about to enter its third year of suspension - is a further source of frustration.

"We are very anxious to play our part to do something about the impasse," said Dr Martin.

He said it was "astounding" that a meeting hosted by the Churches in September was the first time the party leaders had been in the same room for nine months.

The Churches have embarked on a programme of meetings across Northern Ireland, bringing together MLAs with people from the business, community, voluntary and education sectors "to hold a conversation about the reality of where we are at the moment".

"It is a contribution we feel we can uniquely make. Michelle O'Neill can hold a meeting with her grassroots, and so can Arlene Foster, but we can hold a meeting where they are all in the same room."

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