North's status as a 'shared home place' must be respected in Brexit deal, Catholic bishops urge
WITH the Brexit negotiations at a decisive stage, the northern Catholic bishops have appealed for the "exceptional position of Northern Ireland" as a "shared home place" to be accommodated, warning that any new border checks would be a "dangerous backwards step".
The bishops and the Northern Ireland Catholic Council on Social Affairs have written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, EU negotiator Michel Barnier and other key figures, including Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, expressing their concern that any Brexit deal "must uphold and maintain the detailed provisions of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement in all its parts".
The protocol on Northern Ireland negotiated by the British government and the EU in the Withdrawal Agreement was intended to ensure that there would be "no return to border infrastructure on the island of Ireland", the bishops said.
However, because "the UK government has now announced that it will break its obligations under that legal agreement, we must warn that a return to any border apparatus on this island (even if it be for customs and trade checks only) would be a dangerous backward step.
"It would inevitably threaten the fragile peace and political stability towards which substantial strides have been made since the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement.
"The removal of border structures on this island has been of significant benefit to the daily lives of families, communities and businesses in border regions, but most importantly, it has been crucial to the functioning of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, to the step-by-step growth in normality in our society, and to the maintenance of peace."
The Catholic bishops' letter follows a joint statement yesterday from the leaders of all of Ireland's main Churches appealing for a Brexit deal to provide "clarity and security".
This further intervention from Archbishop Eamon Martin, Bishop Donal McKeown, Bishop Noel Treanor, Bishop Larry Duffy and Bishop Michael Router emphasises how worried the Catholic Church is about a no-deal Brexit.
This, they warned, would have "serious and long-lasting negative consequences for the economy, for society and for peace and stability on this island".
"We ask you to accommodate and respect the exceptional position of Northern Ireland in the ongoing negotiations," they urged the negotiators.
"The unique identity of this region cannot be reduced to a binary alternative," they said, adding that reductionism of that sort had in the past "resulted only in violence, decades of bloodshed, and countless ruined lives".
"This is a shared home place," the bishops stressed.
"In fact, ever more we need to realise its exceptionalism as the important strands intrinsic to its identity have expanded beyond the three key relationships, to another strong bond with Europe."