Archbishop Eamon Martin criticises nationalist politicians for not engaging with NI centenary events
THE head of the Catholic Church in Ireland has criticised nationalist politicians for not engaging with events to mark the Northern Ireland centenary.
Speaking ahead of the 2021 anniversary of the partition of the island of Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin said he was "disappointed that many of our nationalist and republican political leaders have dismissed the centenary of 2021 altogether".
It comes as Sinn Féin has insisted that 100 years of partition was not a cause for celebration within nationalism. Just last month Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy said, while Irish republicans will not celebrate it, they respect that others will want to.
The SDLP has said while the centenary is an important moment, it will not take part in the NIO's Centenary Forum as they do not believe the UK government "is truly interested in telling the difficult story of partition".
In an interview with The Irish Catholic newspaper, Archbishop Martin criticised the refusal the nationalist response.
"I would like to see the 2021 centenary as an opportunity for greater mutual understanding, for opportunities to build further reconciliation and peace," he said.
"I am somewhat disappointed that many of our nationalist and republican political leaders have dismissed the centenary of 2021 altogether because for me I think it's really important to seize it as a moment to reflect on where we've come from.
"If we could accept that people on this island approach their belonging from very different perspectives - that was key to the Good Friday Agreement: that we would recognise legitimate aspirations on the island and that to me is something that we're better not to run away from, but to face."
He added: "And if there is ever to be greater mutual understanding and living together on the island of Ireland, then we need to be able to face difficult moments and difficult episodes from our history we need to be able to face it openly".
The Catholic leader also said the division of the island 100 years ago had caused "a great amount of sadness: a sense of separation, a sense of loss," within the broader Catholic/nationalist community.
At the same time, he said that "for unionists and indeed loyalist communities in Northern Ireland, it represents for them a significant moment in the establishment of the Northern Ireland state".
Archbishop Martin also said that "as a nationalist myself, as growing up in a nationalist community, I would have a yearning that that sense of belonging is something that could be shared by all of the people in the island of Ireland".
But he said he believed a united Ireland could not be achieved unless nationalists are willing to listen.
"I think that we will never reach there unless we are open to understanding each other, and I think that 2021 provides an opportunity for greater understanding of where we've come from and indeed where we might go together into the future," he added.