Northern Ireland news

Archbishop Eamon Martin said north's centenary not a time for politicians to 'snipe' at one another

Archbishop Eamon Martin. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

ARCHBISHOP Eamon Martin has said Northern Ireland's centenary should not be used by politicians to "snipe" at one another.

The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland said political parties of all shades, including nationalists, needed to recognise different viewpoints on partition.

Events organised by the Northern Ireland Office to mark the establishment of Northern Ireland in 1921 have been put on hold until later in the year because of coronavirus regulations.

The all-Ireland primate said the 100-year anniversary was an opportunity for debate rather than division.

"I would be very disappointed if the centenary became merely an opportunity to snipe at each other from opposite corners, something that would exaggerate our differences," he told the BBC.

"I would be saying to all political parties - including those on the nationalist and indeed on the unionist, loyalist side - to try to recognise very differing perspectives and to bring to the conversation this year their own hurts, their feelings of disappointment or their feelings of frustration."

Archbishop Martin said the centenary provided an "opportunity for us to understand each other better on this island".

"I know that many people in my own tradition will look back and see 1921 as a time which we lament - the partition of this island," he said.

"I, and my fellow church leaders, will approach this year with great sensitivity, as an opportunity perhaps to build greater and deeper mutual understanding and also greater reconciliation."

The leading cleric said the centenary of partition created an opportunity for reflection.

"That will also involve acknowledging the part that we in the churches have played down through the last century in perhaps allowing or, on some occasions, fomenting difference and discord between people on this island," he said.

"It really is important for us to recognise each other, even those of us who would like to see ourselves in an all-Ireland or in a united Ireland context, we have to realise that we simply can't get there without finding a place for all of the legitimate aspirations on this island."

The head of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Rev David Bruce, echoed the Catholic primate's sentiments, saying people needed to choose their words carefully.

"Many people will want to celebrate this centenary and by extension many others will want to lament it," he said.

"I think we need to speak into that reality, to speak in ways which are going to nourish our communities rather than further polarise them."

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