LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Brexit’s ongoing political and economic uncertainty was the focus of the St. Patrick’s Day message of Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Primate of All Ireland.
The United Kingdom’s impending departure from the United Kingdom is especially affecting the island of Ireland as it would place the EU border at Northern Ireland.
Not only does this threaten to reimpose border checks between north and south, but it would even divide some Irish dioceses – including Martin’s Archdiocese of Armagh.
“I have been hearing families across the island of Ireland – including those who live and work along the border and those who make their living from farming, business and haulage – express anxiety about what the future might hold. People are speaking about relationships within these islands – north and south, east and west – becoming more strained and fragile,” the archbishop said in a message issued to “the people of Ireland at home and abroad.”
UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal has been voted down twice in Parliament, and she is planning on presenting it a third time in the near future.
The UK was scheduled to leave the European trading bloc on March 29, although the UK Chancellor Philip Hammond told the BBC on Sunday that meeting that deadline is now “physically impossible.”
The Irish border, and the preservation of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, are a major sticking point between the parties.
The agreement ended the decades-long “Troubles” between predominantly Catholic nationalists and protestant Unionists in Northern Ireland. It was predicated on the joint citizenship and open border guaranteed by the European Union.
May’s Conservative Party doesn’t have a majority in Parliament, and depends on the hardline Unionist DUP for support.
In his St. Patrick’s Day message, Martin noted that when Pope St. John Paul II visited Ireland in 1979, the Troubles prevented him from visiting Armagh.
“In 1979 the border between north and south was heavily militarized and monitored. Pope John Paul II chose to speak about Christ as Prince of Peace, and against the construction of barriers of hate and mistrust,” the archbishop recalled.
“As a young eighteen-year-old, the words of now Saint John Paul moved me greatly, especially when he called for respect for the inalienable rights and dignity of the human person, for the spirit of Christian love and forgiveness, and for a complete rejection of violence. In fervent prayer, he invoked the help of Saint Patrick to ‘watch over Ireland. Protect humanity’,” he continued.
“If we have learned anything since the Good Friday Agreement, 21 years ago, it is that partnership and tolerance, mutual trust and respect, equality and a complete renunciation of violence, are essential for the building of a lasting and just peace. All the more reason then for us to resolve, in the name of Saint Patrick, to avoid any return to an infrastructure of suspicion and division which could so easily set back decades of progress,” Martin said.
St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday in Ireland, and a holy day of obligation for Catholics on the island.