LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Ireland’s top prelate has called on political parties in Ireland to “recognize very differing perspectives” as the island marks the centenary of partition and the establishment of Northern Ireland.

“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,” Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh told BBC Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland was established in 1921 by the British government as part of the plans to establish home rule on the island of Ireland.

Northern Ireland had a Protestant majority, that wished to keep close ties to the United Kingdom.

Although this separation was meant to be temporary, the Irish civil war and establishment of the Irish Free State in the south in 1922 made it permanent.

The division – and discrimination against the significant Catholic minority in the North – was the source of decades of conflict on the island of Ireland.

This flared up as “The Troubles” in the late 1960’s, which pitted the Irish Republican Army and its various offshoots against the British army and Unionist paramilitary groups. The conflict was mostly ended with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, and the establishment of the Northern Irish Assembly in Belfast.

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

“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,” the archbishop continued.

“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,” he said.

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