Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin is looking to a possible Irish reunification referendum over Brexit.

Driving the news

Though he recognised a reunification vote might be “divisive”, Martin told the Belfast Telegraph after pro-Brexit UK PM Boris Johnson was returned in a landslide:

“I do think that this is a time for us to recalibrate relationships on this island for the greater good of everybody living on the island”.

Martin, also Primate of All Ireland, also wondered whether now might be the moment “to recalibrate the relationship between this island and Britain and work out what is the new relationship there; and to see what our relationship with Europe is going to be”.

“It is going to be different”, the archbishop warned.

The big picture

Despite the “shenanigans” over Brexit which in his opinion have caused a loss of trust in politicians, Martin confessed: “I have hope for the future”.

“I just can’t believe that our political leaders don’t see this as a tremendous opportunity to do something very new.

“Let’s look at this as a massive new project for the new decade from 2020 onward”.

“I am the bishop of a diocese with about 40% of my people in parishes south of the border, the rest are north of the border”, Archbishop Martin continued, describing himself as a nationalist and the Church in Ireland “as one unit”.

“We talk about borders down the Irish Sea or what is the border between North and South going to look like.

“For me that presents a great challenge and a great opportunity for political people both North and South to try to present to us what greater unity looks like; what does greater harmony look like; and what does greater prosperity on this island look like”.

Go deeper

But despite that “great opportunity” in the future for more unity, harmony and prosperity in Ireland, it is essential that politicians, especially in Northern Ireland, get to work now, Martin said.

“It is essential that our parties return now to the [Northern Ireland] Assembly because it is one thing to say ‘get Brexit done’ but nothing has really been done”, the prelate deplored.

“We have no idea yet what the impact is going to be on communities around the border, what the impact is going to be on this island in terms of north-south and east-west trade”, he warned.

Why it matters

“I would be pretty mad, and most people would be” if talks didn’t resume soon at Stormont, Martin cautioned, referring to the negotiations, now paused for Christmas, aimed at restoring a power-sharing Executive.

Of the impasse in Northern Ireland, Martin warned: “The longer this goes on we are noticing the impact on people’s hospital appointments being cancelled because of health cuts, we are noticing it in our schools who are struggling to meet their budgets, and we are noticing it in a rising level of sectarianism which was during the summer”.

The archbishop said he was hoping the power-sharing talks “will bear fruit in the coming weeks”.

For the record

In the meantime, Martin, along with the leaders of other Churches in Ireland, has put his name to a common statement urging Northern Irish political parties to keep the focus on restoring devolution.

Joint statement of the Church leaders: ‘Time for a deal’

In their joint statement the leaders of the Church of Ireland, Methodist Church in Ireland, Roman Catholic Church, Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Irish Council of Churches said: “Like many across our community, we are disappointed that it has not been possible to restore the devolved institutions before Christmas.

As leaders of Ireland’s main churches, we want to encourage all those taking part and we pray that, together, they fully grasp this opportunity when they return to the negotiating table in January.”

The Church leaders continued: “It is incumbent on all of us to recognise the road that has been travelled since the collapse of the Executive nearly three years ago. It is a journey that has damaged our health service and our schools. It has also nurtured a growing sense of despair in our politics and contributed to additional hardships and worry experienced by the most vulnerable people in our society.

“While we acknowledge that points of difference obviously remain, the goal of restoring devolution remains within reach, even if it still rests a little way off. We add our collective support for this process and encourage those taking part to continue working creatively and courageously towards a deal that can bring stability and begin to restore a sense of hope. For the sake of the whole community, we urge all our political representatives to go that extra mile.

“It is our prayer that through generosity of spirit and courageous leadership a balanced accommodation that serves the common good, and has reconciliation at its heart, can be found and one that will lead to a sustainable power-sharing executive in the New Year.

“As the talks pause over the Christmas period and our thoughts turn once more to the birth of the Prince of Peace, it is our prayer that the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will also rest upon the whole community and the land that we share.”

Most Rev Dr Richard Clarke
Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of All Ireland

Rt Rev Dr William Henry
Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland

Most Rev Eamon Martin
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Dromore & Primate of all Ireland

Rev Sam McGuffin
President of the Methodist Church in Ireland

Rev Brian Anderson
President of the Irish Council of Churches

(Source: Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference)

Next on Novena:

Eamon Martin: “We don’t have Catholic representation in Westminster”

Armagh archbishop: “Dangerous factionalism” of Brexit “erodes integrity of democracy”

Bishop of Derry: “Brexit is being led by English nationalism”