Ahead of the Irish General Election this Saturday, the Archbishop of Armagh has said plans for a poll on Irish reunification should proceed slowly but surely.

Driving the news

The exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union but also the unexpected surge in support for Irish nationalist party Sinn Féin has put a possible border poll for Irish reunification front and centre in campaigning for the election February 8.

So much so that as many as four in five Irish people want a united Ireland.

But Armagh archbishop and Primate of All Ireland Eamon Martin told the Irish Catholic this week that even though he personally backed such a poll for Irish reunification, politicians needed to proceed slowly on that and take into consideration all the voices and points of view in the debate.

“You hear a lot of talk for example about a border poll – I would be along the lines of those who think that this is something we must work slowly towards”, Martin said.

“If there is to be a border poll it must be prepared for and it must be in a way that only takes place whenever we’re confident that the necessary building of relationships in these islands, north, south, east and west are sound and are indeed mature enough to accept the outworking of such a border poll”.

Go deeper

On the fallout from Brexit, Martin said “this reconfiguration and this recalibration of relationships will demand a lot of positivity from everybody, and a lot of willingness to work through whatever tricky issues begin to emerge”.

“People talk about getting Brexit done, Brexit hasn’t even begun and I think that certainly border communities – and I’m speaking to the people involved in agriculture, in fisheries and in small and medium enterprise businesses – are concerned that the outworking of Brexit does not impact unfairly on border communities”, the archbishop continued.

Martin had previously come out in cautious support for a border poll in December, saying after Boris Johnson’s win as UK Prime Minister – with his determined Brexit plans – that “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”.

Why it matters

As for his guidance today to voters, Archbishop Martin and his auxiliary bishop, Michael Router, issued a statement January 31 concerning the election.

The voting today, the prelates said, “provides an opportunity for citizens to choose those who will govern our country and a chance to set out the changes they wish to see”.

Bishops Martin and Router urged voters to pay particular attention to a series of policy issues, on housing, health care, crime and gangland violence, Brexit and a “consistent culture of life”.

“It is a privilege and a social responsibility to vote in elections and something that should never be taken for granted”, Martin and Router reminded voters.

“We encourage everyone to exercise their right to vote, and, before doing so, to question and challenge the candidates on these important issues. We also ask for prayers for our politicians – that they may build in Ireland a truly compassionate society that respects all life and puts people first”.

For the full election statement of Bishops Martin and Router, click here

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.