Catholic priests have added their voices to calls for the Government not to forget Northern nationalists as talks on a Brexit deal intensify.
“It’s of crucial importance to us that there be no border,” Fr Maurice McMorrow of the Diocese of Kilmore told The Irish Catholic. “We don’t want to see a mishmash of a job where we fall foul of the whole situation, but that’s what could happen between Theresa May’s situation and her political considerations.”
Fr McMorrow, whose parish of Killesher and Kinawley straddles the border between Cavan and Fermanagh, is one of five priests who have signed an open letter to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, reminding the Government of its December 2017 promise to guard the interests of Northern nationalists in the Brexit negotiations and guarantee to protect their rights as Irish citizens.
Noting that the North’s political institutions remain suspended and the British government continues to rely on the DUP, the letter observes that “there is a very real potential that partition could be reinforced, and our country and our people further divided”, calling on the Government to redouble its efforts.
Among the letter’s 1,000 signatories are film director Jim Sheridan, actor Adrian Dunbar and footballer James McClean.
“The way the North is at the moment, I have really no public representatives fighting my corner,” Kildress, Co. Tyrone priest Fr Patrick Hughes told The Irish Catholic. “I have no one at the moment who’s a spokesman for me, and I feel that the only one is the Taoiseach. He’s the one that we’re looking to to make sure that our rights are kept to the fore.”
Raising concerns about post-Brexit medical care and university access in the Republic for Irish citizens from the North, Fr Hughes said: “The practicalities are not discussed at all. We don’t know where we stand.”
“I just feel that we don’t have anybody – we have no government here in Northern Ireland and we have nobody speaking for us in Westminster either, so we just could fall very easily at the end of negotiations when they’re trying to rush it through. We could be all neglected,” he said.
Stressing that both Protestants and Catholics in border communities are concerned about the prospect of a hard border, and that he had not signed the letter as a partisan gesture, Fr McMorrow said: “It’s just to keep it on the agenda fairly firmly that we be looked after, because a border would be very much a retrograde step for the Peace Process.”
There is a concern in the area that a hardened border could revive old tensions, he added.
“We’re very much on the coalface, because we suffered in the past detrimentally in the parish here,” he said. “That’d be our fear, that we’d be reverting back to some sort of instability.”