The Archbishop of Armagh has urged politicians in the North not to undo the progress made during the peace process following a return to a “language of division” in the run up to the Assembly election last week.
Archbishop Eamon Martin expressed concern that the principles of the Good Friday Agreement “are perhaps not as deeply embedded as we might have hoped”.
“There has been a return to the language of division and difference and it is important that everyone in the community gets behind our newly elected representatives and urges them not to unravel the tremendous progress that has been made over the past 20 years,” he said.
“We all have responsibilities in this regard including the Churches, the business community as well as the British and Irish governments as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement and peace process. We must all avoid the use of harsh or angry language or the temptation to play the ‘blame game’ rather than accepting our collective responsibility for the past, present and future,” Archbishop Eamon said.
“Our politicians have a precious vocation to work for the common good and exercise their leadership through the careful practice of compromise and agreement.”
The primate of All-Ireland said the importance of the Good Friday Agreement cannot be underestimated and that “people around the world look to Northern Ireland as an example of people sorting out their differences”.
Recalling his own childhood in Derry “during troubled times and in a troubled and divided city”, he said he would be “terribly disappointed” if a new generation of young people who have grown up in peaceful times “would be manipulated into violence”. “As a society we have hardly yet begun to tackle the terrible legacy of trauma that the years of violence left behind,” he said.
Northern Ireland has experienced a political shake up after last Friday’s extraordinary election saw Sinn Féin surge and unionists lose their majority for the first time in history. A return to power-sharing is now in question, as Sinn Féin has previously refused to rule along with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Sinn Féin, which supports abortion in certain circumstances, now has 27 seats in the Assembly, just one fewer than the DUP which now has 28 seats. The DUP’s losses mean it no longer has enough seats for the 30 signatures needed to invoke a “petition of concern”, which pro-life groups had hoped would veto a change in legislation proposed by David Ford MLA to allow abortion in the case of foetuses with life limiting conditions.
However, Bernadette Smyth of Precious Life told The Irish Catholic that “we don’t feel that all is lost” and “we are calling on the SDLP and Ulster Unionist pro-life politicians to ensure that the petition is used”.