The Brexit impasse over the border and the North needs to be overcome as a matter of urgency, Bishop Donal McKeown has said.
Bishop McKeown’s comments followed the breakdown of EU-UK talks after Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party rejected a plan for Northern Ireland to retain “regulatory alignment” with the Republic, thus effectively retaining the all-Ireland economy that has been built over the past 20 years.
Speaking to The Irish Catholic, the Derry bishop, whose diocese is split by the border, expressed confidence that a resolution can be reached.
“I think we’ve all discovered down through the years that politicians eventually reach agreements of one sort or another,” he said.
Maintaining that religious leaders should not direct politicians as to how they should reach agreements or what agreements they should reach, he said it was nonetheless vital that politics be seen as capable of tackling apparently insurmountable problems.
“It’s important, particularly in Northern Ireland, that politics is seen to work, because there’s been a long history in Northern Ireland of people stepping into the gap if politics aren’t working,” he said, adding “that applies both to local issues and to international issues, whether it’s Brexit or whether it’s the Peace Process in Northern Ireland”.
Dr McKeown added that when faced with such problems, politicians should look beyond their own electoral bases and think in terms of the needs of the community as a whole.
“Politicians are there to serve the people, particularly those who are most in need,” he said. “Politicians are not there at the service of the parties and their electorates – they are there to be servants of the population, and should not be tempted to use the populace for party issues above and beyond what people need.”
He expressed concern about how failures to come to an agreement over the border and the status of the North had created an unwelcome uncertainty, which raises concerns about the economic and social fallout of Brexit in Ireland north and south.
“The whole issue of uncertainty is very unwelcome – the whole area of creating difficulties for employment on the island of Ireland is a major concern for us, because that effects everyone including the vulnerable in society,” he said.