13 October 2020, The Tablet

Catholic bishops call for Good Friday principles to be upheld

Catholic bishops call for Good Friday principles to be upheld

A 'betrayal of trust' – Northern Ireland bishops are concerned that the principles of the Good Friday agreement should be upheld.
Ray Tang/Xinhua/PA

The Northern bishops have written to key officials involved in the Brexit negotiations underlining that any deal which is agreed “must uphold and maintain” the provisions and principles of the Good Friday Agreement and ensure that there is no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland.

In their letter, the bishops said the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, which was agreed by all Brexit negotiating parties, ensured that there would be no return to border infrastructure on the island of Ireland.

The UK government, the bishops highlighted, was a signatory to this Protocol as part of the Withdrawal Agreement, and had affirmed the importance of this provision for the future peace and stability of the island of Ireland.

But as Boris Johnson’s government had now announced that it would break its obligations under that legal agreement, “we must warn that a return to any border apparatus on this island (even if it be for customs and trade checks only) would be a dangerous backward step,” the five bishops said. 

In an interview with BBC Northern Ireland’s Sunday Sequence radio programme, one of the letter’s signatories, Bishop Alan McGuckian of Raphoe warned that the Good Friday Agreement had been the “cornerstone” of the peace that Northern Ireland has known in recent decades and “that is why it is so precious”.

He said any break from the Good Friday Agreement would be “dangerous, backward and threatening to peace”.

He also described Prime Minister Johnson’s decision to break international law by overriding some aspects of the withdrawal agreement in the Internal Market Bill as “a betrayal of trust”.

The Bishop of Raphoe said that while the Good Friday Agreement had brought about peace, there was still an “imperfect reconciliation” in Northern Ireland and that the work of the agreement was incomplete.

“The very idea of it being undermined or set aside at this stage is just unthinkable,” he said.

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