Ulster Political Research Group
Ara Coeli, Armagh
Friday 24 April 2009
With my colleagues Bishop Treanor and Bishop Clifford, I was glad to have this opportunity to meet the Ulster Political Research Group and I thank them for coming to meet us here in Armagh, the See of St. Patrick.
We agreed to the meeting first and foremost because we are followers of Christ, committed to building peace, understanding and reconciliation in our society.
We wanted to help in any way we can to address fears and build trust. We especially wanted to better understand the concerns and hopes of the Loyalist community. We wanted to convey our concern about addressing social and economic need in areas where the Loyalist tradition is celebrated and cherished. We wanted to talk about building hope and confidence for all in these times of dramatic economic down-turn.
This was a highly significant meeting, important in its symbolism as well as its substance. We met to inspire hope, to encourage each other and our respective communities in working for a future based on peace, justice and a better way of life for all.
All those present agreed that to build this better future it is vital to liberate our society from the scourge of drugs, alcohol abuse, racism and criminality which compound social disadvantage and destroy hope.
Hope can be eroded by fear. Fear stifles individuals and communities; it deepens suspicion and undermines trust. The contribution of Christians is to identify and address fears where they threaten society and its hopes.
We conveyed to the UPRG the real fear that exists within the Catholic community about the possibility of future violent activity by Loyalist groups. We appreciate and are greatly encouraged by the assurance given by the UPRG today that there is no going back to the past, that together we are building a new future.
We all have a responsibility to help build that future for present and future generations. We all have a duty to ask ourselves what more we can do to remove the obstacles to trust which remain between our respective communities and traditions.
At the beginning of the meeting, I drew the attention of the UPRG representatives to a statement which was attributed to them in 1987. It read, ‘“there must be a mechanism created to harness the love, generosity, courage and integrity of Ulster people, in both religious communities, and direct its great power towards the light of a new beginning.” We share this commitment and we have agreed with the UPRG that we will continue to work with them and with other representatives of the Loyalist tradition, through our Northern Ireland Catholic Council on Social Affairs, to make this vision a reality.
There is no going back. The only viable future for Northern Ireland is a totally peaceful and reconciled future based on mutual respect and a shared commitment to peaceful and democratic means of dealing with age-old political differences. Our meeting today with the UPRG is, in my view, a reason to be hopeful about the future.
I want to thank you each of you, the reporters, for being here today and for reporting on this event. You too make an important contribution to peace by reporting events such as this. I know you will understand the sensitive nature of this meeting and why we have therefore agreed with the UPRG that we will be adding nothing further to our statement at this time.
Thank you again.