MAY, 1998

I gladly welcome you Mr. President, and I hope your stay in our country will be a very happy and very fruitful one. I think that our presence here as a group will prove the untruth of the assertion that the troubles in Northern Ireland are essentially religious troubles.

We – representatives of the Four Main Churches – meet many times each year at various levels and a good working relationship exists between us. The fact that you have asked to meet us underlines once again your conviction, I think, that religion has an important part to play in the life of modern Europe – that it must not be banished or relegated to the sacristy as some of the enemies of religion would wish to have them.

Your own efforts to underpin the Economic and Monetary Union with an ethical basis and framework of ethical values is entirely laudable. I was very pleased to read of the important presence of people from the European Union at the Symposium sponsored recently in Brussels at which Mr. Tiedemayer spoke and also Mons. Diarmuid Martin – on the implications of the EURO. There is a price – a moral price to be paid for undertaking the task of putting a soul into Europe. That price involves solidarity with the weaker elements and poorer regions of the Union. It involves taking decisions to give to those in greatest need and that inevitably involves taking from those who have the greatest capacity to give.

The work of the Local Partnerships is very important in breaking down barriers of fear and suspicion and it provides a very valuable subvention for some of the most remote areas. It is essential for the future of the whole peace endeavour.

I would view with great alarm the gradual denudation and decimation of the countryside which is taking place in Ireland as well as in England, Scotland and Wales. That way of life had a great solidarity and stability about it which is conducive to the inculcation of a greater sense of responsibility.
The inclusion of a Church clause in a protocol to the recent Treaty of Amsterdam was a source of gratification to many people. It indicates, I think, a copper fastening of the position of the Churches in society.