Ireland’s primate expressed his “personal sense of sadness and loss” at the partition of Ireland during his New Year message.

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh is the Primate of All Ireland, and his archdiocese includes territory on both sides of the border that divides the island between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

2021 marked the centenary of the partition of the island, and 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of he bloodiest year of The Troubles, the conflict in Northern Ireland between predominantly Catholic Nationalists and predominantly Protestant Unionists that claimed over 3,500 lives. The conflict came to an end with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

“The importance of intergenerational partnership and dialogue on the island of Ireland came home to me last October when I joined with the other Church leaders to hold a Service of Reflection and Hope to mark the centenary of 1921,” the archbishop recalled.

“During the service I expressed a personal sense of sadness and loss at the partition of Ireland and, with my fellow religious leaders, I acknowledged that perhaps we in the Churches could have done more to deepen our understanding of each other and to bring healing and peace to our divided and wounded communities,” Martin said.

“We were blessed that so many young people took part in that Service in Armagh and they made such a refreshing and positive contribution – their presence and their youthful voices and singing were full of confidence and hope that they can be the ones to help to build the bridges necessary to overcome the mistrust and divisions of our past,” he continued.

Martin alluded to the political situation on the island of Ireland, where Brexit has disturbed the fragile peace, since the joint membership of the European Union had undergirded the 20-year-old peace deal. The prospect of border checks between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland –  as well as the prospect of border checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom – has put the Good Friday Agreement in jeopardy.

At the same time, it has emboldened Nationalist parties on both sides of the border seeking a United Ireland.

“As we begin a New Year, conversations are already taking place about what constitutional change and greater sharing on this island might look like.  Intergenerational dialogue has much to offer these conversations – balancing reflection on the past with hope for the future,” the archbishop said.

“Clearly, the issues of legacy and the reality of trauma experienced by many families here must be included and handled sensitively in these conversations.  Victims have spoken about the importance of continued access to justice, together with meaningful opportunities for truth and information recovery,” he continued.

Recently, the UK government has tried to draw a line under the crimes committed during The Troubles, drawing complaints from victims’ rights groups. The Catholic Church has insisted that this is a “betrayal of trust” to those “who have paid the highest price for the fragile peace we all enjoy today.”

“No line can easily be drawn on our past and there is clearly much work to be done in exploring and building a unity of hearts and minds towards a shared vision for our future in this island,” said during his New Year message.