.- Archbishop Seán Brady of Armagh said yesterday’s formal talks between Northern Ireland’s Roman Catholic Church and the province’s largest Protestant political party were “very helpful and constructive.”
“Today’s meeting confirmed to me that all of us have a part to play in creating a more stable and prosperous future for Northern Ireland,” he said in a statement, released by the Northern Ireland Catholic Council on Social Affairs.
“I think that real peace will come only when we focus on the common good of all of our society and not just on sectional interest,” he added.
The Northern Ireland Catholic Council on Social Affairs and the Protestant Democratic Unionist Party exchanged views on poverty and social need, adequate funding for education, the right to faith-based schools, support for the family - based on marriage, and the benefits of stable self-government.
Rev. Ian Paisley, who leads the Protestant party, agreed that the meeting served as “useful exchange of views across a range of issues,” reported the New York Times.
“It is in the interests of everyone to develop the foundations for stability and prosperity for all the people of Northern Ireland,” Paisley reportedly said.
Over the years, Paisley has been open in his hatred for the Catholic Church. In 1988, as a member of the European Parliament, he interrupted a speech by Pope John Paul II by shouting, “I renounce you as the Antichrist!” He held up a poster to the same effect.
A spokesman for the Democratic Unionist Party stressed in an interview yesterday that the meeting was political, not religious, and refused to get into Paisley’s views on Catholicism, reported the Times.
Archbishop Brady said he looks forward to further meetings with Paisley and his colleagues.
“A lot of progress has been made,” the archbishop stated. “Hopes are now rising for further progress. I pray that these hopes may not be dashed but realized abundantly.”
On Thursday, the prime ministers of Great Britain and Ireland are to meet with the leaders of the largest Catholic and Protestant political parties in Northern Ireland to discuss restoring self-government to the province.
Northern Ireland’s experiment in self-government, set up after the Good Friday peace accords in 1998, failed. The British government reintroduced direct rule amid charges of Republican spying and the I.R.A.’s failure to dismantle its arsenal.
Last week, the independent group monitoring the cease-fire in Northern Ireland said the I.R.A., was no longer sponsoring criminal activities. The I.R.A. formally renounced violence last year.