BY STAFF REPORTER
NORTHERN IRELAND’S Catholic bishops met representatives of a Loyalist group in an effort to build “peace, understanding and reconciliation”, Irish Cardinal Seán Brady of Armagh has said.
The cardinal, together with Armagh Auxiliary Bishop Gerard Clifford and Belfast Bishop Noel Treanor, met members of the Ulster Political Research Group, an advisory body linked to the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), an outlawed paramilitary group.
“This was a highly significant meeting, important in its symbolism as well as its substance,” Cardinal Brady said afterwards. “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.” Founded in 1970 to protect Protestants in Northern Ireland from nationalist violence, the UDA and its military wing, the Ulster Freedom Fighters, were involved in more than 250 murders, mostly of Catholics.
Archbishop Brady said: “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 downturn.” Although the UDA has been honouring a ceasefire since 2007 the bishops told the Ulster Political Research Group there was still “real fear within the Catholic community” that they would renew violent activity in the future.
Cardinal Brady said the bishops were “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”.
“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,” he added.
Frankie Gallagher, spokesman for the research group, said the issue of decommissioning weapons was not discussed at the meeting.
“We acknowledge the concerns expressed by Cardinal Brady of the fears that exist within the Catholic community, as many of the Protestant community share similar fears from extreme nationalist elements,” Mr Gallagher said. “We hope that today’s meeting has gone some way to alleviating those fears.”