Protestant politician meets Ireland’s Catholic Church leader for first time
BELFAST, Northern Ireland – Northern Ireland’s dominant Protestant leader, who has long denounced the Roman Catholic Church as corrupt and heretical, held talks Monday for the first time with the leader of the church in Ireland.Ian Paisley’s meeting with Archbishop Sean Brady, leader of Ireland’s 4 million Catholics, was timed to signal Paisley’s willingness to work with Catholics on the eve of negotiations to revive power-sharing in Northern Ireland, the central goal of the Good Friday peace accord of 1998.Britain and Ireland, which are leading three days of multiparty negotiations starting Wednesday in Scotland, have given the Northern Ireland Assembly a Nov. 24 deadline to elect a Catholic-Protestant administration or be shut down.Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party, which represents most of the province’s British Protestant majority, is pivotal to the outcome. He has refused to share power with his enemies in Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army-linked party that represents most Catholics, citing its hostility to the police as a primary obstacle.TV cameras captured Paisley and Brady exchanging pleasantries and quips over a light brunch of tea and scones. But journalists were not permitted to record the substance of their 90-minute discussion.Brady said they discussed many social issues, including their shared opposition to abortion, euthanasia and stem-cell research, as well as their shared hope for forging a stable government in Northern Ireland.Brady said the meeting was “very constructive and helpful” and demonstrated “that all of us have a part to play in creating a more stable and prosperous future for Northern Ireland.””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 interests,” he said.Paisley read a statement that reflected his difficulties with the session. He described Brady not as the top-ranking figure in the Irish church but instead as the leader of the church’s social affairs committee in Northern Ireland, a much lower position. Nonetheless, he welcomed their dialogue.”We have had a very good and useful exchange of views across a range of issues. It is in the interests of everyone to develop the foundations for stability and prosperity for all the people of Northern Ireland,” Paisley said.Both Brady and Paisley pledged to meet again.Paisley, who leads a stridently anti-Catholic denomination called the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster that he founded in 1951, agrees with many of the Catholic Church’s tough lines on moral issues. But he has repeatedly denounced Catholic beliefs, policies and structures.In 1988, he heckled Pope John Paul II during the pontiff’s speech to the European Parliament, shouting “I renounce you as the antichrist!” before security staff and other parliamentarians dragged him from the chamber.The Democratic Unionists say they will not cooperate with Sinn Fein until the party accepts the authority of the Northern Ireland police force. Sinn Fein has said it could do this if powers to oversee the criminal justice system, including the police, are transferred from Britain to local – potentially Sinn Fein – hands.Britain last week published a bill that, in event of a Democratic Unionist-Sinn Fein deal, would permit this transfer of power.
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