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Northern Ireland hopes raised after Protestant politician meets


The Rev. Ian Paisley, who heads Northern Ireland’s largest political party, the Democratic Unionist Party, has met the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland in what has been hailed as a step to overcome tension in the religiously-divided territory.

Paisley, who has in the past faced accusations of making inflammatory remarks against Roman Catholics, met the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All-Ireland, Dr Sean Brady, in Belfast on 9 October.

"We had a very good and useful exchange of views across a range of issues," Paisley, who also leads the Free Presbyterian Church, was quoted by the BBC as saying after the meeting.  "It is in the interests of everyone to develop the foundations for stability and prosperity for all the people of Northern Ireland."

The meeting came before talks scheduled for 11 October between the Irish and British governments and Northern Ireland’s political parties.  The talks are intended to revive a power-sharing administration between Protestants and Roman Catholics for the territory, which is part of the United Kingdom but contains a significant minority who wish to see a united Ireland.

A commentary in the Belfast Telegraph newspaper said the Paisley-Brady meeting opened the way to a more constructive relationship in Northern Ireland, where sectarian tensions between Protestant and Catholic communities are said to be continuing, despite a 1998 peace agreement ending three decades of armed conflict.

It stated: "The warm tone of each leader’s statement belied the fraught tensions of earlier years when Mr Paisley was forging his name as a fiery street politician who made bitter attacks on Catholicism and on successive Popes."

Archbishop Brady said the meeting was "helpful and constructive".

He said: "I firmly believe that such a future is within our grasp if each one of us can find the courage to take account of the needs of the other and not just those of our own community."

Protestants account for 53.13 per cent of Northern Ireland’s 1.7 million residents, according to 2001 census figure. Catholics make up 43.76 per cent of the population.

(c) Ecumenical News International