Varadkar: pope should visit Northern Ireland

Taoiseach tells bishops church-school divestment should be parents’ choice

Pope Francis on his visit to Colombia earlier this month. Varadkar expressed his wish that the pope would visit the North on his Irish visit. Photograph: Luis Eduardo Noriega/EPA

Pope Francis on his visit to Colombia earlier this month. Varadkar expressed his wish that the pope would visit the North on his Irish visit. Photograph: Luis Eduardo Noriega/EPA

 

Divestment of schools from church patronage should only occur where parents want it to happen, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told the Dáil.

He said he expressed that view in a meeting with members of the Catholic church last month, which was led by Archbishop Eamon Martin.

The pope’s proposed visit to Ireland next year for the world meeting of families was also discussed and the Taoiseach expressed the wish to the bishops that “the Holy Father” would consider travelling to Northern Ireland.

“Unfortunately, when John Paul II visited Ireland he was not able to travel North and made his plea for peace from Dublin,” he said.

He would like to see Pope Francis visit the North during his trip to Ireland in August 2018.

Mr Varadkar was responding to questions about his meeting with Catholic church representatives, which also included aid agency Trócaire. The Taoiseach was accompanied by five Ministers at the two-hour meeting.

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith said the church had only paid 13 per cent or €85 million of €700 million pledged to fund redress.

Public statements

Former Labour leader Joan Burton said church leaders had made public statements supporting school divestment in particular but it was “very slow in practice”.

The Taoiseach said he told the meeting,“we would like to see more divestment occurring but our principal interest in doing so was taking into account the view of parents and that was the most important thing.”

He added that “divestment should only occur where the parents and prospective parents of children attending those schools want it to occur”.

The Government wanted the issue of redress concluded. “We would like to see a financial settlement that would involve the payment of many millions of euro to the taxpayer to help us cover the cost of compensation for people.”

Mr Varadkar also told Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin that the Government would do its best to facilitate the pope in his visit to Ireland and “any programme that he wanted to engage in, in any part of Ireland, and would put at his disposal the necessary support from the security forces and other groups”.