Pope sees IRA move as bringing hope

 

Pope Benedict XVI yesterday welcomed last Thursday's IRA statement, saying it brought "satisfaction and hope" not only to the island of Ireland but to the whole international community.

In an address to crowds at his summer residence Castelgandolfo, near Rome, he described the statement as "fine news that contrasts with the painful events that we witness daily in many parts of the world".

Also yesterday Archbishop Seán Brady told a west Belfast festival audience at St Oliver Plunkett's Church in Lenadoon that he hoped the Provisionals would follow through on commitments made in the organisation's recent statement and urged Catholics to join the PSNI.

The Pope was speaking during his weekly appearance following the Angelus. "I encourage everyone, without exception, to follow the path set out with courage, and to take further measures to reinforce mutual trust, promote reconciliation and consolidate negotiations for a just and lasting peace," the Pope said.

He said he was echoing a call by the late Pope John Paul II on his visit to Ireland in 1979 to "distance oneself from the paths of violence and return to the road to peace".

Pope Benedict's words were welcomed by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern who said he had "had the opportunity" to discuss the situation in Northern Ireland with him during a visit to the Vatican last month.

He also said it was "a matter of regret that John Paul II did not live to see this further, and potentially historic, response to his appeal".

The Taoiseach Bertie Ahernsaid the Pope's remarks were "a reminder of the major contribution to the peace process made by clergy of all traditions".

Meanwhile, the Minister for Justice Michael McDowell has ruled out suggestions that MPs from Northern Ireland be given an automatic right to address the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The Taoiseach has given a commitment to Sinn Féin that he would discuss the issue with other party leaders in the Oireachtas.

Mr Ahern said the issue would require all-party agreement.

Speaking on the Sunday Show on Today FM yesterday, Mr McDowell said he did not "believe there's all-party agreement".

"Certainly the Progressive Democrats don't agree that any person should be entitled as of right to address the Dáil because they're elected to Westminster," he said.

There were, however, proposals that some members of the Seanad be elected from Northern Ireland, which was a totally different issue, he said.

Speaking on the same programme, Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald accused Mr McDowell of being too alarmist, and said she believed that such a measure was needed in the interim, in the absence of cross-Border parliamentary forums.

Yesterday Northern Secretary Peter Hain told RTÉ News that he hoped to begin discussions with political parties in the North about the restoration of institutions there.

Mr Hain would not predict when the institutions would be restored, however, although it is widely accepted that nothing formal will occur before the expected report by the International Monitoring Commission on paramilitary activity in January.

Mr Hain also defended his decision to return the Shankill road bomber Seán Kelly to prison in late June and said the decision was based on alleged activity "going back quite a long time", as opposed to his role in north Belfast in June during disturbances.

He was described by a number of people as being involved in defusing the situation there at the time.