Archbishops express concern over impact of Brexit

Church of Ireland cleric says UK voting to leave would have a ‘massive effect’ on Ireland

The Church of Ireland’s two archbishops have expressed strong concerns at the possibility of a vote by the UK to leave the EU in next month’s referendum.

"I see it as having a massive effect on the Church of Ireland and on the island of Ireland, socially, economically and politically," the church's primate and Archbishop of Armagh Richard Clarke said on Thursday afternoon.

Speaking at a press conference in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, on the first day of the church's General Synod 2016, he asked: "[When travelling from my base in Armagh], would I have to produce my passport to visit Drogheda, which is part of Armagh diocese?"

He said he was also “very conscious of the fact that my own viewpoint is very much that of an individual. I cannot pretend that it is a theological issue.


“I don’t normally keep quiet about things I feel passionately about and I do feel this is a very serious matter, but I need to be just careful that what I might say and really believe as a citizen of the Republic of Ireland is not what I am saying in terms of the theological aspects of it, because I’m not convinced there are necessarily theological ramifications.

“I think it is entirely social, political, economical.”

The Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson felt there might be theological implications to a vote to leave the EU.

“I think there are some that could come through because of it,” he said.

He said that, over recent years, “the rapprochement across the island of Ireland is something in which I think everybody rejoices.

“Certainly within the Church of Ireland it is a great enrichment to our sense of belonging in Ireland to one another.”

He said “the ease with which we relate . . . between Dublin and Belfast” was “something very important as we move forward from 2016 and I think, inevitably, a changed political focus around a recognition that we are two islands off a continent.

“We’re currently partners with that continent, but to change that I think will shift tremendously the focus of identity.”

He said there were “tremendous warning lights about leaving” the EU.

Asked about the position of Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster, a member of the Church of Ireland who is calling for the UK to leave the EU, he said: "I wouldn't want to contradict someone of the significance and political importance of the First Minister but I would want to say that there are warnings [against leaving the EU].

“It’s very often when something’s gone that you realise that it was quite good.”

‘The North’

Archbishop Jackson also said he did not like the phrase "the North" when referring to Northern Ireland.

He said “The North” “seemed to express that in some way it was part of something that had got away, rather than Northern Ireland having a developing and self-confident independent political identity”.

He said he favoured “proper designation of the political land masses within the one island that would give dignity to the political struggles that were made in both parts, while we’re all Ireland”.

In his presidential address to the General Synod, Archbishop Clarke said that he and the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin were to make joint visits to Glasnevin cemetery and the Somme in France next month accompanied by young people from both churches.

“That journey will start in Glasnevin cemetery at the new memorial wall that remembers by name all those who died at the Easter Rising in Dublin 1916 - Irish, British, military and civilian.”

They will go from the cemetery to the Somme and visit the Irish Peace Park in Messines.

It would be “a shared journey on so many different levels, reflecting on our past but also looking to how we can shape our future”, he said.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times