McAleese warns of potential Brexit toll on Belfast Agreement

Small constituencies may ‘still have a grá for old violence’, former president tells podcast

Former president Mary McAleese has warned of possible implications of Brexit and a referendum on Irish unity for the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

“The Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement never foresaw Brexit and did not have built into it a mechanism for dealing with such a phenomenon,” she said, “so it hasn’t been road-tested against Brexit. Nor has it been road-tested against a referendum on partition.

“The vast majority of people signed up to the idea of that referendum but there are people who didn’t. There are small constituencies which didn’t, and would still have a grá for the old violence possibly.

“We have to ensure that we work to create a stable sense of good neighbourliness that will allow us to approach both Brexit and its consequences, and the possibility of a referendum and its consequences, without destabilisation and without the pull of old sectarian pathways,” she said.


Mary Kennedy

Mrs McAleese was speaking in an interview with broadcaster Mary Kennedy to be released on the Senior Times podcast on Tuesday.

The former president also spoke of a new "momentum growing" in favour of full equality for LGBTI people and women in the Catholic Church, a momentum she described as essential to the Catholic Church's survival.

It follows Pope Francis’s endorsement of same-sex civil unions last week.

In the interview Mrs McAleese said she feels “There is a momentum growing now. I feel the wheels of a momentum growing” in the Catholic Church. “I’m not saying that it is in first gear or anywhere near first gear. But certainly there is a building-up of momentum.”

She felt “the Catholic Church of the future, if it fails to address these issues, if they fail to honour the full equality and equal dignity of women, if they fail to honour the full equality and equal dignity of LGBTI people, it’s going to be lost, it will be lost probably in the next generation”.

Same-sex marriage

In the wide-ranging interview Mrs McAleese also speaks of her happiness at her son Justin's same-sex marriage, her own upbringing in Belfast, the achievements of her two-term presidency, including the 2011 visit of Queen Elizabeth to Ireland, and her current work as a canon lawyer to secure reform in the Catholic Church.

Mrs McAleese’s recently published memoir Here’s the Story remains in Ireland’s bestseller list and was nominated last week for a Book of the Year Award in the non-fiction category.

Her interview with Kennedy is the third of eight to be released by Senior Times featuring Ireland’s leading women writers. The series continues with new podcasts every Tuesday until December 1st and is available at as well as on all major podcast platforms.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times