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UK News

Bishop asks new PM to tread carefully with Irish border

by Cara Bentley

The Rt Rev John McDowell, the bishop of Clogher, a diocese that cuts across the Irish border, has written in the Daily Telegraph to ask Boris Johnson to consider his legacy when it comes to the Irish border.

The bishop, whose diocese includes County Monaghan in the Republic of Ireland and County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland, wrote an open letter to Mr Johnson, saying: "I am writing as someone who has always recognised the almost impossible difficulties and stresses placed on those who have a vocation to public life, particularly politicians...But sometimes an individual should say things which might otherwise go unheard in the cacophony of other, better-known voices; the alternative would be to simply wither in the silence of exhaustion."

Rt Rev John McDowell explained that his job is to care for people on both sides of the border and that "although our priorities and the methods we use to achieve them may be different, I think it is fair to say that our goals overlap; nowhere more so than in the current difficulties surrounding brexit and the Border, which (very worryingly) give every impression of escalating towards a crisis. For those of us old enough to have lived through longest civil conflict in post-War Europe, the very word 'escalation' is resonant with overtones of lived horror and real tragedy. As such, it is reassuring that those in power on both sides have repeated their desire to find answers to the brexit/border conundrum problems that protect what has been achieved here since 1998.

"What your government chooses to do to that end will be inevitably one of historical magnitude."

He then called on the prime minister to sift through evidence, consider policy options and take into account the needs of society as a whole and not to be "irresponsible or careless".

"No government should commit a country to a course of action in which the consequences were so opaque as to be incalculable. It would, therefore, be both logically and morally correct for a prime minister to give deep pause before allowing a no-deal brexit" he wrote.

"The border and the problems which it poses for any form of brexit are not only technical or technological issues. Nor are they simply issues to do with trade or security matters. Expressed in the starkest terms, the Border is the background against which all political and much cultural life in Northern Ireland (and in a more limited way in the Republic of Ireland) is worked out. Some people like the border and others do not, but positively or negatively, consciously or unconsciously, it is pivotal to how politicians and people here assess almost all policy alternatives.

"The ground on which people build and grow in the border region feels particularly fragile today. It is almost possible to feel the heat of the past burning the soles of our feet. So, please, in your consideration of the future of this place: tread carefully. And with deep and genuine concern I would ask you to be very conscious of the legacy your government will leave."

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