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IRELAND: Anglican leader to tackle sectarian tensions after meeting Sinn Fein

By Ray McMenamin

Archbishop Robin Eames, Primate of the Church of Ireland  

[Ecumenical News International]  The Anglican Church of Ireland has pledged to combat sectarianism in Northern Ireland, following a meeting with leaders of the Sinn Fein political party, which wants to see the British-governed territory become part of a united Ireland.

"We acknowledge the ongoing existence of sectarianism within all parts of our society and our responsibility to give leadership within our own church and beyond to end such practices," the denomination's leader, Archbishop Robin Eames, said after the October 23 meeting.

The talks -- described by both sides as positive -- represented the first public meeting between the leadership of the Church of Ireland and that of the predominantly Roman Catholic-supported Sinn Fein, which has links to the outlawed Provisional Irish Republican Army.

Sectarian tensions between Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland are said to be continuing, despite a 1998 peace agreement ending three decades of armed conflict.

Eames headed the Anglican deputation to the talks in Belfast, while the Sinn Fein delegation was led by the party's president, Gerry Adams. They were part of a series of meetings between the Church of Ireland and political parties in Northern Ireland.

The talks came after a meeting earlier in October between the Rev. Ian Paisley, who heads Northern Ireland's largest political party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Sean Brady.

Northern Ireland's political parties are engaged in efforts to revive a power-sharing administration between Protestants and Roman Catholics for the territory.

The DUP draws its support mainly from Protestants and it has demanded that Sinn Fein first make a formal commitment to support the territory's police force, which historically has been distrusted by many Catholics.

Eames said he wanted to encourage Sinn Fein in its plans to consult its membership on the issue. "Political and social progress can only be achieved by full and equal participation in the structures of democracy with support for policing," he said.

Protestants account for 53.13 percent of Northern Ireland's 1.7 million residents, according to the 2001 census. Catholics make up 43.76 percent of the population.