The first bilateral meeting between representatives of the Catholic Church and the Irish Government took place today as part of the new structured dialogue between the Government and the Churches, Philosophical and non confessional Organisations launched by the Government on 26th February this year.

The delegation from the Catholic Church included Archbishop Sen Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and President of the Irish Bishops Conference, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin and Vice-President of the Irish Bishops Conference and Bishop Leo OReilly, Bishop of Kilmore and Chairman of the Bishops Commission on Education. Others present included Monsignor Jim Cassin, Secretary to the Bishops Commission on Education, Monsignor Dan OConnor, Secretary of the Catholic Primary School Managers Association, Mr John Farrelly, Director of Counselling Services with ACCORD (the Catholic Marriage Care Service), Mr Eoin OMahony from the Council for Research and Development of the Irish Bishops Conference and Fr Timothy Bartlett from the Secretariat of the Irish Bishops Conference.

Topics discussed at the meeting included the peace process in Northern Ireland, the role of Churches in building community and social cohesion, issues in Education, providing support for marriage and the family, the integration of immigrants into Irish society, the right of faith based organisations to act in accordance with conscience and ethos, child protection and stem cell research.

Speaking after the meeting, a spokesperson for the Church delegation said:

It was a very constructive and helpful meeting. We look forward to exploring some of the topics raised today in more detail at future meetings, particularly the role that Churches play in building community and providing a supportive and welcoming environment for those coming to live and work in our country. This type of structured dialogue between the Government and Churches, Philosophical and non confessional Organisations is a very welcome development, acknowledging as it does the vital role of religious faith in the lives of so many people in Ireland and the valued contribution of so many faith-based organisations to the common good, while at the same time respecting the legitimate and necessary autonomy of Church and State.