Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Pope Benedict XVI discussed the North of Ireland at the Vatican on Thursday.
After his meetings with the Pope and Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Sodano, Mr Ahern said the Pope had expressed the hope there would be progress in Ireland in the weeks ahead “which would allow us to go back to build the trust and confidence we had”.
He said that for him personally and as a Catholic, yesterday’s private audience was “a great honour” and “a huge personal pleasure”. It was also an acknowledgment of “the strong ties of history and affection” between the Holy See and Ireland.
Mr Ahern met the Pope for about 20 minutes and Cardinal Sodano for over half an hour. Afterwards he visited the tomb of Pope John Paul II, where he laid a bouquet and said a prayer.
Mr Ahern said had found Pope Benedict “a very nice, kind, gentle man” and that discussions had ranged over church-State dialogue and the European Constitution.
The Pope had also expressed “huge appreciation” for Ireland’s efforts and the contribution of Irish people in helping the developing world, whether in matters of health and education, or in fighting for human rights.
It was also revealed that there are no plans underway for a papal visit to Ireland.
Meanhwile, former US Senator George Mitchell has urged the British and Irish governments and the North’s political representatives to make progress on restoring power-sharing at Stormont.
The man who helped broker the 1998 Good Friday Agreement was speaking at Belfast’s Linen Hall Library at a ceremony for 12 American scholars studying in Ireland.
“There has been some degree of progress, but the (Good Friday) agreement has not been fully implemented or achieved,” he said.
“We all hope and pray that governments and political leaders of Northern Ireland will see their way through to complete the process.”
“Northern Ireland is a great place to live, to work. The people here are so energetic and engaging. I really hope they continue to dedicate themselves and strive for prosperity,” Senator Mitchell added.
“It’s very difficult for people who come here not to fall in love with the country, as I have.”