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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 May 2006, 20:01 GMT 21:01 UK
Church leader to retire this year
Dr Robin  Eames
Archbishop Robin Eames is stepping down this year
The head of the Church of Ireland, Archbishop Robin Eames, has announced he is to retire at the end of the year.

Dr Eames, 69, who is Archbishop of Armagh, has said he will step down on 31 December.

He was ordained in 1964, and has been a bishop for more than 30 years. Dr Eames was appointed archbishop in 1986.

Dr Eames told members of the members of the church's General Synod that he had made the decision to retire after "much prayer, thought and discussion".

He said his memories were "of people rather than events".

Dr Eames said among his memories were "the dark years of the Troubles in this part of Ireland."

"I saw the heights of compassion and nobility as well as the weakness and evil of human character," he said.

"Now the struggle to build a new society of justice, equality and reconciliation demands renewed faith and renewed courage."

He pointed to changes within the church during his time, including the decision to ordain women and new attitudes to the remarriage of divorced parishioners.

'Constant joy and privilege'

"When my successor is chosen he will experience, I assure him, a life of constant demand, constant responsibility - but a life of constant joy and privilege," he said.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, paid tribute to his "courageous patient work" in the cause of reconciliation in Northern Ireland, which he said had been done "often very unobtrusively and at great risk".

His calm and dignified counsel, his compassionate and resolute foresight and his caring understanding have reassured many in the midst of turmoil and trouble
Archbishop Sean Brady
Catholic Primate
He described Dr Eames as "a person commanding trust from very many people".

He said he had asked Dr Eames to travel to Korea later this year to see how the Anglican Church could contribute to reconciliation there.

Presbyterian Church Moderator Dr Harry Uprichard said Archbishop Eames had given imaginative and constructive leadership on a community level.

"His commitment to a peaceful new society where everyone is valued has been an inspiration to many," he added.

Catholic Primate Archbishop Sean Brady said Dr Eames had provided wise, steady and confident leadership over the years to the Church of Ireland, both on the national and international scene.

"His calm and dignified counsel, his compassionate and resolute foresight and his caring understanding have reassured many in the midst of turmoil and trouble," he said.

Ulster Unionist deputy leader Danny Kennedy said Archbishop Eames had been a rock of decency and common sense and a respected ambassador for Northern Ireland.

"During the years in which our society suffered the onslaught of terrorism, Dr Eames spoke out with clarity and courage against the evil of terrorist violence, and - away from the media's attention - comforted those who lost loved ones during the troubles," the Newry and Armagh assembly member said.

He said many in political life were "aware of (his) wise counsel" that has "given encouragement to those committed to peace and democratic politics".

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said Archbishop Eames has "been a ceaseless advocate for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland".

"I have always appreciated and valued his friendship and good counsel particularly at difficult and sensitive times in the peace process," the Taoiseach added.

Irish President Mary McAleese said throughout his distinguished ministry, Archbishop Eames had been "a strong and insistent voice urging tolerance and respect for others."

Mrs McAleese said he was a man of deep faith who had made "a profound difference to the religious, political and social landscape of this island over the last 20 years".

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