Church leaders decry poverty and political vacuum in North

Ongoing uncertainty of Brexit ‘drains hope’ from society, says joint new year’s message

Food banks: The religious said that the “marked increase in people needing to avail of such facilities” is a worrying trend. File photograph: The Irish Times

Food banks: The religious said that the “marked increase in people needing to avail of such facilities” is a worrying trend. File photograph: The Irish Times

 

Brexit, the increasing number of people in need of food parcels and the lack of a government in Northern Ireland “drains hope” from society, according to a joint new year message from church leaders.

The message was signed by the leaders of the Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Methodist Church and the Church of Ireland as well as the Irish Council of Churches. It urged all political leaders “to make a difference and to bring a sense of hope”.

The church leaders said the “ongoing uncertainty of Brexit has added to the worries, of businesspeople and ordinary citizens alike. Many businesses fear for the future, while many families, struggling to make ends meet today, are anxious about what that future might hold”.

The religious leaders said “the lack of a functioning devolved government” in Northern Ireland, which has also has meant an ever increasing pressure on schools, hospitals, welfare system and many other aspects of society’s infrastructure.

“As so often happens, it is the vulnerable and the marginalised that suffer most and they should be at the forefront of our thoughts and prayers as we enter into a new year,” said the leaders.

While it was “a great encouragement to see the willingness of people” to contribute to initiatives such as food banks, the “marked increase in people needing to avail of such facilities” was a worrying trend. But they also said “there are also glimmers of hope” across Ireland.

Neighbours were looking out for neighbours. Ordinary people, community and church groups were caring for those in need.

“People of good intent are stepping up to the mark and giving positive leadership on the ground, working for the common good. In villages and towns across the island, political, church and community leaders are making a difference at a local level.

“We were encouraged by the willingness of party leaders to meet with us last September, as we sought to provide a safe space to facilitate open discussion and mutual understanding.

“A series of regional meetings is also under way, bringing together local politicians, community and church leaders to talk with one another, to build relationships and again to foster mutual understanding. Such initiatives, along with others, are being taken by different people of good will at local and regional level, and these can bring glimmers of hope.

“For that we want to give thanks – it is always better to light a candle than simply curse the darkness” the message said.

“May you know the blessing of the Lord in the year that lies ahead, ” concluded the message.