Religious leaders urge NI parties to restore Assembly

Joint statement describes ‘growing sense of despair in our politics’

Joint statement: The leaders of Ireland’s main churches (left to right) Rev Sam McGuffin, Archbishop Eamon Martin, Dr William Henry,  Dr Richard Clarke,  Rev Brian Anderson.

Joint statement: The leaders of Ireland’s main churches (left to right) Rev Sam McGuffin, Archbishop Eamon Martin, Dr William Henry, Dr Richard Clarke, Rev Brian Anderson.

 

The leaders of Ireland’s main churches have urged the North’s political parties to “fully grasp” the opportunity to restore Northern Ireland’s devolved government.

In a joint statement, they said they were “disappointed” the devolved institutions had not been restored before Christmas and spoke of the “growing sense of despair in our politics” nurtured by the Assembly’s almost three-year absence.

But they said that while they acknowledged that “points of difference obviously remain, the goal of restoring devolution remains within reach, even if it still rests a little way off”.

Northern Ireland has been without a devolved government at Stormont since January 2017, when it collapsed in the wake of a scandal over a renewable heating scheme.

Last week the North’s five main political parties appeared to be on the brink of securing a deal to restore the Assembly, but talks stalled on Thursday after the DUP was the only party not to agree to the publication of a document outlining the broad agreement to reinstate the institutions.

The DUP said there had been efforts to “box us into a corner” and to “force us into a position of not getting a fair and balanced deal”.

Talks will resume after Christmas, with the aim of restoring the Assembly before the Northern Secretary of State’s deadline of January 13th.

The statement was issued by the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, Dr Richard Clarke, Dr William Henry, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Catholic Primate of All Ireland, Rev Sam McGuffin, the president of the Methodist Church in Ireland, and the president of the Irish Council of Churches, Rev Brian Anderson.

The church leaders said they wanted to “encourage all those taking part [in the talks] and pray that together, they fully grasp this opportunity when they return to the negotiating table in January”.

‘Go that extra mile’

It was, they said, “incumbent on all of us to recognise the road that has been travelled since the collapse of the Executive nearly three years ago”.

For the sake of the whole community, we urge all our political representatives to go that extra mile

“It is a journey that has damaged our health service and our schools. It has also nurtured a growing sense of despair in our politics and contributed to additional hardships and worry experienced by the most vulnerable people in our society.”

The church leaders said they added their “collective support” to the talks process, and encouraged those taking part “to continue working creatively and courageously towards a deal that can bring stability and begin to restore a sense of hope.

“For the sake of the whole community, we urge all our political representatives to go that extra mile,” they said.

“It is our prayer that through generosity of spirit and courageous leadership a balanced accommodation that serves the common good and has reconciliation at its heart can be found, that will lead to a sustainable power-sharing executive in the new year.”

As the talks paused over the Christmas period, they said, it was their prayer “that the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will also rest upon the whole community, and the land that we share”.