Church leaders urge end to sense of ‘despair’ at Stormont impasse

Coveney says latest political talks positive but much ‘heavy lifting to do’ in weeks ahead

Rev Charles McMullen (third from left), speaking to media with church leaders Rev Trevor Gribben (left), Rev Brian Anderson (second from left), Rev William Davison (third from right), Arch Bishop Eamon Martin (second from right), and Rev Richard Clarke (right), following a meeting with political leaders at Stormont. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.

Rev Charles McMullen (third from left), speaking to media with church leaders Rev Trevor Gribben (left), Rev Brian Anderson (second from left), Rev William Davison (third from right), Arch Bishop Eamon Martin (second from right), and Rev Richard Clarke (right), following a meeting with political leaders at Stormont. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.

 

Ireland’s main church leaders have spoken of “a growing sense of hopelessness and even despair” at the political stalemate in Northern Ireland and called for “courageous and compassionate leadership” from its politicians.

“For the sake of the most vulnerable in our society, for the sake of the victims of our past, for the sake of children in our schools and for the sake of people who need improved health and social care services, now is the time to find a resolution to the political impasse,” they said on Tuesday.

The leaders issued a statement in advance of their meeting with politicians at Stormont held to encourage those taking part in cross-party talks there.

Among the church leaders were the Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Church of Ireland Primate Archbishop Richard Clarke, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church Rev Dr Charles McMullen, the President of the Methodist Church Rev William Davison, and the President of the Irish Council of Churches Rev Brian Anderson.

“In welcoming this fresh initiative, together, we hope and pray that there will be substantive progress over the next number of weeks that builds relationships, bridges the gaps that remain and leads to the establishment of a sustainable powersharing executive - one that is built on accommodation and trust, has reconciliation at its heart and is focused on the common good and welfare of all,” they said.

They warned that “at times we can all become so focused on the issues that are significant to us, that we can fail to adequately take into account the concerns that are important for others”.

‘Genuine desire’

A way forward could be found “when we all have a genuine desire to find a balanced accommodation that can serve the common good. That can be a difficult, but not impossible task. Today we want to support and encourage all those taking part in the search for such an accommodation.”

They said there was “a fresh window of opportunity” born out of the tragedy of the murder of journalist Lyra McKee in Derry last month “but nestling in hope for a future that now requires courageous and compassionate leadership”.

After the latest round of talks at Stormont, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said the input of the church leaders was a “reminder of how many people there are willing this process to succeed”.

The brief visit of former US senator George Mitchell, who chaired the talks leading to the 1998 Belfast Agreement, also was encouraging, he said.

“It was a positive afternoon, but there is still a lot to do,” added Mr Coveney. “Let’s be realistic this process is still only a week old and we have heavy lifting to do in the weeks ahead. But I do think there is an appetite amongst the party leaders and their teams to make this work.”

Northern Secretary Karen Bradley said Tuesday’s talks had been constructive.

“I don’t want to leave any of you with any illusions that this is simple or easy; there are very big challenges ahead, we continue to work hard and today has been a constructive and positive day,” she said.