Restoration of Stormont offers 'new hope', say Church leaders

(Photo: Reuters)

The restoration of devolution in Northern Ireland has been welcomed by Church leaders who say that the focus now must be on reconciliation. 

A new power-sharing government was formed by Stormont's five main parties on Saturday, ending a three-year suspension.

British and Irish Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar were in Belfast on Monday to meet the first and deputy first ministers to discuss the new executive's priorities, the BBC reports.

Leaders of the main Christian denominations said that the deal struck between Northern Ireland's political parties, the UK and Irish Governments offers "new hope" and a "new start" for politics in the province.

They called the deal a "balanced accommodation that is focused on the common good" as they called on the parties to ensure that a breakdown in power-sharing does not happen again.

They also spoke of their hope to see NI leaders "begin to address the political and social crisis that has developed due to the prolonged absence of a functioning Executive and Assembly".

"The principles of accountability, transparency and responsibility, identified in the agreement are crucial to underpinning sustainable government and ensuring that the experience of the last three years cannot happen again," they said.

"Along with the development of trust and generosity of spirit, these measures offer an opportunity to build a peaceful and just society that is centred around respect and recognition of each other's cultural identity.

"As Church leaders, we also welcome the renewed focus on reconciliation, which will be central to the Executive's approach, and welcome practical commitments to extend welfare mitigations, address significant challenges in education and health, tackle the mental health crisis, and deal with the continued scourge of paramilitarism and sectarianism." 

The statement was signed by the heads of the Church of Ireland, Methodist Church in Ireland, Roman Catholic Church, Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Irish Council of Churches.

They continued: "Today is a sign of welcome progress that provides an opportunity for a new start for Northern Ireland's political institutions and one that can also offer fresh hope.

"The story of the Christian faith is one of new beginnings, where failure is never final, second chances abound, and all things can be renewed.

"We will continue to offer our prayers for all involved in making this agreement work, encouraging them, for the sake of the whole community, to grasp fully this new opportunity."

Mark Baillie, Northern Ireland policy officer at the Christian campaign group CARE, said that he wanted to see the Assembly revisit the issue of abortion after it was decriminalised in the province by Westminster last year.

"We welcome the fact the NI Executive has been restored after three years," he said. 

"Our position has always been that the restoration of devolution was an absolute priority given some of the very significant challenges we are facing.

"There will now be opportunities for debates on abortion, problem gambling, free speech, protecting young people online, end-of-life care amongst other issues.

"CARE has been working for life-affirming law and policy for almost forty years and we are not going to stop now.

"We will be making the case afresh for life-affirming laws and policies and we hope the Assembly will reconsider the law on abortion in the near future.

"Both lives in a pregnancy, mother and baby, need to be valued and we will working with parliamentarians across the parties to that end in the months and years to come."