Stormont talks: Church leaders in plea to end 'despair'

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church leaders stand outside Stormont House
Image caption,
Leaders of the Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican and Methodist churches in Ireland met politicians in May

The leaders of Ireland's main churches have urged political parties to "go the extra mile" to restore devolution.

On Monday, a joint statement said they were "disappointed" a deal had not been agreed before Christmas.

It added: "We pray that together, they fully grasp this opportunity when they return to the negotiating table in January."

Northern Ireland's executive collapsed in January 2017 following a bitter dispute between Sinn Féin and the DUP.

A fresh round of talks got under way last week, and the British and Irish governments said progress had been made.

However, they laid the blame at the feet of the DUP for the lack of any deal - something the party has "flatly rejected".

The leaders of the Church of Ireland, the Methodist, Roman Catholic and Presbyterian churches, along with the Irish Council of Churches said: "It is incumbent on all of us to recognise the road that has been travelled since the collapse of the executive nearly three years ago.

"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.

"While we acknowledge that points of difference obviously remain, the goal of restoring devolution remains within reach, even if it still rests a little way off."

'Restore sense of hope'

The clergymen urged negotiators 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 added.

In May, five church leaders met party leaders along with British and Irish ministers and told the Stormont parties the time had come to demonstrate courageous political leadership.

Before that, the clergymen met the parties in September 2018, and stated their view that restoring the assembly is vital to protect employment and give communities and young people a sense of confidence about the future.

Image caption,
Attention has again turned to Stormont, where talks are taking place in a push to restore the political institutions