THE Church Leaders Group (Ireland) invited the leaders of Northern Ireland’s five main political parties to a series of separate individual meetings on 3 November, focusing on the restoration of good governance in Northern Ireland. The meetings took place in Assembly Buildings in Belfast.

In a joint statement, the leaders of the Church of Ireland, the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches in Ireland, the Roman Catholic Church, and Irish Council of Churches said, “As part of civil society we felt that it was important for us to reach out to each of Northern Ireland’s main political parties, just as we did in September 2018, under similar circumstances. We very much welcomed the opportunity to engage and listen across our separate meetings, which were positive and constructive.

“During the meetings we highlighted the feedback coming to us from communities across Northern Ireland regarding the seriousness of the current situation – indicating the real and sustained financial hardship that is being experienced by many people, combined with the everyday reality that many of the normal services that society depends upon were close to breaking point. We also indicated to the party leaders that this was leading to a rising sense of despair, and even hopelessness throughout the community, linked to a growing anger at the current poor state of governance.”

The Church Leaders continued, “With each of the parties we discussed the urgent need for the restoration of Northern Ireland’s devolved government. While it was acknowledged that this wouldn’t be a panacea for all problems, it was however recognised as an important first step, and was something that, if properly resourced by the UK Government, would make a real and meaningful difference to the everyday lives of people.”

The Church Leaders stressed that the restoration of good governance in Northern Ireland was also important in re–establishing hope and a vision for the future. They indicated that while ultimately everyone will be living with some challenging aspects, both of Brexit and of post–Brexit arrangements, a devolved government will be ideally placed to capitalise on the new opportunities opening up for Northern Ireland in the medium and long–term.

During the meetings, the church and party leaders also discussed the significant budgetary pressures being faced by all Northern Ireland departments. It was noted that Northern Ireland on the whole was being underfunded by the UK Government, and there was a necessity to move to a more equitable needs–based funding model, as indicated in recent reports of the Northern Ireland Fiscal Council.

As a result of these discussions with party leaders, which were both positive and constructive, the Church Leaders Group (Ireland):

1. Calls upon all political parties in Northern Ireland to have as a priority acting for the common good and in so doing genuinely to take account of the needs, concerns and aspirations of ‘the other’. This will mean reaching accommodations for the common good, which will balance the alleviation of their own concerns with the urgent need for the restoration of good governance in Northern Ireland.

2. Calls upon the UK Government urgently to take all necessary steps to facilitate the restoration of good governance in Northern Ireland, including the return of fully functioning and resourced devolved institutions, north–south and east–west bodies. This needs to involve:

a. Urgently taking all steps possible to meet the outstanding concerns of all political parties, so that each will feel able to return to the devolved institutions

b. Providing the funding necessary to meet immediate budgetary pressures, while putting in place a more equitable needs–based funding model going into the future. Undertakings should also be given that necessary additional ‘transformation funding’ will be available in response to an agreed Northern Ireland Executive plan for the transformation of public services.

The Church Leaders Group comprises the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic Primates of All Ireland, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, and the President of the Irish Council of Churches.

Members of the Church Leaders’ Group (Ireland) attending the meetings were: Archbishop John McDowell, Church of Ireland Primate of All Ireland; Archbishop Eamon Martin, Roman Catholic Primate of All Ireland (Bishop Dónal McKeown represented Archbishop Eamon at some of the meetings); the Rt Rev Dr Sam Mawhinney, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI); the Rev David Turtle, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland (MCI); and Bishop Andrew Forster, President of the Irish Council of Churches; along with the Joint Secretaries to Church Leaders Group (Ireland), the Rev Trevor Gribben, PCI General Secretary, and the Rev Dr Heather Morris, MCI General Secretary.

* Source: Church of Ireland