The leaders of Ireland’s main Churches have released a report on the dialogue that they engaged in following their initial meetings with Northern Ireland’s five party leaders.
Entitled A time for courageous and compassionate leadership: Report on the Church Leaders’ Civil Society Dialogue Initiative, the senior churchmen presented the report and its main findings to Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Rt Hon Karen Bradley MP, An Tánaiste, Simon Coveney TD and the party leaders attending the inter–party talks on Tuesday 14 May.
The initiative began in September 2018 when the leaders of the Church of Ireland, Methodist Church in Ireland, Roman Catholic Church, Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Irish Council of Churches invited the leaders of Northern Ireland’s main political parties to discuss the consequences of the political impasse. This was then followed by separate meetings in October between the Church Leaders, Secretary of State and Tánaiste.
Those involved in each of the autumn meetings agreed that it would be helpful if the Church Leaders’ dialogue between them could be opened up to the party’s locally–based MLAs along with some from wider Northern Ireland society.
Between December 2018 and February 2019 approximately 120 people attended facilitated discussions in Newry, Belfast, Ballymena and Derry–Londonderry. This included locally–based representatives from health and social care, policing, business, farming and agriculture, youth work, family support, women’s groups, those engaged in anti–poverty work and community development. Like many other similar gatherings, these meetings focused on the consequences of the political impasse and ways in which political leaders and civil society could work together for the common good. Two Church Leaders attended each regional meeting along with local church representatives and locally–based MLA’s.
Releasing the Report, Rev Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church and Secretary to the Church Leaders’ Group (Ireland) said. “The Church Leaders welcomed the opportunity last week to meet with the Secretary of State, An Tánaiste and the party leaders during the inter–party talks last week. The Church Leaders wanted to encourage those involved in this fresh initiative, which they hope will lead to substantive progress over the next number of weeks. During the meeting they also shared with them the report’s key findings.
“In the report the Church Leaders say, ‘There is great value in people from different backgrounds, and different sectors, coming together to support each other recognising our collective responsibility for the common good. We have heard a strong message coming from our local communities that this is the kind of leadership people want, and need, to see at the present time,’” Mr Gribben said.
“Acknowledging that the timing for the talks was not perfect, the Church Leaders said that they were aware of a growing sense of despair in communities at the lack of political movement on restoring devolution. Together, they hoped that this fresh initiative would lead to substantive progress and the establishment of a sustainable power–sharing executive that is built on balanced accommodation and focused on the common good. They added that this would require leadership that is courageous and compassionate.
“Having discussed the report with the inter–party talks participants and referenced the initiative in their various public statements following their meeting, the Church Leaders felt that it would be helpful if the report was shared more widely,” Mr Gribben said.
You can also download a copy of the report here.