CHURCH leaders in Northern Ireland were among the first to congratulate the DUP and Sinn Féin for putting aside differences to find a new path forward, rescuing the faltering Northern Ireland Assembly last week. The breakthrough came as the DUP leader and First Minister, Peter Robinson, announced his intention to leave the political arena.
To coincide with the conclusion of the political negotiations and the publication of A Fresh Start: The Stormont agreement and implementation plan, involving political parties in Northern Ireland and the governments of the UK and Republic of Ireland, the leaders of the four main Churches said in a statement:
“As church leaders, we came together in September and called on our elected representatives to place at the heart of their discussions ‘an awareness of their shared responsibility for the common good’. Today, we welcome the announcement that, with the support of the two Governments, a wide-ranging agreement has been reached.”
Central to the Fresh Start is a commitment by the UK Government of £500 million for issues “unique to Northern Ireland”; a further £585 million to deal with the effects of welfare cuts, which were a significant sticking point between the parties; cross-border initiatives to combat dissident terrorism and other crimes; and a reduction in the corporate-tax rate to 12.5 per cent — equal to that of the Republic.
The church leaders said: “We recognise that everyone involved in the negotiations will not have achieved all that they wanted in this agreement, nor will everyone who reads it be fully content with every aspect of it. . .
“However, we pray that this particular accommodation, reached in the interests of all, will be the basis for beginning to restore hope to those who are struggling, and re-establish the trust that has been slowly ebbing from our political institutions.”
Their statement was signed by the Anglican and Roman Catholic Archbishops of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke and Dr Eamon Martin respectively; the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Revd Dr Ian McNie; the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Revd Brian Anderson; and the President of the Irish Council of Churches, the Revd Dr Donald Watts.
The Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, joined David Cameron in welcoming the new deal as an important turning point for the Province and a further mechanism to tackle paramilitarism.
A founding member of the DUP in 1971, Mr Robinson is credited with encouraging Dr Ian Paisley to become part of the Assembly — and blamed by some for “ousting” his leader. But, although perceived by many in the Republic and among northern nationalists as uncompromising, he was also admired for his grasp of politics, and his determination to make the Assembly successful in the eyes of his Unionist followers.