In a week when the peace process in Northern Ireland has run into its most difficult time since the signing of the Belfast Agreement, the Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd Robin Eames, has called for both sides to build trust and confidence so that peace can be secured.
"Too much is at stake for all of us," he said in a statement released on 7th February. "We have come too far to allow what has been achieved to fail. Recognising the various pressures at present placed on the governments and politicians we must pray that God will guide them at this critical time of decision."
The current difficulties centre on the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons. With no sign that any weapons are likely to be handed in in the near future, the Unionists have undertaken to withdraw from the power-sharing executive. It is very likely that direct rule from Westminster will be re-introduced by the end of the week.
"It is important that all involved in these discussions are aware of the genuine hopes and fears of people in all communities who look to them for political leadership and vision," said Archbishop Robin Eames. "But both communities must also recognise more of the feelings of their neighbours."
The situation was made more tense by a bomb explosion at a family-run hotel in County Fermanagh on Saturday night. The "Continuity IRA", a splinter terrorist group which has not joined the cease-fire, claimed responsibility for the blast which caused considerable damage but no injury.
"From within the Protestant and unionist community there is a deep feeling that the cost for them and the pace of the peace process adds weight to the call for immediate decommissioning," the Archbishop of Armagh said. "Within the Republican community there is mistrust of their unionist neighbours. But neither community can afford any longer to allow the question of arms to continue as an obstacle to political progress."
This week will see intensive efforts by all parties involved to find a possible way forward. The paramilitary cease-fires and ongoing peace process have brought major social and economic benefits in the wake of 30 years of violence and division.
"Trust is the real casualty of this situation," concluded the Archbishop. "Both sides must now take the steps necessary to build new hope and confidence. Otherwise Northern Ireland faces years of continuing danger and erosion. I pray God will give us all new courage and trust to see a way forward."
Item from: The Church of Ireland