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Churches call for unified political response to community tensions in Northern Ireland

Posted on: April 15, 2021 2:03 PM
The Church leaders pictured at a recent meeting in Saint Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, Armagh. From left: Anglican Archbishop John McDowell, Methodist President Tom McKnight, Presbyterian Moderator David Bruce, Irish Council of Churches Present Ivan Patterson, and Catholic Archbishop Eamon Martin.
Photo Credit: Church of Ireland

Ecumenical group of church leaders urges Northern Ireland, UK, Irish, and EU leaders to jointly address violence and community tensions.

Church leaders in Northern Ireland are calling from politicians across the UK, Republic of Ireland and European Union to “renew their commitment to peace, reconciliation and the protection of the most vulnerable.” The call was made in a joint letter in response to escalating violence and community tensions on the streets of Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland is the six counties in the north of the island of Ireland which remained under UK control after the remaining counties gained independence, becoming the Republic of Ireland, in the 1920s. Decades of troubles followed between Republicans, who wanted the entire island to be governed by Ireland; and Unionists, who want Northern Ireland to remain a part of the United Kingdom.

The troubles largely came to an end in 1998 with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, which saw the creation of a power-sharing Assembly and a number of cross-border bodies. The latest tensions have arisen following the UK’s departure from the European Union (Brexit) and the creation of different customs arrangements between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, to permit the continuation of cross-border trading across the island of Ireland.

Nightly riots broke out in the Waterside district of Derry/Londonderry on 30 March, spreading to Belfast and other Unionist areas. Iron bars, bricks, masonry and petrol bombs were thrown and, in one incident, a bus was set on fire.

In response to the violence, the leaders of the Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian and Methodist Churches, together with the ecumenical Irish Council of Churches, have written to the UK and Irish governments, the European Union, and political leaders in Northern Ireland, calling for a unified political response.

“As Christian Church Leaders from across the island of Ireland we appeal to our political leaders to come together in a unified response to the heart-breaking scenes witnessed on our streets last week and renew their commitment to peace, reconciliation and the protection of the most vulnerable”. The Church leaders said.

In the letter, the Church leaders echo the appeal from local church and community leaders for political leaders to treat Northern Ireland’s “fragile peace with care”. They emphasise the importance of the three strands of the Good Friday Agreement and the responsibility to “respect all identities and foster good relations within Northern Ireland, on the island of Ireland and between the UK and Ireland.”

They call on the Northern Ireland Executive to make a joint approach to the UK Government and the European Union in relation to the challenges posed by the Northern Ireland/Ireland Protocol of the Brexit agreement.

They said: “Churches, together with other civic leaders, are keen to play our part in addressing the root causes of violence and working to ensure all communities here can enjoy the benefits of peace into the future.”

The joint letter was signed by the Anglican Archbishop of Armagh, John McDowell; the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin; the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Dr David Bruce; the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Dr Tom McKnight; and the President of the Irish Council of Churches, Dr Ivan Patterson.