LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Christian leaders across Northern Ireland’s sectarian divide have welcomed an agreement ending a three-year impasse on forming a government for the region.
The deal came together on Friday and means the pro-British Democratic Ulster Party (DUP) and the pro-Irish unification Sinn Féin party will take up ministerial positions in a power-sharing deal.
According to the 1998 Good Friday agreement which ended The Troubles, the government of Northern Ireland must include representatives from both the Catholic Nationalist and Protestant Unionist communities.
The government broke down in 2017, and a dispute over Irish language rights had kept the sides from coming together.
In that time, dissident offshoots of the IRA have become more active, social services have decayed, and the looming Brexit is causing discomfort in the region.
In addition, direct rule from London has led to the imposition of same-sex marriage and abortion in the province, even though no Northern Ireland member of Parliament voted for it.
Friday’s deal is called “New Decade, New Approach,” and promises new funding for Northern Ireland’s creaky medical and educational infrastructure, more police, and recognition of both the Irish language and Scots Irish, a dialect sometimes used by the Protestant community.
The leaders of Ireland’s main Christian churches praised the politicians for finally bringing home rule back to the North.
“Throughout this long journey we have sought to encourage everyone involved to go the extra mile, to work creatively and courageously towards a deal that would see Northern Ireland’s devolved institutions up and running again,” said a joint statement from the Catholic Church, the (Anglican) Church of Ireland, the Methodist church in Ireland, Presbyterian church in Ireland, and the Irish Council of Churches.
(Like many institutions, Ireland’s Christian denominations are all-island, and cover both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.)
“We believe that the agreement, New Decade, New Approach, is ambitious in its content and reflects a balanced accommodation that is focused on the common good; and one that we hope can begin to address the political and social crisis that has developed due to the prolonged absence of a functioning Executive and Assembly,” the statement continued.
“The principles of accountability, transparency and responsibility, identified in the agreement are crucial to underpinning sustainable government and ensuring that the experience of the last three years cannot happen again. Along with the development of trust and generosity of spirit, these measures offer an opportunity to build a peaceful and just society that is centred around respect and recognition of each other’s cultural identity,” the leaders added.
They also welcomed the “practical commitments” to extend welfare, shore up the education and health sectors, tackle the mental health crisis, and deal with “the continued scourge of paramilitarism and sectarianism.”
“Last year we initiated a civic dialogue between political parties and representatives from key sectors in civil society across Northern Ireland. Reflecting on that engagement we noted that, ‘when politics is broken the responsibility for fixing it does not rest with the politicians alone.’ We therefore renew our commitment to supporting the new Executive as it begins its work, and along with others in civic society, recognise our collective responsibility for the common good,” the statement said.
“Today is a sign of welcome progress that provides an opportunity for a new start for Northern Ireland’s political institutions and one that can also offer fresh hope. The story of the Christian faith is one of new beginnings, where failure is never final, second chances abound, and all things can be renewed. We will continue to offer our prayers for all involved in making this agreement work, encouraging them, for the sake of the whole community, to grasp fully this new opportunity,” the Christian leaders concluded.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome
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