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Church leaders tell the North’s paramilitaries: stop for the sake of the children

By Cian Molloy - 20 November, 2017

Nearly 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement promised a lasting peace in Northern Ireland, the Six Counties’ Church leaders have come together to call for an end to all paramilitary attacks.

The joint statement has been issued to coincide with today’s celebration of the United Nations’ Universal Children’s Day, because the churchmen believe that paramilitary activity is especially impacting the lives and well-being of children and young people.

While the level of violence in Northern Ireland is nowhere near the horrors at the height of the troubles, there continues to be violent incidents such as intimidation, beatings, shootings at houses and attempted bombings. On the Loyalist side, members of the UVF, the UDA and the Red Hand Commando are still active, on the Nationalist side dissident Republicans are also sowing misery.

“At the heart of the vision for the Peace Process was the hope that children and young people might be protected from the violence that blighted the lives of previous generations. Sadly, too many in our society continue to be exposed to this violence at an early age, either as victims of direct attacks, or as members of families subjected to attacks or intimidation,” begins the joint statement issued by Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh Richard Clarke, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland Rev Laurence Graham, Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, the President of the Irish Council of Churches Bishop John McDowell of Clogher. and the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland Rev Noble McNeely.

The churchmen say that making our communities safe and welcoming places is the responsibility of all members of society.”We need to ask ourselves whether the legacy of violent conflict here, has caused us to feel powerless to challenge the culture that supports the continuation of this type of violence. We have many examples of courageous leadership from those working to give our young people better opportunities and help those at risk make better choices – in our churches, in youth clubs, in education, sports clubs and in the wider community and voluntary sector.”

And the church leaders had a message for the government and for Northern Ireland’s politicians: “Much of this valuable work is now under pressure as a result of funding cuts and financial uncertainty.  In this context, it is more important than ever that we seek to lend our support to initiatives that offer young people the chance to achieve their full potential and challenge those who seek to trap them in never-ending cycles of violence.”

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