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NI Minister affirms Churches’ role in creating a just society

By Sarah Mac Donald - 22 November, 2013

Nelson McCausland
Churches and faith based organisations in Northern Ireland play a significant role in meeting the needs of the most disadvantaged, the NI Minister for Social Development, Nelson McCausland, has said. 
He was speaking at a conference in Belfast on Thursday which examined the contribution of faith communities to the fight against poverty and social exclusion. 
In his opening address, the DUP MLA said working closely with the Churches and faith based groups “provides a potential opportunity to reach those who may become vulnerable and to ensure they are accessing their full entitlement to government benefits and services.”
Mr McCausland said that given their unique position at the heart of their communities, and the diversity of the issues they deal with, the Churches have the potential to share best practice and to influence the work of government departments. 
“That is why the work of the Community Faiths’ Forum is vital. Since its establishment in 2010, I have been pleased to see the work of the Forum develop to ensure that we bring a faith-based perspective in addressing a whole range of community and social issues across Northern Ireland,” he said. 
The central question addressed by the conference was what the contribution of the faith-based sector should be in the shaping of a more just and sustainable future for NI society. 
The conference explored the challenges to our current social model, with participants arguing for the need for the faith sector to be more pro-active in supporting policy makers in the development of alternative solutions that would offer better protection to the most vulnerable members of our society.
Bishop Noël Treanor chaired the conference, which was a joint endeavour of the Northern Ireland Catholic Council on Social Affairs and the Community Faith Forum, at the Skainos Centre in Belfast. 
“As faith communities we may not have comprehensive technical solutions for the economic problems facing policy makers, but we bring to the table a deep understanding of social needs, and many years’ experience of responding to those needs in ways that promote hope and healing,” the Bishop said. 
The Bishop of Down and Connor added, “We need to be more confident in asserting our experience and proximity to people as grounding our right to be part of the solution and articulating our vision for a better future.”
In his keynote address, the Professor Emeritus of International Politics and Public Policy in the University of Limerick, Dr Peadar Kirby, stated that “Faith perspectives offer a solid values base for the urgent task of building an alternative to the failed social model that has landed us in the current crisis and which has robbed the young in particular of hope for a better future.”

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