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NI instability erasing hope from lives: Church leaders

By Sarah Mac Donald - 22 September, 2015

STormontChurch leaders in Northern Ireland have warned that threats to the peace process are most keenly felt in those areas that benefited least from the progress of recent years.

In a statement, representatives of the Catholic, Church of Ireland, Methodist, Presbyterian and the Irish Council of Churches, expressed concern at the rising number of people struggling to cope on low incomes.

They also highlighted the anxiety that the current political instability brings to the most vulnerable members of society.

Following consultation with representatives of faith-based charities, they reminded Northern Ireland’s elected representatives that as they “continue to negotiate the future of our political institutions, an awareness of their shared responsibility for the common good needs to be at the heart of the discussion”.

A long-term vision, which includes effective measures to address poverty and socio-economic inequality, is essential to rebuild trust and advance the work of reconciliation, they warned.

The Church leaders who signed the statement were the Rev Brian Anderson, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland; Archbishop Richard Clarke, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh; Archbishop Eamon Martin, Catholic Archbishop of Armagh; Rt Rev Dr Ian McNie, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland; and Rev Dr Donald Watts, President, Irish Council of Churches.

They emphasised to Northern Ireland’s politicians that, “In addition to uncertainty about the impact of Welfare Reform, cuts to essential public services and the failure to agree a budget for future service provision have significant implications for the most vulnerable members of our society.”

They also warned that the “unacceptable level of child poverty”, affecting over 100,000 children, roughly 6% of Northern Ireland’s population, “constitutes a real crisis” and that supports that have proved to be effective in recent years in addressing inequality and closing the gap in crucial areas such as educational disadvantage are now being withdrawn through lack of funding.

“The failure to invest adequately in the future leaders of our society is a cause of deep frustration among young people, leaving many feeling disconnected from political processes.”

“Our politicians have a critical opportunity to restore hope to those who are struggling and all those who feel disillusioned with the political institutions,” they stated.

“As Christians we have a responsibility, not only to give generously to address immediate social need, but to work with political leaders and the wider community to change the structures that are trapping people in cycles of poverty.”

“Local communities are ready to be active partners in tackling the root causes of social exclusion and are best placed to inform and shape this work. In community and faith-based organisations, volunteers are working quietly and effectively to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable and marginalised, including the basic necessities of food, shelter and much-needed emotional and psychological support.”

“As demands continue to rise, charities are stretched beyond capacity and facing difficult decisions about the future.”

“The generosity and solidarity demonstrated by local communities in response to the refugee crisis reflects the kind of society we want to live in. Increasing levels of poverty are taking us further from that vision, threatening social cohesion.”

They concluded by warning the North’s politicians, “We urgently need a change in direction, based on sustainable investment in local communities, that will bring us closer to a more equal, just and inclusive society.”

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