N. Ireland Politics

Stormont talks: Church leaders urge 'courageous leadership'

church leaders stand outside Stormont House
Image caption Leaders of the Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican and Methodist churches in Ireland were involved in the meeting

A delegation of church leaders have told the Stormont parties that the time has come to demonstrate courageous political leadership.

Five church leaders met party leaders along with British and Irish ministers on Tuesday.

It is hoped a new round of talks will break more than two years of political deadlock in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland's executive collapsed in January 2017 following a bitter dispute between Sinn Féin and the DUP.

Leaders of the Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican and Methodist churches in Ireland were involved in the meeting.

The clergymen last met the parties in September 2018, and stated their view that restoring the assembly is vital to protect employment and give communities and young people a sense of confidence about the future.

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Media caption"Why in God's name does it take the death of a 29-year-old woman with her whole life in front of her to get to this point?"

Following the New IRA murder of journalist Lyra McKee last month, Fr Martin Magill commended local party leaders for coming together.

However, in a sermon at Ms McKee's funeral, he publicly questioned why it had taken an act of violence to bring the politicians together.

'Huge need for normal political life'

After the roundtable discussion on Tuesday, the Church of Ireland Primate addressed a press conference.

Archbishop Richard Clarke said: "One of the messages we tried to send today is that in a vacuum, other forces will move into that vacuum and take control of it.

"And for that reason, there is this absolutely huge need to ensure that somehow, normal political life starts again."

Image caption Attention has again turned to Stormont, where talks are taking place in a push to restore the political institutions

The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin said there had been a "sense of despair" in recent weeks, following the murder of Ms McKee.

He issued an appeal to the parties: "If we don't sit around the table and talk, then what else?"

'Constructive and positive'

The five main Northern Ireland parties also held a roundtable meeting with the NI Secretary Karen Bradley and the Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney.

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Image caption Karen Bradley described Tuesday's meeting as "constructive and positive"

Speaking outside Stormont House, Mrs Bradley told the media that the talks were "constructive and positive".

She added that people should be under no illusions that this is simple or easy, but "we continue to work hard".

It is understood US Senator George Mitchell, who is in Northern Ireland to receive an award, also met with the party leaders and expressed his support for the process.

The Tánaiste (deputy Irish prime minister) Simon Coveney said Senator Mitchell's attendance at the meeting was important as "he is still an iconic figure in Northern Ireland".

"Him being here reminded us of the courage of political leaders two decades ago," said Mr Coveney.

He added: "This process is only a week old and we have heavy lifting to do in the weeks ahead."

No fixed deadline has been set in this latest talks process, but the Prime Minister Theresa May and Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Leo Varadkar are due to review progress at the end of May.

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