Following violence in Belfast, church leaders in Northern Ireland and Ireland have written to politicians in the UK and EU urging them to put solution-finding first, and saying "even-handed policing requires the wisdom of Solomon combined with the patience of Job".
Street attacks between unionists and republicans have been caused by complex web reasons, including the Northern Ireland Protocol in the Brexit agreement, a failure to punish those breaking Covid restrictions at the funeral of senior republican figure Bobby Storey, lockdown fatigue and a crackdown on drugs.
PA Liam McBurney
Church leaders from across the island have called on the whole Northern Ireland Executive to approach the EU and UK to sort the trade issue.
They start by quoting from Matthew 5: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God".
Signed by Catholic, Presbyterian and Church of Ireland leaders, among others, they write: "As Christian Church Leaders from across the island of Ireland we appeal to our political leaders to come together in a unified response to the heartbreaking scenes witnessed on our streets last week and renew their commitment to peace, reconciliation and the protection of the most vulnerable."
The letter is signed by Most Rev John McDowell, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland; Most Rev Eamon Martin, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland; Rt Rev Dr David Bruce, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland; Rev Dr Tom McKnight, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland; Very Rev Dr Ivan Patterson, President of the Irish Council of Churches.
They point out that the causes of the recent outbreaks of violence are complex, adding that "church representatives and other community leaders working on the ground in affected communities have spoken to us of their frustration at seeing another generation of young people risk their lives and their futures because repeated warnings about the need to treat our fragile peace with care went unheeded."
Members of the clergy at the peace gates on Lanark Way in Belfast following a Ecumencial service in response to the recent riots and violence in the city.
PA, Brian Lawless
They write that the significant reduction in violence since 1998 is a major achievement "but that experience also teaches us that these challenges can only be addressed by political leaders coming together with a genuine desire to find solutions and accommodations which meet the legitimate concerns of others as well as their own."
The clergy acknowledge the difficultues now presented by Brexit: "The Northern Ireland/Ireland Protocol presents many challenges to the flow of trade and also the flow of goodwill across and between these islands. Some of the challenges were foreseeable and have been planned for and mitigated (at least in part). The political outcomes of the Protocol are more difficult to address because they are tied in with very big issues of world trade and sovereignty."
They say the only chance of success is "if the European Union (including the Irish Government) and the Government of the United Kingdom are approached jointly by the entire Northern Ireland Executive advocating for the protection of the common good across the whole of Northern Ireland. Such a joint approach would be difficult to turn down, but to develop it will require a renewed generosity of spirit from political leaders on all sides of our community."
The denomination leaders continue: "even-handed policing requires the wisdom of Solomon combined with the patience of Job. The PSNI is relentlessly scrutinised by the Policing Board, and other organs of accountability. In that sense the PSNI has a political legitimacy across this community which is enjoyed by few other institutions. It is vital that we address concerns in a way that strengthens our democratic processes rather than undermining them."
They acknowledge their responsibility to hold people in power to account, demand attention and meaningful intervention by political leaders and urge preventative measures rather than emergency responses.
"Churches, together with other civic leaders, are keen to play our part in addressing the root causes of violence and working to ensure all communities here can enjoy the benefits of peace into the future."