Church leaders have urged Northern Ireland’s politicians to strike a powersharing deal for the common good of everyone.
As a deadline looms for the DUP and Sinn Fein to break the deadlock at Stormont, the clerics issued an open letter to the five main parties pleading with them to go the extra mile to reach an agreement.
They warned that Northern Ireland input into Brexit negotiations is suffering.
And they said that unless the current impasse is broken, then the most vulnerable people and the small voluntary and community groups that serve them are at risk.
“While we acknowledge the complexities involved in reaching an agreement, we want to express our continued concern that without an agreed budget and with no executive ministers in place, the most vulnerable are at greater risk, while crucial decisions on education, health and welfare are not being taken,” they wrote.
“At the same time, I am sure you are aware that small voluntary and community groups - who play such a vital role at the heart of our villages, towns and cities - face mounting uncertainty and are finding it increasingly difficult to support those most in need.
“Furthermore, with no Executive there has been comparatively little co-ordinated local input into the Brexit discussions and even less detailed preparation for what lies ahead for Northern Ireland and the island as a whole.”
The letter was signed by Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh Richard Clarke, Rev Dr Laurence Graham, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Catholic Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, Bishop John McDowell, President of the Irish Council of Churches and Dr Noble McNeely, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
It was sent to SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, DUP leader Arlene Foster, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long, Sinn Fein leader Michelle O’Neill and Ulster Unionist Robin Swann, as well as Secretary of State James Brokenshire and Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney.
There were some warnings last week that crisis talks aimed at restoring powersharing may not be resolved by the June 29 deadline.
The churchmen said they pray and hope that all political leaders will do what is necessary to end the uncertainty.
“This week we strongly encourage all the political leaders involved in the talks to go the extra mile to reach an accommodation, which establishes a sustainable administration that will work for the common good of all in our society,” they said.
Stormont has been in limbo for months, with the executive not working since March and no first and deputy first minister since January, when the late Martin McGuinness’s resignation forced Ms Foster from her job as first minister.
If the parties miss the deadline for a new agreement they face the prospect of direct rule being reimposed from Westminster.