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Protestant, Catholic church leaders issue plea for Northern Ireland deal

Protestant, Catholic church leaders issue plea for Northern Ireland deal

The leaders of the four largest Christian denominations in Ireland issued a joint plea Friday for Northern Ireland's rival factions to strike a power-sharing deal and asked "all people of good will to pray that those hopes may not be dashed."
Representatives of the British and Irish governments and the major Northern Ireland parties will meet Wednesday in St. Andrew's, Scotland, for three days of talks aimed at reviving a Catholic-Protestant administration, the central goal of Good Friday peace accord of 1998.
A previous coalition fell apart in 2002 amid chronic arguments between Protestant leaders and Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army-linked party that represents most Catholics in Northern Ireland.
The leader of Ireland's 4 million Catholics, Archbishop Sean Brady, is to meet the hard-line political leader of Northern Ireland's British Protestant majority, Democratic Unionist Party chief Ian Paisley, for the first time on Monday. Paisley, 80, who leads his own virulently anti-Catholic denomination called the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, shuns cooperation with the major churches.
Paisley says he will not form a Cabinet alongside Sinn Fein until the IRA disbands and Sinn Fein accepts the authority of Northern Ireland's police force. The British and Irish governments, which will oversee the Scottish talks, are pressing for commitments on both fronts and are seeking to build momentum with a series of steps.
On Wednesday, the governments published experts' findings that the IRA had disbanded key units responsible for recruiting and training members, designing and constructing weapons, and smuggling arms.
On Thursday, Britain distributed draft legislation to all the Northern Ireland parties laying down its plan to transfer control of the criminal justice system _ including, crucially, the police force _ to local hands in event of a power-sharing deal.
Sinn Fein considers such a transfer critical to winning its support, while many Protestants view with dread the prospect of an IRA veteran overseeing law and order.
On Friday, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams met Prime Minister Tony Blair at the British leader's official country residence, Chequers, to discuss the Scottish talks.
"I think there is no point in going to Scotland unless we can resolve all of these matters. If there is a political will, every issue can be sorted out," Adams said after the 90-minute meeting.
In their joint statement, Catholic Archbishop Brady and the leaders of the three biggest Protestant denominations _ Archbishop Robin Eames of the Anglican-affiliated Church of Ireland, Presbyterian Church Moderator David Clarke, and Methodist President Ivan McIlhenney _ said people wanted a power-sharing deal achieved by the British government's deadline of Nov. 24.
In a message to both sides' politicians, they said: "We see this as a journey with many stages and encourage them to embark on the next stage of that journey with confidence."
"The talks at St. Andrew's will give a special opportunity to find ways of moving beyond the divisions and sectarianism of the past towards a future where, as trust develops, so too will emerge creative ways of working and living together," they said.
They said negotiators should "look beyond the things which fragment and divide our society and to concentrate their efforts on those aspects of the process which will lead towards positive outcomes. The progress already achieved has raised high hopes. We ask all people of good will to pray that those hopes may not be dashed but that the present opportunity may be taken for the common good of all the people."


Updated : 2021-04-14 14:09 GMT+08:00