Ireland’s Church leaders have welcomed the return of the Northern Ireland Assembly, after Sinn Féin, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) backed a plan put together by the Irish and British governments.

In their statement the leaders of the Church of Ireland, Methodist Church in Ireland, Roman Catholic Church, Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Irish Council of Churches said, “Throughout this long journey we have sought to encourage everyone involved to go the extra mile, to work creatively and courageously towards a deal that would see Northern Ireland’s devolved institutions up and running again.

“We believe that the agreement, New Decade, New Approach, is ambitious in its content and reflects a balanced accommodation that is focused on the common good; and one that we hope can begin to address the political and social crisis that has developed due to the prolonged absence of a functioning Executive and Assembly.

“The principles of accountability, transparency and responsibility, identified in the agreement are crucial to underpinning sustainable government and ensuring that the experience of the last three years cannot happen again.  Along with the development of trust and generosity of spirit, these measures offer an opportunity to build a peaceful and just society that is centred around respect and recognition of each other’s cultural identity.

“As Church leaders, we also welcome the renewed focus on reconciliation, which will be central to the Executive’s approach, and welcome practical commitments to extend welfare mitigations, address significant challenges in education and health, tackle the mental health crisis, and deal with the continued scourge of paramilitarism and sectarianism.

“Last year we initiated a civic dialogue between political parties and representatives from key sectors in civil society across Northern Ireland.  Reflecting on that engagement we noted that, ‘when politics is broken the responsibility for fixing it does not rest with the politicians alone.’  We therefore renew our commitment to supporting the new Executive as it begins its work, and along with others in civic society, recognise our collective responsibility for the common good.

“Today is a sign of welcome progress that provides an opportunity for a new start for Northern Ireland’s political institutions and one that can also offer fresh hope.  The story of the Christian faith is one of new beginnings, where failure is never final, second chances abound, and all things can be renewed.  We will continue to offer our prayers for all involved in making this agreement work, encouraging them, for the sake of the whole community, to grasp fully this new opportunity.”

The statement is signed by Most Rev Dr Richard Clarke, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of All Ireland;  Rt Rev Dr William Henry, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland; Most Rev Eamon Martin, Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Dromore & Primate of all Ireland;  Rev Sam McGuffin, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland; and Rev Brian Anderson, President of the Irish Council of Churches.

ENDS