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Clerics are right: time to do a deal

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 02/11/2015

As Northern Ireland faces yet another crucial week in the search to find political agreement, two senior church figures have underlined the importance of reaching a settlement.

It would be understandable, however, if these well-meaning words leave many people cold, as it stretches the memory of most of us to think of a time when our political system was not mired in crisis, or facing yet another crunch deadline.

Nevertheless, the opportunity remains for our politicians to come up with a deal this week which would secure the future of Stormont and - equally important - restore some measure of public faith in the power-sharing Executive.

Both Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness were very clear when they said last week that the window of opportunity to secure a deal was fast closing. Both men underlined that there were only days left, rather than weeks or months, and their warnings must be taken very seriously.

The long-standing challenges of finding agreement on the complex subjects of welfare reform and paramilitary crime are now imminent, and it is up to the politicians on all sides to rise up to overcome such challenges.

There is widespread support for a deal, and this is confirmed by our reports today of the comments of two senior churchmen.

A former Presbyterian Moderator, the Very Rev Dr Norman Hamilton, speaks of the need for political accommodation, and he points out realistically that neither side can hope to achieve all they want. There must be some level of compromise on all sides.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Justin Welby took the same theme during his visit to Belfast yesterday. He rightly urged the Government to go the extra mile in providing extra money if this can help to bridge the gap, but realistically emphasises that a deal must be done by the local parties who need to take risks to turn the current crisis into a "moment of hope."

Nothing could be clearer, and the time has come to behave like leaders rather than to revert to the hollow and tribal political stereotypes which have held Northern Ireland back for so long.

We all hope that the politicians will heed the wise and timely words from these distinguished church figures who are firmly on the side of peace and progress.

Belfast Telegraph

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