Grasp this chance to strike a deal, Church leaders urge Northern Ireland parties
Church leaders have encouraged Northern Ireland's politicians to restore devolution after the Stormont talks paused for Christmas.
The plea comes in a joint statement issued by senior clerics. They speak of the impact of the political impasse across society, including health and education.
The leaders of the Church of Ireland, Most Rev Dr Richard Clarke; Methodist Church in Ireland, Rev Sam McGuffin; Catholic Church, Most Rev Eamon Martin; Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rt Rev Dr William Henry; and the Irish Council of Churches, Rev Brian Anderson said they were disappointed an agreement could not be reached before the festive period.
The talks, aimed at securing a deal to restore power-sharing at Stormont, ended on Friday without a deal, with the DUP singled out by Secretary of State Julian Smith as the barrier to agreement.
The main stumbling block surrounded the petition of concern voting mechanism, which has been used to veto issues such as same-sex marriage. One suggestion is to make it more difficult for one party to use the petition to block controversial legislation.
The Church leaders encouraged all of the parties to "grasp the opportunity" to strike a deal when they return to the negotiating table next month.
"It is incumbent on all of us to recognise the road that has been travelled since the collapse of the Executive nearly three years ago," they said.
"It is a journey that has damaged our health service and our schools. It has also nurtured a growing sense of despair in our politics and contributed to additional hardships and worry experienced by the most vulnerable people in our society.
"While we acknowledge that points of difference obviously remain, the goal of restoring devolution remains within reach, even if it still rests a little way off.
"We add our collective support for this process and encourage those taking part to continue working creatively and courageously towards a deal that can bring stability and begin to restore a sense of hope.
"For the sake of the whole community, we urge all our political representatives to go that extra mile."
They added that through generosity of spirit and courageous leadership a "balanced accommodation" that serves the common good can be found and will lead to a new power-sharing Executive.