The Church Leaders Group (Ireland) met with the Rt Hon Chris Heaton–Harris MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, at Hillsborough Castle on Wednesday evening (26 October 2022). At the meeting they relayed to the Secretary of State the reality of life for ordinary people from their congregations and parishes across Northern Ireland, outlining the significant stress that is being caused by the fear of what is coming in the months ahead.
Their statement following the meeting is provided in full below:
Wednesday evening’s meeting was a long–standing arrangement and we welcomed the opportunity to meet with Mr Heaton–Harris for the first time since his appointment last month, and his reappointment by the new Prime Minister on Tuesday. We stressed the need for urgent action to be taken in light of the fact that the people of Northern Ireland are experiencing the worst cost of living crisis in generations.
Together we were able to relay to him the reality of life for ordinary people from across our congregations and parishes, outlining the significant stress that is being caused by the fear of what is coming in the months ahead and the uncertainty about the support that is being offered.
While outlining some of the initiatives that our churches are undertaking on the ground, as they seek to make a difference, we took the opportunity to urge the Secretary of State to give the clarity that is needed in relation to the support that has been promised, especially for the most vulnerable in our society, who are always affected the most when there is a cost of living crisis.
In a productive and wide–ranging conversation, we also discussed the current uncertainty around the political situation in Northern Ireland and the importance of maintaining stability, regardless of whatever scenario evolves after this Friday’s deadline expires to re–establish the Executive. We also took the opportunity to highlight the increasingly strained relationships on these islands, and within local communities, caused by the outworking of Brexit and the resulting Northern Ireland Protocol.
Together we urged the Secretary of State to encourage his colleague, the Foreign Secretary, to work for a negotiated settlement with the European Union that both deals with the trade issues and enables people to be secure in their identity, allowing relationships to improve.
As Church Leaders we also raised two important issues that the UK government had acted on in recent years – the introduction of the most liberal abortion regime on these islands, and the current legacy bill before Parliament – outlining the concerns of many on both these highly sensitive issues.
The Most Revd John McDowell
Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of All Ireland
The Most Revd Eamon Martin
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of All Ireland
The Rt Revd Andrew Forster
President of the Irish Council of Churches
The Rt Revd Dr John Kirkpatrick
Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland
The Revd David Nixon
President of the Methodist Church in Ireland