Leaders from the Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, and Methodist Churches of Northern Ireland have joined together in support of a stunning announcement by the leaders of Northern Ireland's major Protestant and Catholic political parties to forge a power-sharing administration in the deeply divided area.
The breakthrough the in ages-old ethno-political fight between those who wish Northern Ireland to unite with the Republic of Ireland and those who desire the region to remain under the control of the United Kingdom followed unprecedented face-to-face negotiations between the Protestants of Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party and the Catholics of Gerry Adams' Sinn Fein. The new administration is scheduled to take hold on May 8th according to the Associated Press.
"After a long and difficult time in our province, I believe that enormous opportunities lie ahead for our province," said Paisley, 80, whose party previously boycotted contact with Sinn Fein because of its links to the outlawed Irish Republican Army.
A note released yesterday and signed by Archbishop Sean Brady, President of the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference, David Clarke, Chairman of the Presbyterian Church, Archbishop Alan Harper, Primate of the Anglican “Church of Ireland”, and Ivan McElhinney, President of the Methodist Church, echoed Paisley’s sentiment, calling the agreement, “an important and extremely welcome step in the pursuit of s stable future for Northern Ireland."
“Along with many others, our Churches have encouraged for a long time the politicians of our region to work towards a local government for Northern Ireland, and we are sure this will materialize today", the prelates agreed in their statement.
The religious leaders encouraged all people to continue praying for the future of Northern Ireland. “It is important that all of us keep building a country in which we are all enhanced, where diversity is respected and where peace and harmony can thrive," they said.
In addressing the possibilities of a sustainable peace in the future, Paisley noted the need to overcome past violence and hatred. "We must not allow our justified loathing of the horrors and tragedies of the past to become a barrier to creating a better and more stable future for our children," the Unionist leader said.
Adams, 58, a reputed veteran IRA commander, said Monday's talks and accord "marks the beginning of a new era of politics on this island."
He said Protestants and Catholics had been in conflict in northeast Ireland for centuries. "Now there's a new start, with the help of God," he declared.
Both Adams and Paisley said they and their deputies would begin immediate negotiations on forging a joint platform for government.
The two foes, who previously negotiated only via third parties, sat beside each other at a table in the main dining room in Stormont Parliamentary Building in Belfast but reportedly did not shake hands.
The majority of the population of Northern Ireland are Catholic, followed by Presbyterians, Anglicans and Methodists.