The Presbyterian Church in Ireland expressed its grave concern today at the political impasse which has prevented the Stormont Executive meeting since June and called on ministers to sit down together without delay.
It expressed its belief the difficulties over devolving policing and justice powers to the local administration should not hold up the business of government.
The church urged Sinn Féin and the DUP to bury their differences and meet “as a sign of willingness for good governance for the people of Northern Ireland”.
In one of its strongest political statements in years, the church’s General Board, meeting in Belfast, said it was “deeply concerned that the present impasse in the Executive is rapidly leading to a general lack of confidence in the political process”.
The church commended the North's politicians for the progress made so far, but cautioned them against now wasting it.
“The failure of the Executive to meet is not only symbolic of difficulty, it is also a hindrance to matters affecting everyday life being addressed. This is seen in the lack of legislation passed by the Assembly.
“The result is a disenchanted population and a government not making best use of its devolved powers,” said Presbyterian leaders.
It was the view of the church expressed in a wide-ranging report and resolutions that the devolution of policing powers would be a sign of a maturing society.
It added: “We understand that for nationalists and republicans the devolution of these powers is of the utmost importance as the final proof of acceptance into shared government.
“We believe that the unionist parties need to be clear as to what the difficulties in agreeing the devolution of these powers actually are.”
It expressed the view the main concerns of unionists were about the budget for policing in the future and how that would be impacted by the cost of dealing with the past.
“While there may remain those who simply do not want to share powers with nationalists and republicans this is not, we believe, the main difficulty in reaching agreement.”
The church proposed that in the light of both the unknown and predicted costs of dealing with the legacy of the past, Westminster should not expect to devolve all financial responsibility to the Assembly.
“Responsibility for overcoming the divisions of the past will be undermined if financial costs are not shared by Westminster and the freedom of Northern Ireland’s leadership to accept responsibility for itself will be unhelpfully constrained.
“We also believe that, as devolution can happen incrementally, what is agreed for devolution should be devolved without delay.”
The church also expressed concern that claims of commitment to partnership government, specifically by Republicans, were undermined by an evident lack of understanding of those with whom they were claiming partnership.
In a message to both republicans and unionists, the church stressed: “There is no commitment to sharing without the commitment to understanding the political realities of those on ’the other side’ and each must take the concerns of the other seriously.”