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Church leaders urge politicians to be `courageous and compassionate' in search for devolution agreement

Catholic primate Archbishop Eamon Martin and Church of Ireland counterpart Archbishop Richard Clarke were among the leaders who issued the report

POLITICIANS must be "courageous and compassionate" in order to restore a "sustainable" power-sharing executive, Church leaders have urged.

Ireland's main Churches - Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican and Methodist - have made public a report based on meetings of `civic society' they convened across Northern Ireland following briefings from leaders of the five main parties in September.

The document - `A time for courageous and compassionate leadership' - was handed over to Secretary of State Karen Bradley, Tánaiste Simon Coveney and the Stormont parties last week.

Around 120 people attended the `facilitated discussions' in Newry, Belfast, Ballymena and Derry, with two Church leaders attending each meeting.

Catholic Archbishop Eamon Martin described the "sense of despair" which had set in following the murder of Lyra McKee in Derry last month.

"If we don't sit around the table and talk, then what else?" he said.

Presbyterian Clerk of the General Assembly Rev Trevor Gribben, who is secretary to the Church Leaders' Group, said their aim was to "encourage those involved in this fresh (talks) initiative".

"We have heard a strong message coming from our local communities that this is the kind of leadership people want, and need, to see at the present time,” he said.

"Acknowledging that the timing for the talks was not perfect, the Church leaders said that they were aware of a growing sense of despair in communities at the lack of political movement on restoring devolution.

"Together, they hoped that this fresh initiative would lead to substantive progress and the establishment of a sustainable power-sharing executive that is built on balanced accommodation and focused on the common good.

"They added that this would require leadership that is courageous and compassionate."

Church of Ireland Primate Archbishop Richard Clarke warned of the urgency needed.

"One of the messages we tried to send today is that in a vacuum, other forces will move into that vacuum and take control of it.

"And for that reason, there is this absolutely huge need to ensure that somehow, normal political life starts again."

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