Church leaders have stressed that strategies for dealing with paramilitary group violence should always focus on people as “it is ultimately people that matter to God”.
They met members of the Panel on Disbanding Paramilitary Groups in Belfast on 27th April, the body set up under last November’s Fresh Start Agreement to develop recommendations for a strategy to end paramilitarism and disband paramilitary groups.
Following the meeting the Church leaders, made up of the Bishop of Down and Connor, Noel Treanor, who was representing the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh; President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Rev. Brian Anderson; Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, Richard Clarke; and Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rt. Rev. Dr. Ian McNie, released a joint statement.
They addressed the “oppressive reality” of paramilitary violence and criminality that still remains nearly 20 years on from the Good Friday Agreement, noting how it affects so many communities, particularly those in some of the most disadvantaged parts of Northern Ireland.
The Church leaders welcomed the opportunity to meet with the Panel on Disbanding Paramilitary Groups and used it as an opportunity to encourage them in the task they have been given. The meeting also involved the discussion of the many challenges that any strategy would need to address.
“We pray for openness, co-operation and engagement on all sides,” said the Church leaders. “We also stressed that any strategy for dealing with this issue has to have its focus on people, because it is ultimately people that matter to God.
“There genuinely needs to be a fresh start – bringing a sense of hope to those who have suffered through paramilitary activity in their communities and also pointing to a better way for those who have been involved in paramilitary organisations.”
Picture: A Loyalist paramilitary mural on the Newtownards road in Belfast. (Paul Faith/PA)