Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Derry-born Primate of the Catholic Church in Ireland, has led the church in its first official talks with new SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.
Dr. Martin, speaking after the meeting, said the church delegation welcomed the opportunity to discuss a range of issues with the party, including “the shocking increase in levels of childhood poverty during the mandate of the last Assembly and the SDLP’s positive commitment to building a culture of life and care”.
Dr. Martin was accompanied by representatives from the Northern Ireland Catholic Council on Social Affairs (NICCOSA). Bishop Donal McKeown, Bishop of Derry, also took part in the talks.
The meeting was the first in a round of meetings NICCOSA is having with political parties in the North in the coming weeks.
Dr Martin said: “We want to support politicians in their noble vocation of building a better society and to explore how we as a Church, with other faith communities and civic groups, can work together with politicians in the next Assembly to address the many challenges confronting our society... We also encouraged the party to look at ways of widening participation in the policy making processes of the next Assembly and in building a more positive, inclusive and outward looking civic and political culture.”
Malachy McKernan, a member of NICCOSA, said the Church delegation had asked the SDLP to make addressing child poverty and the widening gap between rich and poor the first priority of the programme for government in the next Assembly.