Church leaders urge action to address destructive poverty

Senior Derry church leaders Eamon Martin and Andrew Forster have expressed 'deep concern' at the impact the cost of living crisis is already having on the poor and vulnerable and have called for urgent practical support from government and civil society organisations.

Archbishop Eamon Martin, the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, and the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe Rt. Rev. Andrew Forster, have joined the leaders of the other main churches in Ireland to issue an urgent appeal to the governments in Belfast, Dublin and London.

In a joint statement the Church Leaders Group (Ireland), which also includes the Presbyterian Moderator Rt. Rev. Dr. John Kirkpatrick, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of all Ireland, Most. Rev. John McDowell and the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland Rev. David Dixon, said more needs to be done at government level to prevent people 'losing their homes, health or lives'.

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Over 100,000 people living in poverty in Derry and Strabane
The Church Leaders’ Group (Ireland) – left to right: The Right Reverend Dr John Kirkpatrick, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Right Reverend Andrew Forster, President of the Irish Council of Churches, Reverend David Nixon, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland. Seated (left to right) The Most Reverend Eamon Martin, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland and the Most Reverend John McDowell, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland

They stated: “The unfolding cost of living crisis is affecting many households, across the island of Ireland, but particularly those who were already vulnerable and living in poverty. Projections for the autumn point to the situation worsening while too many people are already struggling to afford essentials like food and fuel and are in real danger of losing their homes, health or lives.

“As leaders of Churches with a presence across the island we are deeply concerned by what we are seeing on the ground, with the increasing energy and food prices disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable, often leaving people with impossible choices to make, missing meals, and falling into arrears on bills."

The church leaders said that while an emergency response is needed as what is forecast to be an extremely difficult autumn and winter approaches longer term strategies to address poverty must be put in place.

“We are deeply concerned regarding the government response in both jurisdictions, in meeting immediate needs and also in relation to longer term strategy. In Northern Ireland, the Good Friday Belfast Agreement created a statutory requirement for the Northern Ireland Executive to produce an anti-poverty strategy on the basis of objective need.

"Almost 25 years later and this has never been agreed or produced. Likewise, in Ireland a cross-party anti-poverty strategy is badly needed to address issues in a comprehensive and effective manner.

“We want to join our voices with many others, calling for more practical support to be delivered urgently through direct government initiatives in both jurisdictions and also via grassroots charity and community partnerships. This must go hand in hand with a longer term refocusing of government policies to deliver real and meaningful social justice and eliminate poverty across this island.”

The Christian leaders ended by saying charity must also be accompanied by justice.

“Followers of Christ have always been called to serve the poor, not just through acts of charity, though these continue every day in ways large and small, but through the pursuit of justice and mercy.

"It is our shared vocation to witness to Christ and to protect the dignity of those made in God’s image, and so we are compelled to speak up in this moment, out of concern and in hope, for the good and flourishing of everyone in our communities," they stated.