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Last Updated: Sunday, 1 June, 2003, 16:32 GMT 17:32 UK
Moderator in unity plea
Dr Russell Birney who steps down on Monday
Dr Russell Birney who steps down on Monday
Divisions within the loyalist community can be just as serious as those between Protestants and Catholics, a leading clergyman has said.

Outgoing Presbyterian moderator Dr Russell Birney urged church leaders to recognise such rifts and work with communities to end them.

Dr Birney, who steps down on Monday, said it was up to everyone to heal divisions in society.

"Let the deception and all the things people accuse the other of, go by the board," Dr Birney said on Sunday.

"Just consider the ordinary people out there who want to see an executive, an assembly - they want to see it working."

He said there was a challenge to seek the welfare of people in loyalist communities, and not just bridge the gap between Protestants and Catholics.

"The gulf between the church and many loyalist communities is as great, if not greater, than that which exists across our historic divide," he said.

"There is no place for the criminality, drugs and pain that paramilitaries inflict on their own and we must condemn this in the strongest terms.

"But our words must be matched by actions in order to confront the moral and social erosion of this community."

Our responsibility as christians is to seek the welfare of the people of Glenbryn and Ardoyne, of Cluan Place and the Short Strand
Dr Russell Birney
Presbyterian Moderator

Dr Birney, who will be replaced by Dr Ivan McKay at the opening session of the General Assembly, urged Presbyterian congregations to re-connect with their communities.

"To seek to separate the church from society is to harm the church,"he said.

The moderator, who has visited interface areas in north and east Belfast, also said churches must be concerned about all communities.

"The temptation is to distance oneself from the situation but to do so would be quite wrong, for our responsibility as christians is to seek the welfare of the people of Glenbryn and Ardoyne, of Cluan Place and the Short Strand."

Earlier this week, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams called for face-to-face talks with loyalists to prevent interface violence in Belfast this summer.

Mr Adams said he believed the mood in unionist communities was positive.

However, he said there needed to be collective responsibility to ensure there was no repeat of the violent scenes from last summer.

Presbyterian Moderator Dr Russell Birney
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