The Church of Ireland Board for Social Theology has expressed disappointment at a statement by Social Development Minister Alex Atwood on the extension of Sunday trading hours.
A statement from the Board reads: “The current Sunday trading arrangements were reviewed as recently as 2006 across the UK and widely concluded to have struck the right balance. Given these conclusions and the extensive work required to ensure a robust review process, it seems wasteful to call for another review so soon.
“Research shows the current arrangements also have the support of Unions, workers, small businesses, church groups and majority of the public. It is therefore puzzling that the minister should be pushing for a review, despite no significant call for such from the community.
“With increasing pressure and stress on family and community life, the current arrangements for Sundays allow a day for relationships, rest and recreation. Such a day encourages families and communities to reconnect with each other at the end of a busy week and before another busy week starts. It is also a day that takes on extra significance for the 45 per cent of people in Northern Ireland who regularly attend church.
“An extension of opening hours on a Sunday would put more pressure on workers, small businesses and churches and also be detrimental to family and community life. The minister proposes a review that seems more inclined to benefit large retail stores than small businesses and ordinary families. Recent economic events have reminded us of the importance of placing community profit above that of big business.
“Government is increasingly recognising the role played by churches in Northern Ireland, but adding the pressure of more Sunday working hours will inevitably impact on people’s goodwill and their desire to contribute through church at a community level. At a time of economic cutbacks the role of community organisations, volunteers and churches is taking on increasing significance and the Minister’s proposal runs the risk of inhibiting this role.”
The statement concludes: “The Board has great respect for much of the work undertaken by the minister but would urge him not to pursue any extension of Sunday opening hours. The Board is keen to meet with the Minister in order to engage with him on this and other social and community issues.”