Maidin mhaith daoibh, agus tá athas mór orm a bheith anseo inniu ag an áit speisialta agus tabhachtach.
Good morning and thank you to Tony Kennedy and the John Hewitt Society for giving me the opportunity to open the 25th International Summer School.
Thanks must also go to the Market Place Theatre, which is an excellent setting for the Summer School.
Writing in 1908, Alice Stoppford-Green said that:
“… the true record of Ireland will be powerful to efface the prejudices, the contempt, and the despair that falsehood alone can foster; and to build up on solid foundations of fact, the esteem and consideration that must form the only honourable relation between two neighbouring peoples.”
Over a century later, levels of mutual esteem and consideration between the peoples of Ireland and Britain have reached impressive heights. These new relations are being built on the solid foundation of the Irish peace process.
Sometimes there are instances of cynicism about our political leaders and our peace process. But as deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness’s recent meeting with Queen Elizabeth demonstrated, the cynics are merely spectators to the history-makers.
Yet despite the big picture progress, ‘the true record of Ireland’ over the last century still needs to be written and acknowledged by all of those who participated in its creation and continuance.
We are on the cusp of a decade of centenaries which encompass our shared history and distinct political traditions, from the impact of the 1916 Easter Rising, to the constitutional landmark of the 1919 Declaration of Independence, to the damage of partition, to the tragedy of eight decades of anti-Irish apartheid and terrible armed conflict.
Each of these key elements, and many more, need their true record reflected and respected in the here and now. The Executive’s decision to adopt an inclusive and respectful approach to commemorations over the next decade must be warmly recognised. I look forward to working closely with my Executive colleague Arlene Foster and my Dublin counterpart Jimmy Deenihan on this important all-Ireland project in the time ahead.
For all of us must ensure that the years and the fears of the past are never, ever repeated. And it is in the opening of our hearts and our heads that a bright dawn can glow across the future of our new dispensation.
Each of us has our own truth to tell, and our own facts to face. And each of us needs the courage to listen and the capacity to learn from the experience of others.
It is only in this inclusive context that a true gear-shift towards achieving genuine national reconciliation throughout Ireland can be accomplished. Such talk of an inclusive approach to truth isn’t rhetoric. It is an absolute requirement.
As history is our marker, plotting each mile of steady progress from the painful past, so too truth must become our keystone for cementing authentic reconciliation between our peoples. And all voices in that chorus of truth must be equally valued.
St Paul once wrote that “knowledge grasps the truth imperfectly”. And in that truism, rests the reason why authentic reconciliation will never be achieved through laws, or theories, or policies – no matter how well intentioned.
The truth about our recent tragic history can only be unveiled when everyone comes to the table of reconciliation ready and willing to respect the rights of others and reflect honestly on our respective roles.
It is significant and commendable that a range of courageous leaders from Sinn Féin and key sectors in the Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist community are currently exploring the road to reconciliation through the opening of “uncomfortable conversations” around such issues.
I also believe that there are other progressive elements in political unionism and the Orange culture who would like to become part of the ownership and direction of this reconciliation process, and I would strongly encourage them to do so.
But our recent conflict didn’t simply involve Planters and Gaels. The key protagonist was the British State, and the organs of the British State must accept the need to embrace the fulsome disclosure of truth about its role. If it refuses, then it will be the British State which poses the greatest threat to the genuine foundations of esteem and consideration which the Orange and Green traditions on this island are slowly starting to embed.
The debates and discussions happening this week at this summer school will, I sincerely hope, begin to constructively open up some of these issues.
And it is also worth remembering that, inspite of the absence of armed conflict and the success of our peace process, we as a society – including the Executive – still have huge amounts of work to do in order to tackle discrimination, deprivation, inequality and injustice.
Arts and culture have a huge role to play in ventilating the views of the society we all want to achieve. And I am delighted to be opening such a tremendous programme of events using the arts as a vehicle for exploration and understanding.
But, in closing, it is important to state that their value will only ever be as good as their relevance to the real world of today. As the poetry of Bobby Sands puts it:
“The Men of Art have lost their heart.
They dream within their dreams.
Their magic sold for the price of gold,
Amidst a people’s screams.”
May this year's summer school provide leadership in the increasing role arts and culture can play as a medium for helping make sense of our different experiences, and present day challenges, and moreover assist in the authoring of a new future for all our children, based upon equality, increased understanding and mutual respect.
Go raibh mile maith agaibh.