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Reconciliation and Legacy. By Sinn Féin National Chairperson Declan Kearney

12 April, 2013


The progress of our Peace Process shows what is possible through engagement and dialogue, but the events of recent months demonstrate the dangers of taking it for granted. In the north our people remain deeply divided by sectarianism and segregation.

There are still many people hurting in each community, and across our island. Since our last Ard Fheis there has been public discussion on the need for reconciliation in our society. That is to be welcomed. Sinn Fein has prioritized the goal of reconciliation because it will strengthen the Peace Process and is the right thing to do.

As republicans, we are committed to achieving the unity of our people, and persuading for an agreed, multicultural, united Ireland. Reconciliation is the only way to replace divisions with new human and political relationships among our people.

No single party or community can own a reconciliation process, or strategy. Whilst none of us can be absolved of responsibility for the injustices, practices or actions, which caused or perpetuated our conflict, we must all contribute to building a better society. Engagement and dialogue on how to do that are essential.

Courage and vision are paramount. During the last year, I and others have attempted to engage directly with both main unionist parties on how to develop an inclusive reconciliation discourse. The required momentum or willingness does not yet exist within those unionist parties to do so. But that is not representative of all unionist attitudes.

Fear and suspicion, real or imagined, are deeply entrenched in our own community also. However, none of this can be properly addressed or allayed without proper engagement. There is no alternative to dialogue. Building upon our shared achievements, unionists and republicans should become guarantors for a new phase of the peace process.

United leadership is necessary on the imperatives of equality, reconciliation and mutual respect. I believe that is what the overwhelming majority of our people want. Many within the unionist community recognize that reconciliation is a vision we should all share. Yes, uncomfortable conversations will be unavoidable, and agreement upon parity of esteem and equality are essential. But these discussions threaten no one.

We are morally bound to ensure future generations grow up in a better place than we did. This is common ground. There is more to unite than divide republican and unionist communities. Throughout the past year, leaders from mainstream loyalism have met with us and explained their apprehensions and ambitions about the future.

We are genuinely committed to these discussions and dialogue, without preconditions, with all forms of political unionism. The economic and social disadvantage facing unionist and nationalist communities are the same. Community leaders, unionists and republicans should work in solidarity to tackle these inequalities in our areas. Over many months our Party has also intensively engaged with many strands of church, business, civic and community opinion within the unionist community.

It is a reality that a lack of trust across our community is a huge block to progress. Republicans should consider very carefully what more we can do to engender trust and confidence with our unionist neighbours.

However, reconciliation is not a one-way street. It poses challenges for us all. Political, church, business, academic, community and other leaders, must give public expression to how we collectively manage the future of the peace process and forge new opportunities for the next generation.

I believe, without prejudice to our preferred constitutional outcomes, that consensus on this is achievable. The alternative is to allow the wreckers to push the process into a vacuum. New thinking and resolute leadership is needed to create a context which promotes generosity and forgiveness from us all.

That should include willingness to explore common acknowledgement for the hurt caused by all past actions. Hurts which cannot be undone or never forgotten. However, a new approach to how we manage our past is clearly required. If we agree reconciliation is important it deserves urgent attention.

It must not be reduced to a poker game about the past. This is a time for mould breaking initiatives from republicans, unionists, and both governments.

Archbishop Tutu’s wisdom is relevant: “Having looked the beast in the eye, Having asked and received forgiveness, Let us shut the door on the past, Not to forget, but to allow it not to imprison us.”

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