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Agreement can be a catalyst for reconciliation – Kearney

20 February, 2015


There is a need for new political and human relationships based on trust and respect. We may never agree on the past but that must not be allowed to hold back the future.

Sinn Féin National Chairperson Declan Kearney has said there is a need for new political and community relationships in order to achieve genuine reconciliation. 

Speaking at a reconciliation event in the Skainos Centre in east Belfast, Mr Kearney said; 

"The Stormont House Agreement has created a new political context for all of us. 

"It has opened up the opportunity for a new phase of the peace process to be developed based on reconciliation. 

"There is a need for new political and human relationships based on trust and respect. We may never agree on the past but that must not be allowed to hold back the future. 

"A public discourse on reconciliation, free from recrimination, and based on mutual respect, driven from within the democratic process and civic society is needed. 

"An initiative of common acknowledgement from all sides for the pain caused by, and against each other, could make a powerful contribution to forgiveness and healing. 

"The Stormont House Agreement can be a catalyst for reconciliation by establishing the frameworks to assist in dealing with the past and facilitating discussion on the issues that divide our society. 

“Moulds need to be broken.  Example needs to be shown; and initiatives need to be taken… by everyone, jointly and together.  Genuine unity of purpose is more important than ever.

“Neither of the two governments are bystanders in all of this.  Each is a co-equal guarantor for this Agreement and its implementation.

"That will depend on the full commitment of all parties and governments to do so. However all sections of civic society have an important role to ensure this potential is harnessed and built upon. 

"In order to do so, political, civic, community and church leaders need to work jointly on a strategy which ensures the process of reconciliation is embedded in society.” ENDS/CRÍOCH

Full text of Declan Kearney's speech at the Skainos Centre Thursday 19th February 2015 

What is National Reconciliation?

The term national reconciliation will inevitably evoke different perspectives according to political allegiance or ideology, and how these define the national context or nation state.

Irish republicanism will interpret national reconciliation as the unity of protestant, catholic, dissenter, of all religions and none, and regardless to ethnic origin or sexual orientation, in the context of an Irish national democracy.

However, approaching discussion on reconciliation in such terms carries the hazard, as experience shows, of reconciliation becoming reduced to a political blame game.

Discussion on reconciliation can and should be taken forward, without prejudice to our respective and differing constitutional preferences.

The more fundamental question for our community relates to the urgent need for reconciliation, and what it should look like.

The reality is that twenty years into our Peace Process we have not yet successfully developed a reconciliation process.

Human and political relationships have been broken by political conflict within our society, throughout Ireland, and between Britain and Ireland.

Far too many citizens from all sections of this community live with real and immediate pain.

The entire community in East Belfast has been scarred by the conflict.

I recognise there are families from homes and streets neighbouring this venue who have been hurt as a result of IRA actions during the war. 

I am sorry that they have had, and continue, to suffer such pain.  Their loss can never be undone, but we can ensure such events are never repeated and that the conditions of conflict do not re-emerge.  That is my and Sinn Féin’s commitment.

As has been said previously, with the benefit of hindsight we can all see things we would wish had been done differently or not all.  

Today there is no alternative to a future which is shared by all sides on the basis of equality and respect for difference.  

The desecration this week of a memorial to citizens from this part of East Belfast was abhorrent.  There must be no tolerance for any sectarian, racist, or homophobic attacks, or such attitudes against any section of our society.

There is much healing to be done.  Past enemies need to make peace by accepting the need to work together, and then become partners.

That will not be easy.  The legacy of our past casts a long shadow.  

It is a huge cause of division because of our different historical and political narratives.  The result is community division and increased sectarianism and segregation.  

There is also the existence of real and imagined fear, of and for, each other, and indeed of change itself.

That will remain our collective reality until the concept and process of reconciliation is embraced.

There is a need for new political and human relationships, based upon trust and respect.  We may never agree on the past, but that must not be allowed to hold back the future.

The war is over.  Zero sum scenarios and thinking should be put in the past.  

The prospect of reconciliation allows us all to become winners.  This can be the new phase of the Peace Process.

New things are required to bring this about.

A sustained public discourse on reconciliation, free from recrimination, and based on mutual respect, driven from within the democratic process and civic society is needed.

An initiative of common acknowledgement from all sides for the pain caused by, and against each other, could make a powerful contribution to forgiveness and healing.

A step change is required in how we manage the Peace and political processes.

The serious deterioration in the political process over recent years demonstrates what can happen when the Peace Process is taken for granted, particularly by the British and Irish governments.

That must never happen again.  There is too much at stake. 

The process needs to protected and reenergised.

A process of authentic reconciliation would bring renewed momentum. 

That is now achievable.

The Stormont House Agreement has created a new political context for us all.

Faithful implementation of all elements of the Agreement by all parties and the two governments can ensure political stability, welfare protection, and the potential to maintain core public services and promote economic growth.

Importantly, this Agreement can be a catalyst for reconciliation, by establishing the frameworks to assist in dealing with the past and facilitating societal engagement, and discussion on all the other issues which divide our community.

That will of course depend on the full commitment of all parties and governments to do so.

However, all sections of civic society have an important role to ensure this potential is harnessed and built upon.

The Stormont House Agreement has given us another chance.  It must not be squandered.

The spirit of the Agreement and its opportunity must now be translated into concrete initiatives which can advance reconciliation in the here and now.

All political and civic leaders need to be willing to participate in the uncomfortable conversations which are key to making new progress towards healing. 

No matter how difficult, such engagement must be sustained and encouraged.

Political leaders in particular, have a duty to take the lead in promoting a real public discourse which is free from recrimination or resentment.

All sides, including republicans, need to carefully reflect upon our decisions, actions and our language in the future.

Leadership must be seen to be given at every level against sectarianism, racism, and segregation.  This society must become a no-go area for all forms of discrimination.

There should be a fearless resolve to dismantle barriers which divide our community, and to build bridges.  Those who want to push the Peace Process backwards, or who directly, or implicitly oppose reconciliation, should be challenged; and without fear or favour.

Substantive and symbolic gestures are important.  They build confidence and inspire hope.

Significant joint and shared initiatives, by republicans and unionists will speak even more powerfully to the wider community.

The Stormont House Agreement provides scaffolding for reconciliation.  Political, civic, community and church leaders need to work jointly on a strategy which ensures the process is in turn embedded within society.

Moulds need to be broken.  Example needs to be shown; and initiatives need to be taken...by everyone, jointly and together.  Genuine unity of purpose is more important than ever.

Neither of the two governments are bystanders in all of this.  Once more, each is a co-equal guarantor for this Agreement and its implementation.

The British government especially has a responsibility to properly resource and financially underpin the development of reconciliation, not only in terms of the architecture and measures agreed, but also the wider social and economic reconstruction which are central to managing the transition towards a new phase of the Peace Process.  

The north is still a society emerging from conflict.

Much has been transformed, but much more requires to be done.

Ending division, sectarianism, inequality and fear are the new challenges for us all.

It is time to make reconciliation the new phase of the Peace Process.

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