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Reconciliation is the most important political project on the island - Kearney

22 April, 2016 - by Declan Kearney

Ten weeks before last year’s Ard Fheis the Stormont House Agreement was signed.

I said then that if fully implemented it could be a catalyst for reconciliation.

In subsequent months the North descended into a very serious political crisis.

Thankfully political stability has since been restored with the establishment of the Fresh Start Agreement.

But many challenges exist. 

This British conservative government refuses to recognise the special circumstances of the North.

Its economic policies deny fiscal independence to the Executive, and are undermining our local public services.

Historic patterns of economic inequality and social disadvantage still exist in many areas.

Sectarianism and segregation remain endemic.

Parity of esteem and respect for the Irish identity, and the republican, nationalist traditions continues to be denied.

A major impediment to progress is the impasse on dealing with the past due to the British Government’s veto on maximum information disclosure.

It’s refusal to do so, or engage seriously with Sinn Féin’s proposals to resolve this impasse confirms that powerful sections of the British State have decided there should be no progress on dealing with the past.

That position is unacceptable to Sinn Féin and victims’ families and representatives.

The British government should lift its veto and allow the mechanisms agreed for dealing with the past to begin working.

This Party is absolutely committed to ensuring our society’s legacy of suffering and pain is addressed, and a process of reconciliation and healing is established.

There has been much suffering on all sides.

We must begin to heal those hurts and divisions.

The politics of hatred and resentment will only serve to imprison our society in the past.

So, there is a choice to be made between reconciliation, or engaging in endless recrimination.

Republicans have made our decision.

Reconciliation must be this society’s future.

In his poem “1916”, Yeats said,

“Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart.”

Republican hearts have been broken many times during previous and more recent phases of conflict, but we have never lost our humanity, or ability to look to the future.

Vision was the defining and timeless characteristic of the 1916 Proclamation.

It spoke of being “oblivious of the divisions carefully fostered to divide a minority from the majority”.

Sinn Féin is guided by the principles of the Proclamation.

We are egalitarian, anti-sectarian, Irish republicans.

We belong to a proud, legitimate republican tradition.

And, we refuse to be vilified or criminalised by our opponents in state establishments, politics, or by the media, north or south.

Republicans have stretched and challenged ourselves to develop the Peace Process.

And we have done so in pursuit of reconciliation and healing.

But now it is time that others began to do the same.

Reconciliation is the right thing to do, but it is not a one way street.

Just like the Peace Process, reconciliation is inevitable.

The question is whether we want it to be achieved sooner, or later.

It has to be a collective, shared and inclusive process. 

It requires partnership, and a willingness to take risks.

That was exemplified last year in the deeply historic and symbolic meeting between the leadership of Sinn Féin and Prince Charles, against the backdrop of his own pilgrimage to remember his uncle killed by the IRA.

That particular meeting powerfully underlined the importance of leadership in taking forward reconciliation.

Just as a few extremists have always been hostile to the Peace Process, some state and political interests did not want that meeting to occur, or the symbolism of its message to be seen or heard.

They are wrong.

There is a bigger picture.

Those of us who share a strategic vision for the Peace Process must reach out to each other and encourage an inclusive national conversation on reconciliation.

That is, an authentic public discourse on reconciliation between republicans and unionists; green and orange; Irish and British; and, those of no tradition, or faith.

The private dialogues which Sinn Féin and others have diligently pursued over many years 

on the way forward now need translated into actions.

It is time;

For the silent majority to challenge itself, and be heard;

For the Prophetic voices to start speaking out;

For civic leadership to take public responsibility,

And, it also long past time, for all political and governmental leaderships to step up to the mark.

A broad based coalition for reconciliation could generate the momentum which would open a new phase of the Peace Process.

The symbolic words, gestures and actions now have to be built upon.

Reconciliation needs to be move from being an aspiration to become a concrete reality in peoples’ lives.

That is why I commend the new policy document “Towards an Agreed and Reconciled Future” to this Ard Fheis.

It is a substantive contribution to designing a road map towards making reconciliation the new phase of our Peace Process.

Others should bring forward their proposals and strategies.

Sinn Féin wants reconciliation placed at the heart of government in the North and across Ireland.

The new northern Executive, Assembly, and North- South Ministerial Council have leadership roles in advancing reconciliation.

We will be seeking a clear reconciliation focus from all government departments, public bodies and local councils.

All major policy decisions should be reconciliation proofed against equality, anti-sectarian, and good relations benchmarks.

This approach should become central to all aspects of public policy in the North.

Reconciliation should shape the policy framework from which legislation is drafted and brought forward to tackle and eradicate sectarianism.

We will seek the adoption of a dedicated national reconciliation strategy under the auspices of the North- South Ministerial Council.

Both the British and Irish governments have strategic obligations to ensure that reconciliation becomes the new positive dynamic driving the Peace Process.

The Peace Process has transformed Irish society.

It is the most important political project on the island.

Reconciliation among all sections of our people, and between Ireland and Britain should become its next and most transformational phase.

The Fresh Start now has to become a New Start for going forward:

·      Towards new human and political relations

·      Towards an end to sectarianism in all its toxic manifestations

·      Towards equality, respect and parity of esteem

·      Towards new opportunities for all citizens

·      And, towards the achievement of a new, agreed, united Ireland.

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