Sinn Féin Response to the Glencree Community Submission
For Glencree, peace is about managing tensions and conflict in society and about avoiding violence. It is also about a welcoming acceptance for all identities, traditions and political, social and cultural aspirations. They say that to achieve this there is a need for institutional reform and a change of mindset as well as reconciliation. In all of this Glencree appears to excuse the churches for failing in this domain.
Sinn Féin has always been at the forefront of the search for a just peace in Ireland. We share the views expressed in this submission in relation to a peaceful resolution of conflict in our society and welcome the emphasis on the need for a more pluralist and inclusive society in Ireland. Likewise , we support the need for institutional change, the need for a change of heart, particularly among those supportive of an oppressive status quo, and the need for reconciliation between all the people of Ireland. However, Sinn Féin does not believe that institutional reform within the Union (even if this was possible) would be sufficient for the establishment of a just peace in Ireland.
The Glencree submission stresses the need for society to be inclusive. Reconciliation is defined in the submission as the "harmonisation of apparently opposed ideas... an act of respectful acceptance of others" (Appendix II). The role of politicians in all of this is to "encourage an atmosphere of reconciliation" (ibid). They do not spell out how politicians might do this.
To achieve reconciliation, according to the Glencree submission, people need forgiveness and acceptance. They assert that the result of successful reconciliation work is justice. Sinn Fein has several difficulties with the Glencree understanding of these notions and therelationship between them.
In the case of forgiveness, the emphasis in the text is on "I'm hurt... but I forgive you" not on "I have hurt, I am sorry". In others words, the onus for change is on the side of the victim rather than those who have been involved in injustices. the perpetrator of injustice is not required to have a change of heart. In this process of forgiveness, besides, there is no mention of the responsibility of communities or the State. Everything comes down to the individual, the victim.
For Sinn Féin, the starting point in any process of reconciliation is justice. People cannot be expected to be reconciled to injustice. Forgiveness is maximised when this flows from the righting of injustice. Forgiveness, furthermore, should not be seen as the work of the individual alone, but also of communities, groups, church institutions, governments. But, most importantly, forgiveness needs to be sought.
In the same section, the Glencree text points out that British-Irish relations have historically contributed to the situation in the North. End of story. Like other Christian-based peace and reconciliation groups, Glencree seems to dwell on sins of omission rather than commission, placing responsibility for the conflict on the shoulders of the government(s) by default. The Glencree group are simply not strong enough on those structures that have lead to oppression.
Forgiveness, they say, is only required for acts of physical violence. This suggests that for Glencree violence is the only significant problem. There is no question of recompense on the part of the authorities for their many injustices, violent and otherwise. Nor do they suggest a need to get at the truth and to attribute responsibility, or the establish a truth commission for this purpose. The submission is all very personal and may be therapeutic, but it says nothing about the fundamental injustice that is the foundation of the State, or about the social/communal aspects of injustices. It does not espouse any change of the status quo. It does not look for a change of heart on the part of those responsible for oppressive structures or the oppressive culture. It does not confront the responsibility of the oppressor full stop.
The submission simply says the Six Counties is a product of "disharmony" in British-Irish relations. In our opinion it is the product of economic, social, political and cultural policies, for which British and Unionist governments have been responsible with the support of various establishment groups, including the Churches. This historical interpretation is the nub of the problem.
For Glencree, acceptance is about the acceptance of opposing positions and beliefs. The victim must, significantly, accept the oppressor.
As mentioned above, we in Sinn Fein believe that what is first required is a change of heart - expressed in action - by the one who has committed the injustice. It is wrong to expect people to accept an unjust status quo. Surely a creative Christian love challenges injustice with demands for change.
For Glencree, justice is the end result of reconciliation work, i.e. of forgiveness and acceptance. Therefore, justice is the fruit of the work of peace, of which reconciliation is a major component. They argue that justice is essentially about the reconciliation of conflicting notions of political policy. This conflict will dissipate when acceptance and forgiveness prevail.
Faith, which is central to the vision of many of the peace and reconciliation groups in Ireland today, is surely the work of justice. Faith must do justice in society. Relative peace is the result of this struggle for justice. It is not, in our opinion, the other way around, i.e. that we could first create "peace" and then create justice.
Sinn Féin believes that the people of Ireland need policies and structures that promote justice: we cannot afford to wait for individuals to take the lead and forgive in a culture/society which is corrupt in essence. Besides, the focus on individuals is too often a comfortable, soft option which allow so many to evade their social responsibilities, getting them off the hook.
Power and its cultivation is central to justice and peace: who has it, who abuses it, who doesn't have it and why. Who excludes who. Who compromises for it etc.. There will be no reconciliation of conflicting interpretations or experiences of injustice until power is examined and equitably distributed.