Declan Kearney's keynote address to the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis 2015

8 March, 2015

The Irish Peace Process is the most important political project on this island.

Our Peace and political processes remain a continuous work in progress.

That is instanced by the succession of negotiations and Agreements since the Good Friday Agreement, including, Weston Park, St Andrew’s, Hillsborough Castle, and now most recently, the Stormont House Agreement (SHA).

Each conferred a status upon both the British and Irish governments as co-equal guarantors.

The incomplete nature of the Peace and political processes is also evidenced by the range of commitments which both governments have failed to implement under each Agreement.

In recent years the role played by each has undermined the political process.

The British government became engaged in negative, piecemeal mismanagement, and the Irish was disengaged and semi-detached.

The serious deterioration in the political process from 2012 onwards demonstrates what happens when the Peace Process is taken for granted by the two governments.

That must never happen again. 

The SHA has created a new political context.

This now needs built upon with full adherence to all terms agreed. 

If all parties and both governments stay committed to complete implementation of the Agreement it represents a framework to ensure; political stability; proper adherence to power sharing and partnership government; welfare protection; the potential to maintain core public services; and, contribute to economic recovery.

However, that will depend upon an absolute and collective commitment to do so.

All sections of civic society, supported by international and democratic opinion including the Diaspora; the European Union; the US administration, and particularly Senator Gary Hart, contributed to achieving this Agreement.

It is hugely important they all remain positively engaged.

This Agreement can be a catalyst for reconciliation through the establishment of the agreed mechanisms to assist in dealing with the past, and addressing parades, flags and other issues of identity which divide our community.

The SHA has given us another chance.  It should not be squandered.

But a step change is necessary in how the Peace and political processes are managed.

Political agreements must be seen to be fully honoured.

Power sharing and partnership government must be seen to work and deliver.

Leadership must be seen to given at every level of society against sectarianism, racism, segregation and homophobia.

The north must be seen to be a no-go area for sectarian harassment, bigotry, and all forms of intolerance and discrimination.

There should be a fearless resolve to dismantle barriers and build bridges by all sides.

Those who want to push the Peace Process backwards, and directly, or implicitly oppose reconciliation should be challenged, without fear or favour.

The spirit of the Agreement and its potential need to be translated into concrete measures which advance reconciliation in the here and now.

The British government has a key responsibility to properly fund reconciliation, and the supporting social and economic reconstruction.

The reality is the north is still a society emerging from conflict.

The fact is that twenty years into the Peace Process we still have not achieved reconciliation.

The unresolved legacy of our past conflict casts a long shadow.

Too many families from all sides of our community, and across Ireland and Britain, live with real and continuing pain.

I am sorry their loss cannot be undone.

With the benefit of hindsight we can all see things we would wish had been done differently or not at all.

The IRA said almost 13 years ago;

“The future will not be found in denying collective failures and mistakes or closing minds to the plight of those who have been hurt.  That includes all of the victims of the conflict, combatants and non-combatants.”

There is much healing needed.  This will not be easy.

New human and political relationships need built.

As a society we have to open our hearts and minds to respect, generosity, forgiveness, and trust.

These are foundations of a shared future.

Very different historic and political narratives divide us.

Fears exist, both real and imagined of, and for, each other; as well as fear of change itself.

That will remain our reality until we change it, and embrace a reconciliation process.

We may never agree on the past, but it must not hold back the future.

After the carnage of two world wars within thirty years Europe had to compromise in order to find a relationship with its history, and avoid recycling past pain for future generations.

The war is over here.

Reconciliation is our future.  It is not a new battleground.

Fear and mistrust are huge blocks to progress. 

Republicans should carefully consider what more we can do to build trust and confidence with our unionist neighbours.

Language and listening are very important.

I am aware that some within unionism do not hear that Sinn Féin is genuinely committed to reconciliation and healing among our people.

I accept they may not understand our message.  Others do not believe our sincerity.

However, reconciliation is not a zero sum idea.

It does not mean giving up being a republican or unionist; or any political aspirations, religious persuasions, and none.

Healing our society needs to be placed above the challenges of the political process.

A shared future should be about respect and equality for political, cultural and religious difference.

We do share a common humanity. 

And there is no hierarchy of victimhood or humanity.

An initiative of common acknowledgement from all sides for the pain caused by, and to each other could powerfully contribute to forgiveness and healing.

Doing so would require grace and generosity from all sides.

Madiba once said resentment is like drinking poison.

No war should be romanticized.

All hurt is the same, and warrants acknowledgement with sincere remorse.

Expressing remorse and regret for death and injury caused during the conflict could help deepen mutual respect and understanding; and move us all closer to a healing process.

It should not be confused, or devalued, with attempts to seek repudiation of political responsibility or allegiance.

Seeking unionist repudiation of British state forces and the RUC is as unhelpful as demanding republican repudiation of the IRA.

Political differences must not be contested on the hurt or suffering inflicted by, and upon all sides.

Political leaders should take the lead in promoting a genuinely inclusive discourse on reconciliation, and without recrimination.

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

Moulds need broken, and initiatives taken.

Unambiguous unity of purpose between republicans and unionists, and significant shared gestures are more important than ever.  

These will rebuild confidence and inspire hope.

Both political and civic leaderships should accept responsibility for encouraging a popular momentum which advances reconciliation and healing.

Our entire community and especially our young people deserve to have hope and optimism restored.

Much has been achieved, but much more needs done.

The Peace Process belongs to everyone.

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