We Deserve Better – Role for new Civic Forum in Reconciliation: Declan Kearney

We Deserve Better – Role for new Civic Forum in Reconciliation. 

Richard Haass made an advance trip to the North last week, before the all-Party talks he will chair.  His appointment is a welcome development.

Whilst the timing of his visit was unconnected to the post Twelfth violence in Belfast, the coincidence is another reminder that we have still to fully embrace a spirit and culture of dialogue here. This is essential to give effect to the fundamental principles of the Good Friday Agreement, parity of esteem, mutual respect, and equal treatment.

If Haass can inspire an acceptance by all Parties and sections of our community of the need for proper engagement his efforts will be worthwhile.

There is an urgent need for fresh thinking and new ideas.

The post Twelfth violence was demoralising for all reasonable people. However,the bogus attempts to rationalise itas a response to a cultural war by republicans represent for some, a desire to resurrect a failed past and to avoid giving leadership for a shared future.

A historical context exists.  Violence and contested parades has a 200-year history in Belfast, in reaction to political and demographic change.

A huge sectarian fault line divides our people in the north.  From partition, this state was based on “them and us” segregation.

The sustained focus upon equality arises because inequality existed.  Fifteen years after the Good Friday Agreement, we must now agree the practical meaning of equality, respect and parity of esteem.

Orange traditions and the British identity deserve respect.  So too do the Irish identity and republican tradition.  None need lose out. But sectarian abuse, violence or intolerance can be no part of either.

Equality and parity of esteem are not about winners and losers.  Their basis rests in democratic compromise and accommodation, agreed through engagement and dialogue.

That means unionists and republicans listening to each other’s fears and suspicions, real and imagined, and seeking solutions.

To accept that the current status quo is as good as it gets, means settling for less

Our people regardless of political allegiance, and those of all faiths and none, deserve better.

Republicans and unionists can become guarantors for a new phase of the Peace Process.

That is a phase based upon reconciliation, new human and political relationships, and building trust.

We can do this with united political leadership and a focus on big thinking and bold initiatives to tackle sectarianism and segregation; and entrench equality, respect and parity of esteem for every citizen.

I believe that is what the great majority of our people want.

It will not be easy.  “Uncomfortable conversations” will be unavoidable, but discussion threatens no one.

There is a moral imperative to ensure future generations grow up in a better place than we did.

There is also broad agreement our society needs reconciliation. 

That represents common ground.

An inclusive healing process isrequired to address the suffering caused during the conflict.

It is an uncomfortable conversation in itself to accept the suffering of each other and the context of actions, practices and injustices, which created that pain.

An initiative of common acknowledgement by all sides – British, Irish, republican and unionist – of the hurt and injustices caused by and to each other could introduce a powerful new dynamic to the Peace Process.  It could encourage healing and create space for friendship, trust and forgiveness to grow.

It would challenge us all – but that is what conflict resolution is about.  That is leadership.

Reconciliation must not be reduced to a poker game about the past. 

Unless we can agree to decommission the past as a political weapon it will continue to destabilise the present and future.

Colin Parry, whose son the IRA killed in Warrington, said courageously, “Seeking personal justice may not always sit well with the search for peace.  You may have to set aside your own goals for the greater good.”

That may provoke uncomfortable feelings for some.  However, we need a new framework for dealing with the past.

As a community we should begin inclusive discussions about the decisions and possible compromises required to stop the past holding back the future.  We need to work out what truth and justice mean, and whether or not they can be achieved, and with maximum cooperation from all sides.

Sinn Fein believes our relationship with the past will be enabled with an authentic reconciliation process.

Our collective priority must be to do our best to heal our community’s wounds.

Many things happened which we may all wish had been done differently or not at all.  As a society, we have much to forgive and have forgiven.

Archbishop Tutu advised, “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.”

There is no design plan for reconciliation, but we all share a responsibility, as churches, academics, business, civic society, and politicians to give leadership in spite of opposition and adversity. I believe the Civic Forum should be re-established as a vehicle to progress that task.

We have a strategic choice to make, to stay as we are or open a new phase of the Peace Process, which embraces reconciliation, promotes friendship, and guarantees equality and parity of esteem.

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