Uncomfortable Conversations


Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 11.36.11

Picture by Robert Brauer

Below is the text of Sinn Féin’s Declan Kearney, when he met with Chief Constable George Hamilton at Derry’s Gasyard Féile. It’s part of the ‘Uncomfortable Conversations’ series.  I’ve read through it and find it hard to disagree with any of it. I’d be interested in your views on it…

ALL WARS cause devastating loss and suffering.

This time 100 years ago the unimaginable horror of WW1 was taking place.

Within 30 years, a new war consumed Europe and the world.

That ended 70 years ago but not before the carnage of Belsen and Auschwitz, and bombing of Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

No distinction can be drawn between the sufferings caused in war.

No war can be romanticised or glorified, regardless to the context.

No right-thinking republican has ever glamourised war, or indeed the actions of the IRA, in this or any previous generation.

The Good Friday Agreement drew a line under political conflict in Ireland.

Despite their imperfections, the peace and political processes have transformed this place.

But the legacy of our past still casts a long shadow.

Many families on all sides and across Ireland and Britain continue to suffer.

Here in Derry, massive pain has been suffered, typified by Bloody Sunday, the Annie’s Bar massacre, and killings of five British soldiers and Patsy Gillespie at Cosquin.

Regrettably, that pain cannot be undone, nor responsibility disowned by Irish republicans or anyone else.

However, the absence of war is not enough.

Unless we make reconciliation, healing and forgiveness our future, society and politics will remain trapped in the pain and resentment of our past.

The hurt of war still needs healed long after war’s end.

Embracing that challenge will require courage and opening our minds and hearts to the need for respect, generosity, forgiveness and trust.

Some sections of our society (and other agencies) oppose that vision. They don’t want to deal with the past and would prefer reconciliation became a new battle ground.

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

Expressing remorse and regret for death and injury could help deepen mutual respect and move us all closer to a healing process.

That should not be confused or devalued with seeking the repudiation of political allegiance.

In doing so, painful and uncomfortable compromises will need to be considered.

It was only through compromise that Europe developed a relationship with its history to avoid pain being recycled for future generations.

The mechanisms proposed by the Stormont House Agreement to deal with legacy issues are the compromise to deal with our past at this time.

Each mechanism must be implemented.

If supported by all sides, its template provides a way forward.

To paraphrase Tom Barry 50 years ago in Cork, we should end futile recrimination about past events.

I acknowledge without exception the loss and pain of all sides.

I regret none of it can be undone.

I am sorry for the pain experienced by the RUC family during the war, the suffering caused to the unionist section of our community (the human tragedy of the Shankill Bomb, being one instance of that), and, equally, for the pain of the families of IRA Volunteers killed here in Derry and elsewhere during the war as well as many nationalist civilians who were killed and injured.

There is no hierarchy of victimhood or humanity.

Our challenge is to decide whether we can forgive but not forget, mindful of Mandela’s words:

“Courageous people do not fear forgiving for the sake of peace.”

For many years I and the Sinn Féin leadership have called for an initiative of common acknowledgement by all sides for the pain caused as a contribution to forgiveness and healing.

It would require great grace and generosity from everyone.

In that spirit, I welcome PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton’s remarks at the West Belfast Féile on the benefit of a collective acknowledgement of the pain caused by our past.

This would indeed be a powerful expression of shared commitment that it should not happen again.

None of us have anything to fear from reconciliation and healing.

Sinn Féin is committed to supporting a coalition for reconciliation across our society to take that vision forward.

Whatever political difficulties and challenges we face in the days and weeks ahead, healing our society needs placed above the political process.

So . . . moving beyond the past?

I believe that’s possible.

But it will mean:-

  • Confronting our fears of each other;
  • Having the humility to acknowledge the pain on all sides;
  • Compromising to unlock the legacy of our past;
  • And, having the courage to forgive for the sake of our children.

12 Responses to Uncomfortable Conversations

  1. ANOTHER JUDE August 31, 2015 at 1:55 pm #

    No right thinking person could take issue with any of this but the problem lies with political unionism`s inability to accept any wrong doing on their part. If you read the statements from some people on this blog you will see they do not and will never equate the IRA with their (beloved and heroic) so called `security forces`. Being paid a wage by the British state means respectability in their eyes, once they start giving legitimacy to the rebels they have lost their moral high ground, daft as that might sound to an outside observer, people who misruled the Protestant caliphate created by a cowardly and duplicitous British government for decades, who used special powers and legal terror, who encouraged gerry mandering and discrimination having the cheek to play the moral card IS ridiculous but that is the level of hubris that has to be confronted and destroyed.

  2. Sherdy August 31, 2015 at 4:08 pm #

    Very thoughtful piece Declan, but it takes two to tango!
    Sinn Fein can extend the hand of friendship all it likes, but if unionists keep their hands pushed deep into their pockets, there can be no real peace.
    SF can make all the kind and generous gestures in the world, but unless it is reciprocated, there is no progress.
    Sf can turn the other cheek from now until the cows come home, but if the only reaction is for that cheek to be sharply slapped, no friendship is possible.
    SF are certainly not eliciting as much as a smile from unionism which is back in the ‘never never never’ trenches and we are now at the stage where it seems that republicanism is showing signs of weakness and it is happy to be rebuffed time after time.
    It is time for a quid pro quo, and if it needs a long wait, so be it!

  3. George September 1, 2015 at 12:50 pm #

    Jude, Another Jude and Sherdy

    I would be very happy to move on and put the past behind us – the sooner the better – bring it on – give me two of those!

    But I personally think that the concept of “forgiveness” is overrated. We dwell on it too much and we make it too much of a stumbling block to moving forward. Why do the families of the Bloody Sunday shootings have to forgive the soldiers who shot them? Why do the families of those who died in the Shankill bomb have to forgive those who planted it? What does that really achieve? It might be individually cathartic for those who can do it but it serves no real purpose for the rest of us and those who can’t do it should not be made to feel lesser people if they can’t forgive.

    Yes, we can agree to work with each other to put in place the political structures and elements of social justice that will make sure it all never happens again but we don’t have to forgive each other for the most vile and heinous of acts perpetrated against each other do we? It is disingenuous and unnecessary. No – you can leave the whole forgiveness thing as far as I’m concerned.

    I think that the focus on these issues comes from Republicanism and it’s not helpful. They appear at times almost desperate to seek moral equivalence in the actions of the IRA with those of the British security forces. They seem to be saying that unless Unionism acknowledges this, we can’t move forward. I say “Why not?”

    Whilst we can all easily agree with Declan Kearney and acknowledge that the pain of losing a loved one to violence is the same for the families of those on both sides of the conflict, Unionists will never be able to accept that there is the same degree of morality attaching to those who carried out each act. They just won’t.

    Unionism will always see the IRA as being the perpetrators of violent acts on innocents. Republicanism will always see the discrimination and violation of catholic civil rights clearly practiced by Unionism as their justification for the rise of the IRA. My point is, why go there and make an issue of it?

    As my doctor told my daughter when she had chicken pox – “Time is our only friend here”

    • Jude Collins September 1, 2015 at 1:03 pm #

      I agree with your point re forgiveness/non-forgiveness not changing the situation now, George – although I’d say it tells us something of the personal calibre of the forgiver. You’re right that nationalists/republicans see some people as victims while some unionists think otherwise. You’re also right that time is a friend in all this; but we can hasten the process, shorten the time if we stop telling the other side that their suffering was self-inflicted. Simply accept that we did wrong things, you did wrong things, now let’s see if we can find our way to somewhere better. That doesn’t seem to me impossible. But I’d be dishonest if I didn’t add that it seems to me that it’s unionist politicians who are forever saying ‘We can’t go forward until we resolve this/ deal with that/elicit this confession’. It’s got to the point where a lot of nationalists/republicans are saying ‘These people will never change or move on’.

  4. George September 1, 2015 at 2:10 pm #

    But we all have only ourselves to blame for this Jude. It was us turkeys that voted for Christmas after all.

    Instead of letting the more moderate voices of the SDLP and UUP carry on with the peace building job that they had started when they carved out the GFA in 1998, Nationalists flocked toward Sinn Fein “ex-terrorists” (in the eyes of Unionists) and Unionists elected intolerant religious bigots in the form of the DUP. Two extremes whose collective acts in government were only ever going to drive a further wedge between us. Why are we so surprised by this? Perhaps it is the fog of time playing tricks with my memory but I will never truly understand why we did this – why we didn’t grasp this “once in a lifetime” opportunity?

    Of course, the DUP will never change or move on but they have been installed into power by frightened Unionists who, wrongly in my opinion, see them as the best counter measure to Sinn Fein’s inexorable march toward a united Ireland.

    But Sinn Fein are as intransigent as the DUP in their own way – let’s not kid ourselves that they are not. What brave new vision for a shared future are they offering Unionists other than keeping the IRA at bay? How are they behaving responsibly at the moment?

    I actually believe that Sinn Fein’s refusal to implement (albeit distasteful) welfare reforms is squarely behind this current Unionist “discourse”. The Unionist’s perception is that “we will never be able to govern with this lot so let’s come up with a manufactured crisis of feigned indignation at the murder of Kevin McGuigan to bring the whole house of cards tumbling down”.

    Instead of having 17 years of coming together, we have had 17 years of division, discourse and really appalling leadership from both sides and I am genuinely fearful of what will come next.

    • Jude Collins September 1, 2015 at 6:27 pm #

      George – you astute fellow – I agree with a great deal of what you say, esp the manufactured crisis we’re in now. But I don’t agree one side was as bad as t’other over the past 17 years. Check the record – almost invariably it’s the Shinners trying to develop reasonably amicable and reconciling relations with the DUP, and having it coldly ignored at every turn. M McG after the death of Ronan Kerr, M McG when Peter was having a bit of the old trouble and strife, saying hello to people when you met them in the corridor: I’ve no doubt the DUP felt they were entitled to act as they did, but they did nothing to bridge divisions. And I haven’t even mentioned the 4,000 marches each year, which of course were terrific for bringing people together. Providing they weren’t taigs, of course…

      • George September 2, 2015 at 9:27 am #

        You mean you haven’t experienced the inclusive cultural event that is “Orangefest” yet Jude?

        Look, on the face of it, you are of course right. The DUP are a curmudgeonly dour lot and they must be difficult to do any kind of business with. And they are dumb too – they don’t appreciate or care how things look to the outside world.

        It’s easy for Marty to play the magnanimous statesman – he offers the hand of friendship in a bid to “put the past behind us all” and he has it thrown back in his face. The world is watching, willing us to come together in the spirit of peace and reconciliation and here are these “intransigent bigots” keeping their hands firmly in their pockets. They are the ones not keeping their side of the bargain. Or so it looks.

        Now if I were in that position and M McG offered to shake my hand I would say “What’s with this handshake thing Marty? C’mere and gimme a big hug”. I certainly wouldn’t be giving him the oxygen of publicity that allows him and Sinn Fein to play the injured and rejected party – the ones who “tried”. But that’s me – I don’t have to get myself elected.

        Call me cynical but “me think Sinn Fein man might speak with forked tongue” here. Everyone on the Unionist side, whether they support parades or not, believes that the contentious parades thing is a manufactured crisis of a different kind instigated by Sinn Fein.

        They see it as a deliberate ploy by them to bring Loyalism and Orangeism into direct conflict with the forces of the “British Crown” on the streets. The hated (former) RUC wading into Loyalist sectarian mobs trying to march over the civil rights of Nationalists. What could be better? Gerry Adams has said as much.

        It would be very easy for Sinn Fein to help resolve the Twadell Avenue debacle tomorrow if they had the will to do so but that is not in their interests. I’m not saying that they should mind you – just that they could.

        Then we have the failure of Sinn Fein to implement welfare reforms resulting in whopping fines of almost £10m a month. That is, of course, their right but it the resultant hypocrisy that emanates from Sinn Fein that I object to.

        Gerry Kelly accuses the UUP of “electioneering” over their recent withdrawal from the Executive (which it was). But what is Sinn Fein’s position on welfare reform if it is not electioneering on their part? They are worried how that will play out in the ROI where they are an anti-austerity party. Electioneering with a capital E that!

        So I am minded not to agree with you on this one Jude. I think Sinn Fein and the DUP are equal and opposites of the same beast. If we collectively carry on with both of those parties in power (not that I can see where an alternative would come from at the minute), we should just resign ourselves to the fact that we will forever live in a divided society where never the twain shall meet.

        • Jude Collins September 2, 2015 at 10:09 am #

          I’ve experienced it all my life – the Orangefest – it’s my birthday, after all. (How come your pressie got lost in post this year, George?). You may call the SF efforts towards reconciliation a game – I actually don’t believe it is, or it’s a game that’s firmly wrapped in republican philosophy – Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter and all that. There’s some truth that the exposing of unionist intransigence does SF no harm in the polls, but I believe if they were to affect reconciliation, their ratings in the polls – and their progress to their ultimate goal – would be enhanced. You’re right that SF are keen to avoid contradiction between their policies in the north and the south: but hey, that’s hardly a charge to throw against them – rather a compliment, in terms of logic as well as fairness. I know it would be neater if we could say they’re-both-the-same but the truth is, on closer examination, they ain’t.

          • George September 2, 2015 at 10:58 am #

            You didn’t get it? I’m devastated – perhaps the postie was re-routed at the Ardoyne shops and got lost!

            I think it is a charge to throw at them actually Jude. Like it or not, they have been elected to govern here, not the ROI. They had already agreed to implement the welfare reform aspect of the Stormont House Agreement but then they looked for a get-out because they realised how it would play on the all-Ireland stage. That’s irresponsible in my view unless they have some magical formula for stopping the UK Treasury imposing the fines for not implementing it.

            You may have guessed by now that I am not mad keen on either the DUP or Sinn Fein. I am getting the slight inkling though that you might quite be a fan of Sinn Fein on the QT.

            If it makes you feel better, I think I would prefer to go out for a beer with Martin than Peter (although I believe Martin is TT is he not?). There you go – you win. They’re slightly more appealing than the DUP.

            Now where’s the receipt for that sash I sent you?

          • Jude Collins September 2, 2015 at 3:20 pm #

            Hahahaa – I may not agree with you, George, but I do like your posts. If it was irresponsible of SF to change their minds – if they changed their minds – how would you classify Peter’s famous letter from America re the Maze/Long Kesh site? SF tell a different story re what was broadly agreed and what the finer print later said. But then I’ve only got their word for it, just as you’ve only got the word of other parties…

  5. George September 3, 2015 at 8:20 am #

    Correct me if I’m wrong here Jude (why am I even saying that? – I know you will) but do you think there might be any linkage between the Unionist refusal to back the Maze site (July 2013) and that other manufactured crisis that we all had to endure, the vote to remove the Union flag from City Hall (December 2012)? Would you indulge me for just a second and accept that there might be an element of behaviour breeding behaviour here?

    And if you would, that brings me back to my original point. No one can claim the moral high ground if it all goes pear shaped – they are both equally culpable and that is a direct result of the electorate choosing to elect the extremes.

    Instead of trying to build bridges and, well, just “Govern” for a while and see how we all get on, both Sinn Fein and the DUP are hard-wired to push the other side’s buttons. Albeit Sinn Fein in a much more subtle and clever way. In spite of your insistence that Sinn Fein hold the better track record in trying to make the Institutions work, I am equally insistent that they are equally to blame for the malaise that we are currently in and that equals failure on their part as far as I’m concerned (I do realise that is a lot of “equals” in one sentence – I was kinda going for a record).

    Maybe I’m just being wistful but I really do not think that the SDLP or the UUP would have butted up against each other on such a range of issues and I think we would be a much closer society now had they been entrusted with the job of governing us.

    • Jude Collins September 3, 2015 at 10:11 am #

      Mmmm – I’m spending more of my dwindling time responding to you, George. You must have some sort of unhealthy hold on me…I know you’re an intelligent man, so you would never equate someone going back on his word with a democratic vote. That’s Letter from America : Union flag decision. You have no idea (well maybe you have) how many nationalists/republicans think that riots over being allowed to fly THEIR flag 18 times a year ( v 0 times a year for the other lot) show what unionists think of democracy. No kidding. That really was an eye-opener for many. And maybe many unionists too. At least I hope so.