Reconciliation by Joe McVeigh


Laurence McKeown is a well-known writer, playwright  and a former Republican prisoner, who spent 70 days on Hunger-strike in 1981. 

Laurence McKeown is a thinker and what he has to say is worth listening to and thinking about. He has thought and written about the history of the conflict and related issues especially the hunger-strikes in 1980 and 1981. He has a deep understanding of Irish history and is committed to Irish reunification and the Good Friday Agreement.

When asked recently by Talkback presenter, William Crawley, about his understanding of Reconciliation in the north of Ireland, Laurence replied that he had difficulty with the word ‘reconciliation’ because it meant so many different things to so many different people that the word had become meaningless.

I share this difficulty with the way the word ‘reconciliation’ is often used in the context of the North. Sometimes it is used to describe the coming together of Catholics and Protestants. It is often used, especially in the British media, in the narrow sense to describe what must happen between Protestants and Catholics if there is going to be lasting peace in this country. Some argue that integrated schooling is the best way to bring about reconciliation.

The question facing us today is how reconciliation should be understood and how is it going to be achieved? What political context is needed for such a reconciliation to advance?

Sinn Fein Chairperson, Declan Kearney, in a recent edition of the Sinn Fein newsletter, has contributed greatly to a broader understanding of the notion of reconciliation. He states that we must link the two notions- Reconciliation and Reunification. These two ideas should not be divorced or thought of as separate issues. Reconciliation in Ireland cannot be separated from the project to bring about Irish reunification. Irish reunification should be seen as a process leading to reconciliation on this island. 

This is a positive contribution to our understanding the process of true reconciliation. To work for Irish reunification is also at the same time to work to bring about reconciliation of Orange and Green traditions on this island. It is a huge challenge for all concerned with our future and with building a just and lasting peace on this island. People of all political backgrounds have a contribution to make and some from a unionist background are already making a significant contribution to a better understanding of reconciliation and how it will be achieved in the new Ireland. Some are engaging with republicans and nationalists in the conversation about our future. This is most welcome.

In this context, reconciliation means supporting the Good Friday Agreement which includes the holding of a Border referendum. It means seeking Justice and Truth. You cannot be reconciled with injustice or with those who support unjust laws and state violence. It means justice for the forgotten and for all victims of the conflict.

It means working for the common good of all citizens based on respect and equality. It means being honest about the past and the hurt caused on all sides during the conflict. I think that the First Minister, Michelle O’Neill has set the right tone in this regard and is showing by example the way ahead.

It means being positive about the future of politics on the island of Ireland. This understanding of how to promote reconciliation alongside the project to build the new Ireland, as outlined by Declan Kearney, deserves further exploration and discussion. It could be the key to unlocking the new inclusive Ireland by broadening the meaning and understanding of the notion of reconciliation in the context of Irish reunification.

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