Who can fear the pursuit of reconciliation, equality and protection of rights?

So the words about reconciliation arrived not entirely out of the blue but with a fresh feeling to them and a fresh hope as well. Kearney identifies a reticence within political unionism to move with any speed to respond positively to the offer of talking but within wider unionism, and of course with its diversity in mind, he sees more hope. He would, have liked to see something more robust and welcoming from political unionism. But then I guess you can’t have it all and you certainly can’t have it all when it comes to the process of reconciliation. If you have it all then you would be engaged in a process of domination and assimilation.

Kearney displays some ambivalence in his interview. In one moment he is looking to what can constructively be built together, unionists and republicans, and in the other he is saying that ossified unionism has little to offer. A part of me reacts strongly to this – who does he think he is? I suspect he might feel the same sometimes when he listens to voices from across the broad unionist family. The other truth is that if there was no ambivalence there would be no need for reconciliation.

It is worth reading the text of the interview pasted below. It is worth listening to your own reactions as you do and it is worth asking if destructive reactions can be kept in check enough to enter into a new set of uncomfortable conversations in order to at least explore the possibility of something new, something a stage nearer to reconciliation than what we have. It is worth too knowing that uncomfortable conversations will have to be had and that in itself will take courage.

Mind you, alongside the inability we have to talk meaningfully and honestly about the past one wonders how far uncomfortable conversations can go. But then again maybe something to help this society deal with the past will emerge from the uncomfortable conversations. We already know some of what has to happen but we don’t know if we are yet ready to commit to that.

Again Kearney recognises that the process is not a one way street. So we will have to cope with truth-telling as a two-way street, with the kind of justice that restores as a two-way street and with the ‘special’ arrangements to access the truth as a two-way street. And unless we accept that forgiveness is a two-way street, forgiveness that will be offered to others and forgiveness that we will have to seek from others, then there is probably little distance that can be travelled. That short distance should not, though, be sniffed at. It is better than nothing at all. But at some point in the process of reconciliation each party will have to look forgiveness straight in the eye and decide whether or not to walk forward with forgiveness in mind. That will be a tough moment but the most illuminating and life-giving one if it can be grasped.

Reading the interview I was uncomfortable, angry, willing to get involved and take it seriously and uncertain if there would be any point. I felt the unionist community both diminished and affirmed and I am sure that Republicans feel the same when Unionists speak about them. I felt all those things but I cannot agree with Alex Kane that this is the Sinn Fein steamroller effect in action. If it is, if it is just another ploy to get what they want, then engaging them in a process of reconciliation is precisely the right way to go because they will have to be faced with things that make them uncomfortable. Discomfort is not a one-way street. To think otherwise is to entirely miss the point of reconciliation and dialogue and a robust process will take care of arrogance, self-righteousness and any sense of entitlement that parties to the process might feel. So bring it on – there is nothing to fear, except the better and different world that will emerge if the process is rigourous enough and has the commitment of the participants. In his Thoughts in the Presence of Fear Wendell Berry has written some helpful things and we are in the presence of fear when we express willingness to get involved in and then actually begin uncomfortable conversations in search of reconciliation:

What leads to peace is not violence but peaceableness, which is not passivity, but an alert, informed, practiced, and active state of being….. The key to peaceableness is continuous practice. 


Continuous practice – not sitting still and accepting what pertains, Not passivity – but activity. Not tolerance which is far from enough – but reconciliation. A friend said to me not so long ago that he thought there needed to be some thought given to what reconciliation means. I’m not entirely sure what he meant but I might reply that reconciliation is something that comes after uncomfortable conversations. Those conversatoins need to happen and the skeptics are especially welcome for they will bring a depth to the transformation that is possible for all parties to the conversation. To look for, prepare for and search for reconciliation is a noble pursuit and its outcomes cannot be pre-defined. In fact, argues Charles Villa-Vicencio, to try to predefine what reconciliation is or looks like will so limit the scope of what is possible that the project will have faltered even before it starts. Thus in a lecture given to The World Association for Christian Communication Villa-Vicencio said:

… reconciliation is a notion that reminds us that some concepts transcend the prose of consumer society. To fail to hold to this transcendence is to ignore the important utopian challenge that lies at the root of all history affirming religions. It is to surrender to a view of a closed history, which suggests that only the possible is possible. It loses sight of the eschatological notion of what Karl Barth called the ‘possible impossibility, which demands decidedly more than the realism of Franz Kafka, which spoke of hope that is ‘not for us’.

At this point in our history on these Islands we do not, in my view, want to surrender to the possible alone but rather to seek out that which is impossible because in so many ways we have already seen that the impossible can be possible. There has to be more.

16 | May / Bealtaine 2012 www.anphoblacht.com



What has been the reaction to your initial

article in the March edition of An

Phoblacht and your subsequent keynote

address on behalf of the Sinn Féin leadership

to the Easter Rising commemoration

in Belfast at Milltown Cemetery?

There has been much considered public

and private response. It’s obvious many

others want to focus along with Sinn Féin

on how we build upon the peace and

political progress and collectively develop

an authentic reconciliation process benefiting

the entire island.

Republicans were already discussing

these issues and that discourse is growing

within the wider republican and nationalist

community. We know the remarks

from myself and Martin McGuinness have

encouraged very progressive discussion

amongst the wider unionist and

Protestant community, including senior

loyalist figures. These are very diverse and

important voices and I would encourage

them to engage directly with us.

The reaction from political unionism

has been very disappointing.

Can you expand on that?

The media response from DUP and UUP

representatives and some other commentators

has been essentially rejectionist.

They are missing the pulse here and

failing to recognise the importance of

meaningful engagement on how we

should try to address the hurt experienced

by all our people during the war.

Why now? Well, there’s never a ‘right’


I believe all political leaders need to

take responsibility for creating the best

possible circumstances to allow our children

grow up in a better place than we

did. It’s a huge challenge but that’s no reason

to avoid making the effort. Sinn Féin is

prepared to face up to our responsibility.

Do you think political unionism is totally


Some unionist spokespersons are trying to

block and undermine this discussion by

talking about the need for republican

actions to prove our bona fides in calling

for an authentic reconciliation process.

They know that’s a spurious position and

totally unsustainable. Their rejectionist

language echoes of 15 or 20 years ago but

the Peace Process has moved on from

that time, and so have our people.

Political leaders need to give leadership

and be courageous: that’s what Sinn

Féin is doing. I said on Easter Sunday that

republicans need to listen carefully to the

diverse voices within the wider unionist

and Protestant community. Political

unionism should do the same. This is not

a one-way street.

How about the responses from republicans?

Sinn Féin has been discussing our relationship

with unionism and how to move

the Peace Process into a reconciliation

phase for a long time. Those internal discussions

now have new impetus.

There is a massive sense of hurt within

the republican community caused by

past injustices and that should not be

underestimated or devalued. But republicans

are agents of change so, however

difficult, we must keep looking and moving

forward. A peaceful Ireland is essential.

Republicans are very engaged with that


Martin McGuinness’s speech to the

Political Studies Association in Belfast

City Hall on 4 April didn’t garner huge

headlines but it was important in maintaining

the momentum you initiated,

wasn’t it?

Against the backdrop of all our other political

work – providing opposition in the

South, government in the North, and in

the all-Ireland institutions – the party

leadership is totally committed to persuading

for and achieving national reconciliation.

So Martin’s speech to the Political

Studies Association contained very important

messages, as did his Easter Sunday

oration in Drumboe, alongside the contributions

of Gerry Adams and others over


Some unionists have tried to trivialise

and misrepresent what we have been saying

in the last two months. Republic

don’t need to rewrite any narratives.

We are very confident in ourselves and

full of hope for the future. Sinn Féin is

looking forward. We want to talk with others

about how we collectively author a

new future for our children and that will

require courage, compassion and imagination.

Lord John Alderdice and Chris Ryder

have both told An Phoblacht that DUP

leader Peter Robinson’s Carson Lecture

– hosted by the Irish Government in

Dublin in March and reflecting on the

100th anniversary of the signing of the

Ulster Covenant against Home Rule in

Ireland – was “similarly significant” to

what you had said in An Phoblacht. How

does Sinn Féin view that event and what

Peter Robinson said?

In the context of the decade of centenaries,

the Carson Lecture and Peter Robinson’s

participation in that was very welcome and

interesting. He was clearly using Carson’s

unionism as historic legitimisation to try

and redefine present-day unionism as a

modern, pluralist philosophy.

However, the reality is political unionist

thinking is ossified and unwilling to

bring new momentum to the Peace

Process. Sinn Féin is suggesting how that

can be done, if we apply our collective

genius and wisdom to shaping an authentic

reconciliation process.

The logical extension of Peter

Robinson’s lecture is for him to give the

leadership required to free up unionist

thinking, to become partners in reconciliation

with republicans and not just partners

in government.

Political journalists Eamonn Mallie and

Brian Rowan have recognised the

importance and sincerity of your An

Phoblacht article and have expanded on

it in print and through hosting face-toface

debates with unionists. You obviously

must welcome all that but where

do we –all of us – go from here?

Republicans need to continue thinking

and talking to each other. But we also

need to be prepared to listen unconditionally

to others within the unionist and

Protestant community.

Republicans know well about injustice

but we have always risen above that. Now

there is a new phase to be mapped out in

the Peace Process and that’s about building

reconciliation and an Ireland at peace

with itself. ‘Uncomfortable Conversations’

will be part of that process but we should

embrace such dialogue confidently, generously,

and be open to exploring new language

and thinking.

We should not let political unionism

derail our efforts with negativity or rejectionism.

We are republicans in the tradition of

Tone, McCracken and Hope – committed

to breaking the English connection

and uniting Protestant, Catholic and

Dissenter. We want national reconciliation,

equality and the legal entrenchment

of rights. That agenda seeks to

serve the interests of the overwhelming

majority of our people. We will persevere

with that agenda despite political

opposition to it.

Let’s open new possibilities for

progress by learning to understand each

other better and making new friendships.

Let’s start the big thinking now about

our collective future.

Who can fear the pursuit of reconciliation,

equality and protection of rights?


Dealing with the past? Donaldson. McGuinness, Finucane, Kingsmills……

This past week we have heard the Taoiseach call again for a Finucane Inquiry. The ensuing uproar, now typical and expected and a response against which we have all been anesthetized, brought forth calls for other inquiries, the most significant among them from those who continue to hope for an inquiry into the Kingsmills massacre. Cameron has been put under pressure, not for the first time, to meet the Kingsmills families. http://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/local/plea-to-cameron-on-kingsmills-meeting-1-3747957. One can only imagine what he might say to them if he did meet them


As this grinds on and on calls for some dealing with the past have become like a mantra with little response. But it continues to go on, the past just isn’t going away. In some way or another it is going to have to be dealt with. Otherwise it will continue to draw pain to the surface time and again without the hope of healing. Each new moment opens old wounds which are offered no healing balm.

It is bad enough with the ongoing call for a Finucane Inquiry. It is bad enough but the opportunity an inquiry seems to have past despite the weighty voices that continue to call for it. It is bad enough to have to listen to the tit-for-tat calls for inquiries but these are not the only matters from the past that have reached the headlines this last week.

The Deputy First Minister made a denial to the Smithwick Tribunal, itself an ongoing inquiry into events of the past, and then the unmentionable was mentioned – will the family of Denis Donaldson ever get the truth about what happened. http://eamonnmallie.com/2012/04/spy-killing-a-dirty-war-and-denis-donaldsons-death-by-brian-rowan/. Eamonn Mallie comments on Rowan’s piece that he is shining,

a light into some dark corners of the intelligence world on the island of Ireland.

Just another place from which some truth trickles but the whole truth, even a sizable piece of truth, slips through the fingers like quicksilver.

Meanwhile Ed Moloney is being interviewed about the Belfast Project, still making the headlines with the ever alive interest in what will happen to the Boston files. http://thepensivequill.am/2012/04/belfast-project-director-ed-moloney.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+bigmackers+%28The+Pensive+Quill+-+Anthony+McIntyre%27s+blog%29.

In another perspective the past continues to make it’s hit into todays world through the increasing suicide rate. Amongst the highest in Europe suicide rates are being explained in terms of the legacy of the Troubles, a legacy which is not quietly slipping away. ‘Belfast must collectively acknowledge the hurt and suffering of the Troubles in a bid to tackle the city’s high suicide rates, an international expert has urged.’ http://www.google.com/hostednews/ukpress/article/ALeqM5jlCI3jeBN2IDyl7fDN6dBo1URpRA?docId=N0535171335355357795A

WIMPS has had to launch a TV campaign against punishment attacks which have been rising in frequency, particularly in North and West Belfast. http://wimps.tv/campaigns/end-all-punishment-attacks/. These attacks have been featured on the Nolan Show two days in a row.

Conor Mitchell has written a Requiem for the Disappeared, not all of them yet located, which is to be performed on May 3rd at St Anne’s Cathedral, a world premiere. http://www.culturenorthernireland.org/article/4908/requiem-for-the-disappeared. Another dig has begun for Columba McVeigh. For the sake of his family one can only hope and pray that this time they won’t be disappointed.

Meanwhile the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, echoed Minister Deenihan’s speech last week at the Presbyterian Conference when he said in Derry yesterday that,

while recognising that different people can hold differing interpretations of the same events, it will be important that the commemoration of these anniversaries is carried out in a spirit of tolerance and mutual respect.

He was speaking of the need for continuing work to be done for reconciliation and especially as Ireland, North and South, starts out on a decade of centenaries which offer up the potential for something different to be done and a better future to be constructed. http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2012/0425/1224315148375.html

There is so much positive talk about remembering events which took place one hundred years ago. But there is no such constructive talk when it comes to our more recent past. There are those who continue to make suggestions as to what might be done but the grassroots process is making far from enough impact on the people who can make it happen in an organised and coherent way that pulls the whole picture into one frame and sets a co-ordinated process in motion. Without that approach, from the bottom to the top of society, stories about the past will continue to slip into the headlines and under the skin of people who are trying to heal. Pictures will persist in flashing without warning on the evening news assaulting the unsuspecting with the eruption of salt-sore memories into their consciousness when all they wanted was to be well and to deal with things in their own, controlled way.

When that is taken alongside the suicide rate, the punishment beatings, the separated housing, the interfaces and the trouble around interfaces, the suspicion that persists even when good motives are declared, as with the early stepping down of the Lord Mayor of Belfast, and I could go on – when taken alongside all of that one has to wonder what the problem really is. What is the problem with those who think this is just going to go away? What on earth gives them the impression that they are right? One hundred years on we have government units in Dublin and Westminster working together to think through how to handle the memory of things long past but we have no such units pulling together on recent history despite the dreadful impacts that history continues to have on families and communities and memory and hope, drastic impacts. What is the problem? Haven’t we yet learned just how precious life is and how imperative it is that we act out of a deep sense of justice and not out of fear?

A long, long time ago, longer than one hundred years, the prophet Micah saw it more clearly than we are seeing it. His words remind us that it is time to bend our efforts to what really matters and to stop pretending that it will all just go away.

The Lord God has told us
what is right
and what he demands:
“See that justice is done,
let mercy be your first concern,
and humbly obey your God.” Micah 6v8

In her research report Progressing Good Relations and Reconciliation in Post-Agreement Northern Ireland Grainne Kelly presents key findings and five year priorities out of which grow eight recommendations. If only one of these were to be considered, and I am certainly not advocating that only one be chosen, then it should be this one which invites all the stakeholders to play their part:

Articulate link between good relations, reconciliation and dealing with the past. For too long ‘dealing with the past’ has been treated as a separate, often mechanistic, process involving specific structures, actions, objectives and constituencies, disengaged from the wider good relations and reconciliation objectives in Northern Ireland. What is required is a

clear articulation of the connections, commonalities and intersections between dealing with the past and broader reconciliation processes at individual, community, political and societal levels. This should replace the current siloing of dealing with the past and relationship-building processes into separate grant programmes, policy documents and community projects. In continuing the development of a framework and action plan for good relations policy and practice work, the report of the Consultative Group on the Past should be revisited and cross- referenced to ensure coherence and consistency of approach and objectives.

However it is done and whatever is used as the foundation for the work in building a more reconciled society it needs to happen or the past will continue to destroy both overtly and covertly.


Tolerance is not enough: the 1912 Ulster Covenant and Citizenship Today

It was a privilege to sit in the company of people from all walks of life, different churches, and parts of Ireland last Thursday and listen to the reflections of leaders from across these Islands. The context was the marking of the signing of the Ulster Covenant in 1912 and the focus was citizenship in today’s society. Archbishop John Sentamu fitted the day into his busy life and brought his expected energy and clarity to the day’s thinking. He was unafraid as he spoke to Christians about their role as disciples of the Kingdom here in the kingdom of this world. He challenged us to critical solidarity with our leaders. Critical solidarity requires that we affirm our leaders but also that we are critical of them on matters of truth, justice and mercy should they fall short of the Christian standard. That is not, of course, about Christians standing up for Christians but more importantly about the Christian commitment to those who are without access to power but who desperately need to be on the receiving end of real truth, good justice and generous mercy. In this way the Christian’s role in the world is to infect it with God’s goodness. What we do we are to do as Christians and unashamedly so. The Archbishop caused the crowd to chuckle when he noted that if we do not speak up for ourselves then someone else will do it for us and then we will suffer that common Irish ailment – BSE, ‘blame someone else’.

His rally to take responsibility is well-placed as our society moves further into this time of local government. With the struggles that still lie ahead if we do not move from a ‘blame someone else’ mentality we will never get through them. I am thinking here about the difficult decisions that still have to be taken in education and healthcare. I am thinking about the appointment that is to made of a Victims Commissioner, or Commissioner(s). I am thinking of moving beyond a time when things are politically traded-off, this for that, and of reaching a time when there is a consensus reached across parties about how to go forward and if consensus can’t be reached then the issue is honestly thrashed out until compromises have been made and a way forward found. That time will have to dawn and if we are traverse the terrain which will be haunted by ghosts from the passed and rubbled by experiences and memories then responsibility will have to be faced for good governance to triumph over party-political governance or ‘constitutional question’ governance.

No wonder then that the Archbishop’s most critical point of the day was that tolerance will not do, it is quite simply not enough. Quite apart from it being far from Biblical in the Archbishop’s view it is also the road to a collapse of morality, a falling into an uncertain middle-mire which blurs identity and takes away hope. Tolerance makes anything go and nothing worth arguing for. So he offered us the concept of ‘gracious magnanimity’, a dynamic which is positive, which retains identity and resists moral collapse. Gracious magnanimity resists the danger of having people fester on the fringes and allows for full expression of differing positions. It requires a boldness from Christian people and indeed for all people in society for it requires an owning of the position on which one stands but also a clear statement of the willingness to compromise, to meet half way. How long have we resisted such concepts in Northern Ireland? How long have we dressed compromise up in other words when we have actually managed compromise? Gracious magnanimity offers the strength of gentleness, forbearance and moderation with the virtue of hope for it does not become Christians to be full of doom and  gloom. Gracious magnanimity offers the vision of inter-relatedness rather than the moral vacuum of a shared vision.

This was the challenge of the day, sturdy and hopeful. It came to us all, diverse an audience as we were and it was set in the context of a diverse group of contributors – Minister of State Hugo Swire, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan TD, Deputy Dara Calleary TD, Professor Laurence Kirkpatrick, Councillor Tom Hartley, Mr Philip Orr, Minister Nelson McCausland. Such diverse people seeking together for the vision of a new society and setting out together on a decade of centenaries which has the potential to pull us asunder or to build on our still fragile trust to bring about a stronger, more inclusive and graciously magnanimous society.

We were ably taken through the day by Mark Simpson, BBC Ireland Correspondent, who gave a sense of security to all taking part. The security he provided allowed participants to speak from their heart. Dara Calleary spoke inspiringly of what faith communities can offer, Tom Hartley showed off his historical knowledge and was matched in debate by the knowledge of Philip Orr and Nelson McCausland. Ministers Swire and Deenihan greeted each other like friends and shared the call to avoid hard judgements of each other and to create a new society. Deenihan offered a way to transcend our differences through listening to each other and recognising one another’s heritages. He set out the stall of both governments – to gain insight into unfamiliar histories over the next ten years and in particular for the Irish in the marking of 1916. Professor Kirkpatrick opened up the already existing diversities within the Presbyterian community, even at 1912, reminding us all that none comes from a commnuity which is complete when viewed as monolith but only when understood as a diversified miscellany even within the boundaries of faith, denomination, political party etc. Within the diverse group gracious magnanimity could perhaps be first learned and practiced and then launched into the greater context where it will face its greatest hurdles. But even as those hurdles are faced, gracious magnanimity, an announcement that we are willing to meet each other half-way, brings to birth the virtue of hope without which there is no life and no future.

There is so much more to be said, so much to debate, so much to learn and so much to hope for.


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Marking the Ulster Covenant












Thursday, 19 April 2012 2pm – 10pm




Among participants will be Minister of Arts,

Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan

and Professor Laurence Kirkpatrick who will set the historical context. Our keynote speaker will turn us towards the future and consider, from a Christian perspective, what it means to be a citizen today. A panel including political representatives from North and South will take questions from the floor and open up debate.


Titanic, inquiries and a better future

Inquiries in Northern Ireland are undoubtedly a bone of contention. Time and again they are held up as among the greatest shortcomings in a societies attempts to access information about the atrocities and outrages of the past. While those who have been deeply hurt and damaged by what has happened, by the experiences of loss, discrimination and suffering, would often like to access that information the singular most significant route to the help they need most often fails them. Line upon line of written script is blacked out as if their feelings were blacked out from the consciousness of society and hurt is heaped upon hurt. Inquiries fail us over and over again.

Yet there is enough wisdom around for us to know that what the inquiry system restrains from public knowledge has a purpose and a reason. The interconnectedness of information, the exposure of security methods, the protection of some who are vulnerable – it can all be understood. But even with understanding there is a silent inward nodding that the system is not good enough and it continues to fail the construction not only of the past but also of a good foundation for the future. If we cannot do better in setting down a firm foundation then the future will inevitably remain precarious.

Inquiries have shown their shortcomings over and over again. I had never thought to wonder if there was an inquiry following the Titanic tragedy but it is all there to be explored from our far-distant time. http://www.titanicinquiry.org/ The guilt that drove people during the inquiry, the bitterness and the anger and the despair. The sense of loss and the reality of loss. The pure human shortcoming. It is all there in the script of the inquiry given from different perspectives – British & US. Minute by minute is accounted for from the noon departure of the White Star Line’s flagship on April 10th through to Frederick Fleet’s sight of something in the distance from the Crow’s Nest on April 14th at 11.40pm. It only took two hours and forty minutes for the Titanic to disappear into the stony cold water taking 1500 lives. A long list of witnesses was called at both the American and British Inquiries. The Americans spent 18 days at it and recommended that inspection laws needed to  be revised and standards set so that no vessel could be licensed to carry passengers until those standards were met, including vessels from foreign countries. Amendments to the standards would include emphasis on sufficient lifeboats for everyone. Training and drill in use of the lifeboats was also crucial together with passengers and crew being assigned a lifeboat even before they left port. Searchlights, communications, distress signals too were at issue along with the construction of vessels. In his speech to the Senate at the end of the Inquiry Senator William Alden Smith said:

Our course was simple and plain – to gather the facts relating to this disaster while they were still vivid realities. Questions of diverse citizenship gave way to the universal desire for the simple truth. It was of paramount importance that we should act quickly to avoid jurisdictional confusion and organized opposition at home or abroad.

He points out the importance of the inquiry taking place close to the event. In our context across Ireland today we are far from many of the events which need to be inquired into. That makes it difficult but not impossible and especially not impossible if we consider more carefully what we want to achieve. But out situation and Smith’s clarity also beg the question about political will regarding the past. One wonders if we sit long enough with a flawed and failing system will the day dawn when someone will start to say it was all too long ago, we have to let it go.

Smith spoke about Captain Smith of the Titanic. He,

..knew the sea and his clear eye and steady hand had often guided his ship through dangerous paths. For 40 years storms sought in vain to vex him or menace his craft. But once before in all his honorable career was his pride humbled or his vessel maimed. Each new advancing type of ship built by his company was handed over to him as a reward for faithful services and as an evidence of confidence in his skill. 

Then he levels the devastating rebuke.

Titanic though she was, his indifference to danger was one of the direct and contributing causes of this unnecessary tragedy, while his own willingness to die was the expiating evidence of his fitness to live. Those of us who knew him well – not in anger, but in sorrow – file one specific charge against him: Overconfidence and neglect to heed the oft-repeated warnings of his friends.

The extent of Smith’s guilt was well discussed and herein lies a warning – that the guilt can be pinned to one to allow others off the hook and satisfy a thirst for something to be done. Any inquiry has the capacity to rush to conclusion when someone, or something, or some group or system can be made to carry the blame for the shortcomings of many. Such a result does not build a firm foundation for the future.

The British Inquiry lasted 36 days and made a clear and short statement of finding:

The Court, having carefully inquired into the circumstances of the above mentioned shipping casualty, finds, for the reasons appearing in the annex hereto, that the loss of the said ship was due to collision with an iceberg, brought about by the excessive speed at which the ship was being navigated.

The annex to the report contains many more pieces of description and account but the brief and final finding does little to alleviate the suffering of those who survived or those who lost loved ones. Recommendations were made about how ships could be more watertight, about lifeboats, training and drills.

In both inquiries testimony revealed the shortcomings in human nature, the desire of many to survive, the old class biases which suggested that some should have stayed and others should have boarded the lifeboats. The tendency to find someone on whom blame can be pinned is evident too. Somehow we imagine that if there is another who is ‘responsible’ then we will feel better. The bitter truth is that while one may feel better for a short time it doesn’t last because ultimately nothing can make the situation well again, nothing can bring back a loved one or take away the memory of the experience that haunts and wakens in the night. Things cannot be put back the way they used to be.

So when we search for and cry out for inquiries what are we looking for? Is this the place to begin? Would it not be better to begin with what we want to achieve and then to construct something that would take us there? Otherwise we have no learning from a world of experience. There is much at stake, too much for things to be left to drift or for  information to slip out under courtroom doors. The future is at stake. The question is whether we are committed as a society and whether we can call out the political will to intentionally construct something that will bring us to a better place. I’m looking forward to the BBC drama and to further questions being raised in my mind and to what it will impart about human nature.


Extract from Declan Kearney’s speech

This is part of the speech that Kearney gave on Easter Sunday at Milltown:


Some republicans oppose the peace process by militarist and political means. There is a political imperative upon us to attempt purposeful engagement with all republicans; and that includes those who oppose Sinn Féin.

Increased dialogue and engagement with the wider unionist and Protestant community is also essential.

That presents a huge challenge for us. Unionists continue to harbour suspicions about republicans.

Unionists have been hurt by the war; and so too have republicans.

W.B. Yeats wrote that too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart. Republicans have endured many sacrifices indeed, but our hearts have never turned to stone.

The war changed our lives, but not our humanity. We share this place with the unionist and Protestant people, and we also share a collective humanity with them.

The end to war gave way to an irreversible peace process and the now stable political institutions. We are right to be satisfied at our progress: but we have no right to be complacent.

We need to keep moving the peace process into new phases, and onto new ground.

National reconciliation is integral to our strategic project.  It is the basis from which to persuade for, and to build a new Ireland.

We are agents of change which means the status quo for us is not good enough.  Bringing about an Ireland at peace with itself is a pre requisite to achieving our ultimate aim of an Ireland of Equals.

So it is time to begin discussing how shared hurts can be acknowledged, lessened, and if possible healed.

Part of that will mean attempting to better understand each other, and trying to imagine what it might be like to walk in each other’s’ shoes – to identify with, and make sense of, our different experiences.

None of that will be possible without an authentic reconciliation process. And this will require new conversations between republicans and the unionist and Protestant community.

And there is never a right moment for that type of dialogue.

However, we may wait indefinitely if we are to wait on others to engage with new thinking and accept the inevitability of taking next steps.

Our generations of republicans are confident about the future and how to go forward; because we are visionaries; leaders; and nation builders.

We have inherited the proud tradition of Tone, Mc Cracken and Hope – absolutely dedicated to breaking the connection with England, but also achieving the unity of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter.

Our strategy sits on a long term trajectory.  It needs to be constantly energised with new challenges and momentum.  Had we waited for others during watershed moments over the past twenty years then we would not be here today.

This now is another time for republicans to think long-term, and imagine the new possibilities which can emerge from national reconciliation in our time, for the benefit of future generations.

Ninety years ago the civil war raged in Ireland. In its aftermath nothing was done to reconcile the seismic hurt and fractures caused.

The result was trans-generational divisions which lasted for decades.

We can stop history repeating itself by leading on the priority for an inclusive reconciliation process, in which all sections of our society listen and engage unconditionally with each another, and on the basis of equality and mutual respect.

Republicans should listen carefully to the diverse voices from within the wider unionist and Protestant community.

Those voices from that community which are committed to engagement and making common purpose based upon an acceptance of our shared humanity.

Voices which recognise the importance of taking our peace and political processes into a new future.

There are indeed new possibilities to be explored, with imagination, generosity, new language, and new thinking.

Authentic reconciliation needs a process in which dialogue is unconditional, language is humanised, and all voices are heard – republican, unionist, loyalist, and nationalist.

But authentic reconciliation is not a one way street.

Political unionism has a responsibility to positively embrace this opportunity, and engage with the rest of us.  And it should do so.

Republicans and unionists are partners in government. We should also become partners in reconciliation.

As Republicans across Ireland reflect on the Proclamation this Easter, and the new society it envisaged, we should give deep consideration to what more we can do to help meaningfully heal divisions in our country, and build national reconciliation.


Does history have to repeat itself? First thoughts on Declan Kearney’s speech.-

A ‘wise-guy’ once wrote

History repeats itself

It has to

No one is listening.

At a human level we all know how hard it is to break a pattern of relationship, even patterns that are the worst kind with desperate consequences for those involved. To learn to side-step the old emotions and to check intuitive reactions is a challenge indeed. So it is refreshing to hear that there is a way for history not to repeat itself:

We can stop history repeating itself by leading on the priority for an inclusive reconciliation process, in which all sections of our society listen and engage unconditionally with each another, and on the basis of equality and mutual respect.

So spoke Declan Kearney today in Milltown Cemetery as Republicans gathered to remember 1916. History need not repeat itself but there are some movements in relationship that are needed if history is to be set on a different course.

The first movement is listening. How often do we fail at this first movement because we intuitively react to what we are hearing and are hit by the old emotions feeling that our old enemy is justifying themselves? So to help the listening the speaking has to take account of how to communicate with the other. From the beginning this is a two-way process, locking suspicious people together as they begin a new struggle. So the first movement of listening also requires a careful movement of speaking if we are to get beyond the first stage.

The second movement is engagement. Kearney expresses this movement as ‘engage unconditionally’. What precisely does that mean? Almost as soon as the word unconditional comes out of a Republican mouth a Unionist moral backbone has straightened and is worried that this means accepting that some things which should not have been done were tolerable if not acceptable in the context as set out by Republicans in their particular analysis of the conflict. So to be unconditional to the Unionist mind actually becomes a condition and the condition is to accept a Republican analysis. If that is what Kearney means then already the project has failed. I would suggest that there is another way to interpret this.

For those who were engaged in the struggle the particular analysis which was brought to the table and which engaged hearts and minds in a Republican outlook was dependent on there being some justification for the struggle. It was not enough that there was a romantic desire for an Ireland free, although that functions for some. The analysis had to contain elements of belief which urged an Ireland which would be better off economically and socially if it were united, not divided. So it was essential to prove that there was discrimination against the Catholic people in order to paint a picture of a better reality in which Catholics could enjoy the same economic and social benefits as Protestants. Having proven that, the struggle was justified. That internal analysis shored up Republicans as they engaged in violence against their neighbours who have never fully understood how Republicans understood themselves. Unionists have not often been able to accept that the analysis out of which the struggle was born was one that justified the struggle and it was a firm justification in Republican minds. There was no dithering but clear choice by people who had jobs and prospects to join the struggle. It was about freeing your own people and giving them a position through the structures of society which enabled them to access power and then legislate justly. It was an analysis which incorporated a vision for people able to achieve their full potential and be recognised by society. So the ideology was a fair one in the Republican mind and this is what Unionists have not yet fully understood, it seems to me.

So when Kearney asks for people to ‘engage unconditionally’ he is asking for an openness in the approach to dialogue – an openness that accepts there is an analysis which makes it possible to justify the struggle. That doesn’t mean that anyone has to fully embrace the analysis or even partly embrace it. It doesn’t mean that people have to no longer be critical of the analysis but it does mean that when Republicans begin to talk about what they did and why they did it the first response of Unionists is not condemnation but listening and unpacking what is being said in an attempt to get it all out on the table so that it can be viewed from every angle. The listening and engaging may be tight-lipped but the willingness to view the story from every angle is where the critical engagement takes place and that’s why it all needs to be told. Equality and mutual respect are of the same order. Equality is about giving the story equal space to be heard and mutual respect is about a human quality which acknowledges everyones right to choose to be and do what they are and have done. Mutual respect is not, though, it has to be said, about mutually respecting everything that each other did.

Kearney is calling for a new quality of relationship which opens up new space to listen, to speak and then hear. It is on this that he pins the hope that history will not repeat itself. It is this new space that will be a place of transformation where a different and unique kind of history can begin to be written.

It is worth asking what is in this for Unionism. Unionists have important things to say which they feel have never been heard. Those things are related to the injustices of the violence against them and the effects on their community identity and infrastructure. They have to do with covert, disciplined, what are seen as excessive campaigns of purging from border areas and they have to do with not being permitted to speak these out as new institutions were put in place. The Kearney call has to equally apply to Unionists – they have to be listened to in a way which allows them to put it all out on the table without judgement and dismissal being the first response. So how Unionist’s speak in the first movement of the new relating is every bit as important as how Republicans speak and how Republicans listen is every bit as important as how Unionists listen. There is an opportunity for Unionists here and it is one not to missed. What it offers is the possibility of truly opening up the complex dynamics of success and failure, domination and submission. What this offers is a way to continue to be Unionist rather than to be squeezed off the stage altogether and merged with a history long-past which is re-enacted sometimes on a daily basis but nothing more than a re-enactment of that which is past. So this invitation offers Unionism a n unusual opportunity for dynamism within the context of today’s politics.

The task ahead is mammoth, I have no doubt about that. But it is a task that has to be faced if we are to side–step into a new history. So far the past is ever before us and it’s time it was behind us. Here is an offer of an opportunity that should not be refused.

Read more: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/calls-for-reconciliation-process-16142033.html#ixzz1rTXQKuOX


Easter comment on life

The Lord is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

This morning we remember and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, God’s final and most lasting comment on all that the world offers. The politics was supposed to be over, the threat extinguished, the appeal to the kind of people religious leaders weren’t too keen on having around silenced, the disruption settled into a new calm which would allow religious people to know where it was all at again. No more turning-over of tables in the Temple with an angry shout at those who exploited the poor and ready to believe. No more healing to attract people away from the religious standards set down by Temple leaders. No more crowds being pulled together with the worry of them getting out of control and no more political concern about the man who could muster more support than any other political grouping in those days.

But God wasn’t finished. The final comment had not been made. It was made when some ordinary people went to pay their respects and found the tomb empty. It was made when the disciples who had locked themselves away ran out to check what they were hearing was true. The final comment was made when grave clothes were folded and Jesus spoke to Mary and identified himself to her. The final comment was life and not death. The final comment was a comment made on everything that manipulates, exploits or corrupts for the good of some to the detriment of others. It was a comment for everyone, there is life for everyone and if religious people want to also be Easter people then the comment we have to construct on our world is a comment about life – life for all. It isn’t hard to see the death around us, the dying, the grief, the confusion, the system which permits success and deep-breathing contentment for some but not for others. All around us there are signs of the things Jesus couldn’t tolerate in his life and which God made comment on when God raised Jesus from death to life.

Where I work the comment of life has to be about suicide and loss and the breaking down of life. It has to be about the fracturing of identity and the fractured responses which only shore up a brokenness which may bring some healing to some people but won’t be strategic enough or well-managed enough to make a long-term difference. Across wider society Easter people are challenged to make some stab at leadership when politics cannot hold the diversity it is faced with and when there are attempts to mend fractures, whether those fractures run deep into the past or are newly created.

Easter people have to be with the commentary that is for life, bearing in mind that tables were overturned and people were healed and ordinary people from Galilee and other places too were called to follow the one whom God raised to life.


Easter – resurrection and rising

It’s almost Easter. For the church there is still Holy Thursday and Good Friday to live through. These are important days in the Christian calendar for they are reminders of the belief that God enters into human suffering in the very deepest of ways in the experience Jesus had of betrayal, disappointment, false accusation and then the humiliation of crucifixion. Each of those words bears its own weight and echoes with our full human experience – personal, social and political. But Easter will come, the light will shine and the celebration will happen.

For Irish Republicans it is an important time. The memories of the Easter Rising are powerful and still shaping of Republican hearts and minds. The Easter lily will be worn with pride as the history of the struggle is recalled and those who died for the cause remembered in parish graveyards all over Ireland. The now seven branches if Irish Republicanism have this remembering at least in common.

Together they will call to mind the time when the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army, Cumann na mBan, Na Fianna Eireann and the Hibernian Rifles joined to rise against their enemy. Dublin saw the bulk of the fighting in a lesser response than had been originally planned and the immediate reaction of the Irish Nationalist leaders and the Catholic Church was condemnation. But as with all these things, time and action changed the view of what had happened and realigned groups after some time and not least because of what was viewed as an excessive response from the British. The result was the rise of Sinn Fein electorally to take influence and seats from the Irish Parliamentary Party in the 1918 General Election.

This year, as every year, significant speeches will be made. From Dublin and Belfast, to Pontypridd and Boston Republicans will remember and unite in remembering. They will listen to speeches to stir their souls and call back to their memories the common cause in which they united and the figures of stature to whom they have looked over many years. One wonders if, among those speeches, Declan Kearney and other forward-looking Republicans will open up again matters of relationship with neighbours who share this Island, with old enemies only some of whom have become friends. One wonders if, hidden beneath it all, there will be a hand of friendship or the stirring of Republican souls to what is at the core of any Republican ideology – space and diversity. The whole point of Republicanism was to move away from despots and dictators, benevolent or otherwise, and open up a system which drew into authority all sections of society and all creeds and beliefs in a coalition determined to create something far more diverse and dynamic than any dictatorship could offer. That Republican soul is one that can stir for the future of an Island that has yet to make peace with its past and it’s people who have yet to finally make peace with one another and look into each others eyes in understanding of why things were done, even while condemning what was done.

It strikes me too that while Irish Republicans are engaged in all of this Ulster Unionists pay little if any heed to it. That is Republican history, it has nothing to do with us. But of course it has in the same way that the Twelfth of July has something to do with the nationalist population, and Remembrance Day and the Apprentice Boys commemorations and all of that. We are intricately tied together in these histories and we dare not forget it if we are to work on creating a society that is showing every evidence of reconciling, rather than simply living two detached histories. Those on the underside of the historical time being remembered take the edge of any triumphalism and each triumphalist moment has to pause and consider what was done to neighbours and fellow travellers on the same piece of land. There’s no hope otherwise.

For a moment there I thought I’d lost the plot, slipped over to the ‘other side’. But there is no other side. Just another place from which to view history. And there is still hope for a better history to be written for the next generation to commemorate in a whole new and more exciting way.