Doing politics and mending our relationships

 “The reconciliation we seek is a genuine healing of community divisions today and not the airbrushing of awkward history. It is based on working together for the future and not seeking to allocate blame and responsibility for the wrongs of the past.”

These words, it seems to me, could have been penned by either Declan Kearney or Peter Robinson. As it happens, they were penned by Peter Robinson and delivered on Friday evening past. They are, of course, the crux of the matter. If there is any point to dealing with the hangovers and intrusions of our troubled history it is to seek a genuine healing and reconciliation which has no intention of pretending or diminishing the things of the past. But somehow the debate, the public debate at least, has spiraled out of control and into the old rhetoric. I guess those of us who come from the community of the ‘worthy’, which is unlikely to be a compliment, have been misheard. So let me state my position on this one – there is no point in attempting to deal with the past if it is a matter of dumbing down or pretending. I am not interested in wondering if a new Ireland is possible right now but I am interested in a better, more reconciled Northern Ireland in which people can find the human flourishing that worthy church-people like me believe is possible when the context is such that human beings can find place and self-esteem to be more than they are not. I am convinced that we can yet construct a society that enables people to be all that they can be but I am also convinced that we need the political relationships to build that new society. 

Some people believe that what we have is better than we had and so enough. I am of the view that we can still do better. This last weeks flipping into rhetoric says it all for me. We are still caught in that rhetoric which is our return to position in a situation where we don’t know how to take our opponents and don’t want to work alongside them as they are. So the new politic requires a new relationship which we are yet far from. 

I want to be able to hear Gerry Adams say that he was in the IRA. I want to hear him admit what role he played and what position he held. But we are not in a situation where that is possible and so we all have to accept a laughable untruth to which we can all lift an eyebrow knowingly and disparage our old enemy. I want to know if it is true that the conflict brought with it a spiraling downward into the morass of collusion and tit-for-tat killing and use and abuse that I suspect was the case. I want to know because I want to stop living a lie and start into a new relationship which is bursting with a new hope.

Where the Bible urges me to love enemies and pray for those who persecute me I want to sit down and wonder to myself who exactly that is and then to respond, however inadequately, to the challenge. I want to test out what the writer to the Hebrews could have meant when he wrote:

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12 v14

I want to know what it actually means to:

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4 v32


There is much to be learned if there can be a new openness to one another and to the things of the past which cannot and should not be allowed to control the future. I want to be able to sit in rooms like the hall I sat in on the Old Warren Estate on Thursday evening past when old enemies, literally those who looked at each other down the barrel of a gun, could sit down together and talk about education and poverty and health and all that matters in a society reaching to a new future. I find it somewhat ironic that in that room those old enemies were shaking one another’s hands while others were still caught in rhetoric and debate only over the airwaves. It proved to me that new relationships are what makes the difference and there is no doubt in my mind, despite the strength of feeling on the social networks and in other places, that the only way to move from this moment is through a daring set of new relationships which bring honesty, even aggressive honesty, into the same room. There is nothing to be left outside if we are to make those new relationships and that in itself takes a daring spirit – to be prepared to set before old enemies the things that have to be addressed. If combatants can do it so too can those who wield the power of words.


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