Declan Kearney on reconciliation: a longer term project than #AE16

One of the benefits of an election campaign is that the political parties issue written statements reflecting where their thinking currently sits. What is revealing about the current crop is that there is still such a huge contrast in the language around peace and reconciliation from Sinn Féin and the two main unionist parties. Specifically, it is the absence of any desire for reconciliation in the messages of the DUP and UUP.

This chimes with the comments made by President Michael D Higgins at the Remembering 1916 Symposium:

Indeed, while the long shadow cast by what has been called ‘the Troubles’ in Northern Ireland has led to a scrutiny of the Irish republican tradition of ‘physical violence’, a similar review of supremacist and militarist imperialism remains to be fully achieved.

At the recent Sinn Féin Ardfheis in Dublin, it was the key theme of Declan Kearney’s key note address on the Friday night (covered by Alan here and published in full here). Much of the language used by Kearney is now relatively familiar from Sinn Féin although perhaps, more importantly, there are now ample matching gestures that, at times, even as pure symbolism, have seriously challenged Sinn Féin‘s base. The best that can be said of the current positions of the DUP and UUP (to the extent that they are reflected in their manifestos) is that they are consistent in their words and actions. In the DUP’s case there is no aspiration towards reconciliation, in the UUP’s, (to be honest), it is hard to tell what they want.

For his part, Declan Kearney spells out some key issues:

Political agreements must be seen to be fully honoured. Power sharing and partnership government must be seen to work and deliver.  Leadership must be seen to given at every level of society against sectarianism, racism, segregation and homophobia. The north must be seen to be a no-go area for sectarian harassment, bigotry, and all forms of intolerance and discrimination. There should be a fearless resolve to dismantle barriers and build bridges by all sides. Those who want to push the Peace Process backwards, and directly, or implicitly oppose reconciliation should be challenged, without fear or favour.


Which he then sums up in two key points:

Reconciliation is our future.  It is not a new battleground…


…Political leaders should take the lead in promoting a genuinely inclusive discourse on reconciliation, and without recrimination.




I think this idea of a genuinely inclusive discourse clearly echoes what President Michael D Higgins said, in the earlier quote about the need for a ‘…review of supremacist and militarist imperialism…’ (although he conspicuously failed to act on his own words when the opportunity presented itself). This might seem contradictory, but explicitly, both the DUP and UUP demand there be no re-writing of the past. Michael D Higgins is articulating such a view while representing a political mainstream that is every bit (if not more) as aggressively antagonistic towards Sinn Féin as unionism tries to be. To date, Sinn Féin‘s words and actions have been happening in something of  a vacuum, given the failure of the DUP and UUP to even acknowledge their own responsibilities or potential futures in a genuinely inclusive discourse. They might do well to read Declan Kearney’s speech again.


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  • Dassa

    Language from Sinn Fein being the main thing. All rhetoric with absolutely no substance so in reality little difference between Nationalists and Unionists in reaching out to truly reconcile.

  • John – I’ve been meaning to return to the policy document Kearney referred to in his speech (when I find a copy of it online or scan in the paper version I received at the ard fheis). While it’s not the hymn sheet that everyone in the party is singing off, it is the new one they will have to absorb and adopt … and there may well be significant albeit small steps in print that will help us read Sinn Fein’s rhetoric and actions over the coming years.

  • Thought Criminal

    Yes, because a few fluffy words will make us forget all those bodies blown to pieces by Sinn Fein/IRA will they? How dare those not involved in terrorism not use such warm language when talking to that cuddly terrorist.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Really, No complete reconciliation within one month or one year and having that issue only being fixed by 108 people up in Stormont?

    That’s not going to happen?

    Gee, here I was in suspense thinking that it could happen!

  • Declan Doyle

    Language is incredibly important because it forms the basis for communication corridors to be constructed. Reconciliation should not be a new form of battle ground, it should be an avenue to accommodation and trust building. The substance is certainly there in MMG willingness to fully engage and play his part in any future peace and reconciliation initiative.

  • barnshee

    He could kick off the process straight away
    Disclose all he knows on
    1 Claudy
    2 The murder of Joanne Mathers
    and so put the Brits behind the 8 ball

  • Kev Hughes

    Ah but trust is a mutual enterprise Wullie, put hey, why don’t you keep bashing your keyboard there and let’s see what comes out.

    ‘It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times?!’

  • Declan Doyle

    He could but it would be very unwise. The entire process needs to move concurrently in order to avoid allowing any one side to be perceived as admitting primary culpability. More importantly from a Republican point of view, any unilateral action by SF on this front would be music to the dissidents ears, allowing them to portray SF as having sold out and ‘surrendering’. Whatever about the past, the last thing we need is to fuel the fire within dissident republicanism.

  • Dassa

    Declan, it is indeed. The problem is we have heard about it for years. Sinn Fein have been talking about this “Ireland of equals” for considerable time. However you must be equal in the eyes of Sinn Fein to be part of it.

  • Declan Doyle

    That maybe is an assumption and an opinion one chooses to hold due to a lack of trust or, maybe it is easier to invent the others true intent rather than actually engage in dialogue with constructive ideas. It is very easy to claim one’s opponent is insincere, a way to let oneself off the hook as it can be a convenient cloak to hide an unwillingness to treat the other as an equal.

  • Granni Trixie

    Tell GA that language is important. And that it is not the road to ‘reconciliation’ to compare he lives if people in Ballymurphy to that of black slaves. It’s simply made up stuff not truth that will set people free.

  • Dassa

    Declan, where are these constructive, reconciling ideas from SF? examples please that aren’t just words. I feel the exact way about DUP,UUP and SDLP. Lets not kid ourselves however that SF are any different.

  • Declan Doyle

    Cynicism is not helpful, the very fact that all parties sit around a table together suggests they are on the right road. Moreover, nationalists and republicans attending ceremonies marking the Somme and other important events such as meeting the Queen etc. displays a sign that there is a willingness to move toward a more shared future. I agree it would be good if things could happen faster but lets not dismiss efforts on the basis of our own bias.