“genuine reconciliation”, is based “on calling things wrong that were wrong”

Their love of country, millions all mis-spent,
How reconcile? by reconciling rent!

– George Gordon Byron

Reconciliation is a word bandied around as though everyone had the same shared understanding of what it means. Those who do use it in freely in terms of Northern Ireland’s shared history seem oddly reluctant to define it clearly when asked.

Within the tenets of the Catholic Church confession is often referred to as the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. It’s a largely private emotional experience volunteered into by those who participate.

But it is a requirement of those who seek to take Holy Communion. It seems to me that, however it began, the way the same term is sometimes gets used by Sinn Fein politicians is a sort of quasi-religious echo of this order.

This may be why it comes over as just plain odd by those unfamiliar with that structure. Even amongst those of us that are, reconciliation is by and large a votive act: ie given without the intention of recovery or use.

What it isn’t is a market-based transaction or a necessary qualifying act for the further acquisition of political grace. Ruth Dudley Edwards quotes an old friend of mine (and Slugger’s) with a fairly blunt truth on the matter:

Trevor Ringland, a policeman’s son who has spent much of his life trying to bring Catholics and Protestants, nationalists and unionists, together, rejects Sinn Fein’s concept of reconciliation, which allows them to honour their dead murderers.

“They feel they were justified in the campaign they carried out,” pointed out Ringland. “If we all adhered to that standard we would all say that Bloody Sunday, Michael Stone and all the other loyalist atrocities were justified – but the rest of us don’t feel they were.” Sinn Fein was not engaged in “genuine reconciliation”, which is based “on calling things wrong that were wrong”.


Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • Skibo

    I listen for your condemnation of the two tragedies that happened before Kingsmill. The airways are unusually quiet. No condemnation of Catholic murders.
    It seems only innocent Protestants were murdered.
    I remember the news reports during the days of the troubles. Protestants were Murdered. Catholics were killed. Seems one was acceptable while the other was not.

  • Tochais Siorai

    In my experience, most Nationalists believe that a strong strain of bigotry and arrogance flows through much of Unionism, particularly the DUP.

    How much do you think this perception contributes to the SF vote? How do think this perception could be reduced?

  • kensei

    It is a home game, they should play GTSQ as well as ireland’s call out of respect for all the Unionists that have played the Ireland team and stood for Amhrain. Provided the Queen’s representative is attendance – strictly the anthem is played because the President is there. so, equivalent.

    They won’t because of commercial pressures rather than anything particularly high minded; indeed I think the Aviva has to host any Test level matches contractually.

    We good?

  • Tochais Siorai

    Oh we know where you’re going. So you think an Ireland team should have GSTQ as its anthem if it ever plays at Ravenhill.

    Do Scotland or Wales play GSTQ at home games?

  • Tochais Siorai

    Well, they were never exactly tripping over themselves to condemn it now, were they?

  • kensei

    It isn’t. It is the heart of the matter. Most arguments aren’t around clearcut questions of right and wrong. They happen because one party feels their actions are acceptable or justified and the other doesn’t. There is no common right and wrong to call things out.

    The process of reconciliation is much more about empathy, putting yourself in the other persons shoes, trying to see things how they see it. That might mean reassessing your actions and deciding they were wrong, in all or part. But it might mean moving even if you think you are right because the other person sees it differently.

    The way it is cast here is an oppositional game. it is just an attempt to spin the debate onto turf that is more favourable to their side. There is no application of empathy here, either. Volunteers aren’t “their dead murderers” to a lot of people in SF or the communities they represent. They are real people with beliefs and history and emotions. A context that defines their actions. Whether they are right or wrong that is the ground reconciliation and discussion has to be on.

    By all means hit SF hard for paying lip service to the idea and not doing that. But your mate is just as guilty.

  • Jollyraj

    There’s a strong strain of bigotry and arrogance on both sides, much of it founded on ignorance of the ‘other’.

    How to reduce it? Shed sunlight on it – integrated education is to me very obviously the only way forward.

  • Jollyraj

    No, it doesn’t make anyone cheering on murder less repulsive.

    As we’ve established, it wasn’t the OO cheering on murder, mind you. Please see above.

  • Jollyraj

    Fully agree with you.

  • Declan Doyle

    Will u drew the initial coparison whilst I just pointed out your hypocrisy.

  • Alan N/Ards

    Hi there kensei, As far as I know the President was not in attendance at the Ireland v Fiji game in 2013 yet the Amhrain was used, along with Ireland’s Call.

  • Alan N/Ards

    Did the people of what is now the ROI reconcile after the civil war?

    How were the war crimes ( by both sides) dealt with by the state, as I’m not aware of any inquiries into these crimes against humanity?

    Republicans seem happy enough shout about killings by British State forces and loyalists ( in NI) but seem to have forgotten that what their own people did to each other in the 1920’s was just as bad.

  • Alan N/Ards

    How would you show that the region is not tenable?

    If a federal UI was the acceptable way forward, would the region ( in your eyes) still not be tenable?

  • kensei

    Interesting. As long as that is not just a mess up of protocol, play GTSQ then

  • Croiteir

    How does a federal UI work?

  • Croiteir

    Moving goalposts . We are talking about the supposed need for reconciliation north of the border.

  • Alan N/Ards

    “Instead if there is any reconciliation to be done it should be the reconciliation of unionism with the sins of their fathers in the institutionalisation of sectarianism by partition. We can then move on in ending division of all kinds in a united Ireland.”

    Are you saying that republicans and nationalists have no reconciling to do with the sins of their fathers? Was it ok for the government of the Free State to destroy the documentation concerning the executions of republicans?

    I was not moving goalposts but I am interested as to how the people were reconciled, if they were reconciled, after the civil war.

    I have spoken to a number of people when holidaying in west Cork about the civil war. These were elderly people who were born after the civil war, but had been reared on stories of it. This was about fourteen years ago yet they spoke of the “Spanish bastard” as if the war was still going on. Their parents had been friends of Collins and they were carrying on the grudge that their parents had held.

    There are many people in Northern Ireland who are like these people. They don’t want to be reconciled with the other side. Their children will carry on with the grudge and maybe their children will take it into another generation. No one can stop that. The people in Cork (who I met) have no reason to hate after all these years, but they do. Why is that?

    You seem to think that real reconciliation can only come about with a UI. I am convinced that it can come about if we all walk a mile in our perceived enemies shoes, here in NI. If a UI happened next week would it bring about reconciliation?

    A UI, if it happens, should mean that the people have come together and worked out a way of respecting our differences. That’s what the GFA was about. The people voted on the whole island in favour of it. My definition of Irishness has nothing to do republicanism, the tricolour or the men of 1916. If your definition of Irishness is different than mine then how do we reconcile our differences, if we are to share this island as equals.

    You asked how a federal Ireland would/could work.

    For me it’s simple. If a UI was to happen then NI becomes part of the ROI. It would have its regional Assembly. It will have its police service (PSNI) as agreed by the vast majority in NI after the GFA. The Irish government will obviously have control of foreign affairs and the economy and defence etc. Unionism will probably not trust republicans ( of all shades) to stand up for them (in the Irish Parliament) so that is why the Federalized Ireland will be needed.

    Do you not think it could work or is nationalism ( like all nationalistic groupings) about complete domination of the smaller section of the country? Yes, you can put many from the unionist community into that domineering, nationalistic grouping. And look were that got us.

  • barnshee

    Bloody Friday
    etc etc

  • SeaanUiNeill

    My dear fellow, delight to hear that you too are trying to steer us out of the mess a hundred years of paranoia and crass recourse to blustering violence has landed us all in.

  • Kev Hughes

    He genuinely doesn’t DD, he is a special case 😀

  • Alan N/Ards

    I’d just prefer Ireland’s Call and nothing else.

    I would also like the IFA to stop using GSTQ at NI games and come up with an anthem that offends no one.

  • Croiteir

    Yes you are moving goalposts. Mick opened up the thread talking about “Northern ” Ireland. Inherently this means how do nationalists reconcile themselves with unionism. My answer is simply we don’t. We do not have to. The onus is on unionism to reconcile themselves with the wrong done by partition. Then and only then we move on. If unionism cannot accept that partition was wrong, that it was the causal force for continuous instability and death that it has caused economic decline and a dependancy business culture that is at the mercy of a foreign governments interests then the slow demographic attrition will force that which they uphold. And unionism will not gain any recognition or credit. They will be judged as they always have been rightly judged. Begrudgers who deserve every humiliation they get.

  • Skibo

    Barnshee, if we are in a d1ck measuring exercise here you will end up on the wrong side of history. The British Army have considerably more innocent blood on their hands. Look through history. It is littered with it. It is still happening in a number of areas round the world. They dropped bombs in Syria. Are they only designed to kill insurgents?

  • barnshee

    I don`t think thry do English passports

  • barnshee

    The facts just the facts

    In Ni at least the “Brit”s are way behind the murder gangs of whatever hue

    According to McKeown In 1972 the RA killed 72 innocent civilians 43 soldiers 11 policemen and 11 UDR men

    During a riot in Derry (I had the doubtful priviledge of being thjere) the army killed 30

  • Jollyraj


  • Jollyraj


  • Jollyraj

    Do you see a moral equivalence between a British soldier killing an SS officer, and an SS officer killing a British soldier?

  • Skibo

    Soldier/ Soldier, what is the difference? Why did you have to say SS? What about an ordinary German officer killing a British officer or a British officer killing a German officer? What about the question I actually asked you, what was the moral justification for bombing Dresden, other that the RAF showing that they could be as ruthless as they had to be to win the war?

  • Skibo

    I suggest you should keep your powder dry on who was involved in what murder till we see the extent of collusion within Northern Ireland.
    Unfortunately the British Army has been in Ireland for a long time and I believe the Cain records start in 1969.
    Like to look at the facts of the actions of Oliver Cromwell? Perhaps that is too far back for you to consider his actions as murder. Perhaps you believe that in those times the victor had what ever right he deemed necessary to control foreign territories including mass executions, transporting native people off their lands and replacing with their own, moving people across the world to act as forced labour on other territories.
    It all depends whether you want to look at a small snippet of our history or look at the full picture.

  • Skibo

    Would you care to look at 1969 when it all started this time around?
    8 by RUC, 2 by British Army, 3 by Loyalists and 3 by Republicans.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The terrible irony, Alan N/Ards, is that many similar safeguards and more were being offered to the Ulster Unionist Council to participate in a Home Rue Parliament in 1914. They would have had their own committee to discuss (and if necessary veto) anything seriously affecting the North.

    Our greatest tragedy, perhaps, is that while many Southern Unionists, such as Sir Horace Plunkett, were in close and honest discussion with the IPP on these matters, the North preferred to hold to the efficacy of force, and we have had to endure what was perhaps an utterly unnecessary hundred years of habitually reducing our discussions to brute force consequently.

  • Jollyraj

    Away game, technically. Thus the national anthem of the host nation is appropriate. GSTQ then, so.

  • Alan N/Ards

    Unlike you, I am up for a genuine reconciling of the people on this island, never mind NI. That was why I was asking as to how it was achieved in the ROI after the civil war.

    I doubt if present day unionism is going to condemn the unionists of the 1920’s who set up NI. The sins of the fathers is a lot of nonsense No one can speak for them, just like no one can speak for the participants in the disastrous civil war in the south, ninety odd years ago. Did de Valera and his cronies apologise for it or did everyone just move on and get the cleaners to brush it under the carpet?

    The sack cloth and ashes theology of people like Paisley is not the way forward. I happen to accept that things should have been done differently pre 1921. I am also happy to accept that political unionism have made many, many mistakes in our history. Hands up! Mind you, it would be good if you took that large lump of wood out your own eye and took a look into your own peoples past.

    If you want to persuade people like me about the wonders of a UI then tell me how the south has changed from days of de Valera and his cronies. Tell me how the people were able to reconcile themselves with their enemies.

  • Croiteir

    I don’t have to. I am content to have a sitzkreig until numbers do the work. It is in unionism interest to talk and deal while they have something to deal with