Healing, Honour and Hope – What Next? (Kingsley Donaldson & Declan Kearney) #feile16

feile16 Heather MorrisKingsley Donaldson replaced his older brother Jeffrey on the Healing, Honour and Hope – What Next? panel in the Duncairn Centre for Culture and Arts alongside Sinn Féin MLA Declan Kearney, chaired by former Methodist President Heather Morris. (The Lagan Valley MP was called away to host the new International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, who was visiting Northern Ireland yesterday.)

While moderate and thoughtful unionism was evident on stage, Declan Kearney was impatient with the way political unionism was continuing to hold back reconciliation through its “active commission or omission [that] reinforces, incites and perpetuates sectarian mind-sets and division, and blocks progress and positive initiatives”.

In her introduction, Heather Morris explained that the Féile An Phobail event’s title came from a 100 days of prayer for 100 years of history movement and the associated magazine, produced earlier this year to invite Christians to unite and prayerfully engage in their nation’s story. [EANI’s Peter Lynas noted that NI has 400,000 weekly church goers; twice the number of attendees at IFA matches throughout the season.]

feile16 Kingsley DonaldsonKingsley Donaldson began by assuring the north Belfast audience that “you’re not going to see a spat between a retired Brit and a republican”. The retired army officer was upbeat in his prepared remarks and up front about his career in the military. Kingsley reflected on Carl Frampton’s weekend victory and the subsequent celebrations.

He characterised the Irish as “famous for our sense of humour and company … and craic … we’re charitable, good neighbours”. Yet “at home we can’t apply this as effectively”.

Heavily involved in the WW1 Centenary Committee, Kingsley explained the efforts that had been exerted to ensure sections of communities were not intimidated by commemorations. Having attended 1916 in Dublin and marked Irish involvement in the Somme he saw this period of historical remembering as an opportunity to “reappraise our understanding of each other”. Understanding” could “help healing”, reducing the exclusivity of our narratives. The “reflective 1916 commemorations [were] a great signpost of much tolerance and sensitivity [equipping] us to better deal with our recent past”.

Kingsley was pleased that “individuals have chosen to make little political capital out of commemorations”. He spoke about the contributions of ACT and Intercomm and went on to say that “there is honour in the camp at Twaddell and honour in the residents groups at Ardoyne”.

Overall a balanced message of cautious optimism from the unionist side of the sofa. Towards the end of the Q&A [listen back] when asked about recent provocative acts around Twelfth celebrations, Kingsley asked the audience to “try not to judge us as a community by the actions [of those who burn flags and posters on bonfires]” but take into account those who believe in the Union but quietly walk past you in the street without “sticking two fingers in your face”.

feile16 Declan KearneyDeclan Kearney’s body language throughout the evening suggested a disappointed that his sharp message would not be delivered directly to a senior unionist elected representative. He began his talk saying:

This is a very welcome event. Its format, and actual location represent a serious effort to address the lack of structured political civic and community engagement on the development of reconciliation. We need to ask why no sustained public discussion is taking place on the need for reconciliation.

He asked whether “a momentum exist for reconciliation in wider society?”

Why does no shared definition of reconciliation even exist; why is that so? In my view reconciliation is not an option in our society; it is an imperative. Instead of a few trying to develop political and civic critical mass to support reconciliation and healing, we should be collectively accelerating its development as a new phase of the peace process. And if not now, then when; and if not by all of us, then by who?

Later in the speech he praised the rhetoric and reflection of the Queen, saying it was “a more developed and advanced view about the direction of our peace process than some unionist political leaders”. Sinn Féin had “avoided taking a prescriptive approach to the definition of reconciliation” but political unionism needed “a fresh start and new start … towards reconciliation”.

He criticised unionist leadership “which by active commission or omission reinforces, incites and perpetuates sectarian mind-sets and division; and blocks progress and positive initiatives”.

During the Q&A Declan Kearney characterised Kingley Donaldson’s WW1 and 1916 discussions as “negotiation” rather than “reconciliation”, sounding impatient as he explained that the “war was over [in Dublin and NI]” but reconciliation was needed in local communities.

The rest of his speech continued:

Huge suffering has taken place in Ireland, north and south, and that has extended to Britain. The divisions in our society which exist are visceral. The pain from past actions experienced by our generation is real, not abstract or somewhere else. I am very aware of the suffering experienced by the Donaldson family. Members of the wider Donaldson family have been killed as a result of IRA actions. I am sorry that hurt was caused to their family.

I have previously acknowledged and regretted the hurt experienced by the RUC family. That extends to the families of all combatants who acted on behalf of the British state, and also a deep loss and sense of injustice felt by the unionist section of our community. Not far from here the IRA caused a terrible catastrophe when its bomb exploded at Frizzels’ shop on the Shankill Road.

All wars and political conflict create carnage and death. No war should be glorified or romanticised. That applies to our most recent conflict in Ireland. Because there were two sides. Massive violence and injustice was carried out against republicans and nationalists.

feile16 Duncairn audienceThe South Antrim MLA listed historical injustices from the north Belfast area, including Crumlin Road courthouse and jail, the “torture centre” at Girdwood, and “the massacres of the New Lodge Six and at McGurks’ Bar carried out by British soldiers and unionist paramilitaries”.

Pat Finucane was killed not more than one mile from here in a state-sponsored execution by British agents directed by Brian Nelson. Nelson’s own role as a British army agent personifies the reality of British state collusion, assassination and systematic illegality here in north Belfast and across the north.

Huge numbers of nationalist civilians, Sinn Féin members and IRA Volunteers were killed in this area, and the pain of their families is equal to the grief of any other family. My sorrow and regret for their loss applies equally to them.

There were different sides to our conflict and there are multiple narratives. They include, republican, unionist and constitutional nationalist narratives, a British state narrative, and the narrative of those who say none of this had anything to do with them. Nelson Mandela put it well; he said: “No single person, no body of opinion, no political doctrine, no religious doctrine can claim a monopoly on truth”.

I accept there are issues about the past upon which we must agree to disagree. It is just as futile asking political unionists to repudiate the B Specials, RUC and British army, as it is futile asking a republican such as me to repudiate the IRA. I may disagree fundamentally with the British state and political unionist narratives, but I also recognise that for those of that tradition these are valid and legitimate.

During her visit to Ireland in 2011 Queen Elizabeth spoke about how with the benefit of hindsight we can all see things which should have been done differently or not at all. Prince Charles made similarly helpful comments in 2015. There is an importance to that perspective in helping our society to move forward. Republicans have publicly and privately acknowledged the Queen’s sentiments and generosity. But I have yet to hear unionist political leaders do the same. The British royal house seems to have a more developed and advanced view about the direction of our peace process than some unionist political leaders. [emphasis added]

There are no right victims and wrong victims; no innocent and guilty victims. There are only victims: republican, unionist; Irish, British; green and orange; Gael and planter.

And the collective responsibility of all political and civic leaders is to ensure that there are never again any more victims. When we speak of the legacy of the past it is not abstract for many families, but real and living.

So it is not acceptable to pass that legacy on to a new generation to sort out. That would be reckless and a failure of leadership. Such an approach will repackage and recycle fear, suspicion, division and a sense of ‘them and us’. The legacy of our past and absence of reconciliation has ensured that we remain a deeply divided society in the present. How would it be otherwise?

Whilst we now have the most integrated workforce since the beginning of this state, society in the north remains communally, educationally, socially, culturally and psychologically segregated.

The root cause of that has been British influence in Ireland – to paraphrase the Easter Proclamation – “… A consequence of the divisions carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past” and since entrenched and perpetuated by partition.

The causes of division must be discussed. The legacy of the past cannot be avoided if we are to move forward to a new phase of the peace process. We all need to be prepared to deal with these issues by coming together privately and publicly to engage meaningfully, and not to score points.

Reconciliation will not be built upon resentment and recrimination. The mechanisms agreed under the Stormont House Fresh Start Agreement are an essential vehicle for moving forward. It is unacceptable and wrong that the potential of this framework is being held back by the British Government’s veto on maximum information disclosure, and refusal to release the funds which would allow legacy investigations and inquests to proceed.

feile16 panel discussionHe described the Crumlin Road jail and the Girdwood base sites as “beacons of hope for the future” that “have now been transformed due to our peace process”.

The peace process has transformed much in our society, but it needs to go a lot further. As the last six years proved, it cannot be taken for granted. There is no point in ending the war for it to be carried on politically and psychologically – by refusing to engage, to reach out, and to lead.

Our peace process must not simply be a relative absence of political violence. It needs to go further. We must be better than that. Otherwise we risk an existential crisis of permanent sectarianism, sectarian segregation, insecurity and fear of each other.

For our part Sinn Féin has avoided taking a prescriptive approach to the definition of reconciliation. Our public, private, political and policy contributions have sought to encourage and support an inclusive public discourse.

We are absolutely committed to ensuring a process of reconciliation and healing is established. Republicans have stretched and challenged ourselves to develop the peace process. And we have done so in pursuit of reconciliation and healing – and sometimes at a cost.

It is now time that others began to do the same. Reconciliation is not a one-way street.

Those of us who share a strategic vision for the peace process must reach out to each other and encourage an inclusive national conversation. That is an authentic public discourse on reconciliation between republicans and unionists, Irish and British, and those of all faiths and none.

Private dialogues now need to be translated into actions. The silent majority needs to challenge itself and be heard. Significant prophetic voices need to start speaking out. Civic leadership needs to take public responsibility.

It is also long past time for all political and governmental leaderships to step up to the mark. That should include active and unambiguous commitment from the leaderships of political unionism. There is a need for both a fresh start and new start by political unionism towards reconciliation.

Political leadership which by active commission or omission reinforces, incites and perpetuates sectarian mind-sets and division; and blocks progress and positive initiatives, is the opposite of leadership.

At this year’s Ard Fheis Sinn Féin adopted our policy document on reconciliation and healing ‘Towards an Agreed and Reconciled Future’. It is a substantive, public policy contribution to designing a roadmap towards making reconciliation the new phase of our peace process.

Others should bring forward their proposals and strategies. We want reconciliation placed at the heart of government in the north and across Ireland.

He saw Brexit as destabilising.

In recent weeks the Brexit decision has swept away all of the old assumptions. Everything has changed as a result. The British state as we have come to know it is in constitutional and political crisis. New serious divisions will potentially be caused as a result, and have triggered massive uncertainties. Brexit has become the price of Ireland’s continued partition.

Yet a real potential has opened up to begin a new political and civic conversation about Ireland’s future in a post-Brexit context. An unprecedented opportunity is emerging to begin a new popular and inclusive conversation in the north, and throughout the island about how our shared future can evolve. It should seek to end, not reinforce divisions among our people, or between north and south.

It should incentivise the encouragement of, and participation in the development of healing and reconciliation. The focus of that conversation should be on starting to explore new relationships, compromises and imaginative accommodations that transcend old communal and sectarian divisions.

A moment has arrived to begin thinking and talking about new relationships between us all; between the island of Ireland and Britain – and the importance of a new, confident, outward looking relationship between Ireland and Europe, as well as the global community.

All of this will require leadership and vision; a willingness to meet together publicly and privately, to listen and talk together. It means being prepared to reach out and to undertake meaningful initiatives which show real respect to each other; and through combined, collective leadership to demonstrate zero tolerance against bigotry and intolerance.

As to, what next and tonight’s discussion; we need more events like this, not fewer; we need maximum engagement, not less. That must mean for our society, healing, and not recycled hurt; honour, and not disrespect; and hope, not despair.

Sinn Féin is fully committed to that agenda. We cannot do this alone. It is crucial that others also embrace this challenge and responsibility.

, , ,

  • Dan

    At some stage, it’ll dawn on Kearney that no Unionist takes him seriously.

  • Newton Emerson

    Oh god, not another “our reconciliation is better than your reconciliation.”
    Even if you believe that, isn’t it obviously counterproductive to say so?

  • Nevin

    So, Gerry’s the front end and Declan’s the rear end of the pantomime Trojan horse.

  • Sprite

    Not very balanced account of the 2 contributions.

  • Sherdy

    Or that no unionist takes reconciliation seriously!

  • chrisjones2

    “Declan Kearney was impatient with the way political unionism was continuing to hold back reconciliation”

    Poor Declan. He seems to forget recent ‘local difficulties’ involving those who STILL havent gone away and were involved in murders in Belfast. And now we see that promises made re decommissioning were never kept and Semtex seems freely available to the next generation.

    And the lies and evasions that have been exposed threought the Process (TM) on for example the get out of gaol free letters, the Royal Prerogatives (all sadly lost down the back of the NIOs sofa). Unionists see the naming of play parks after murderers and the continuing attacks on their culture.

    Fresh Start was brought in to give SF yet another chance to live up to what they promised . Its still to be seen what, if anything, it delivers but the omens arent good.

    And all the time SF as a party is dogged by the control of the northern clans and led by a man who cost them so many seats in the last Irish election but whose support from the old military rump in Belfast is so strong that noone may even discuss what happens when he eventually goes

    Still there is hope. Even in de Nurth its sinking in and we have perhaps passed peak SF but until the republican family gets their house in order (just as Unionism must do) there is little hope of real reconciliation or progress

  • chrisjones2

    Equality of hatred anyone?

  • chrisjones2

    Still nice to see him out blinking in the light of real elected politics now

  • Reader

    Declan Kearney: Pat Finucane was killed not more than one mile from here in a
    state-sponsored execution by British agents directed by Brian Nelson.
    Nelson’s own role as a British army agent personifies the reality of
    British state collusion, assassination and systematic illegality here in
    north Belfast and across the north.

    See, there’s the point, you want a free flow of rhetorical victimhood, *and* you want credit for commitment to reconciliation.
    You can’t have both. Choose; and live with your choice.

  • Jollyraj

    Reconciliation with what? A nationalist political community that still allows itself to be bullied into submission by an extremist fringe that still demands that we forget everything they did whilst demanding ever greater light be shed on the real and the imagined suffering of nationalists. Which, by the way, seem to be worse and worse each time the old stories are told.

  • Ciaran74

    Should we juxtapose ‘nationalist’ with ‘unionist’ in your post and then claim we’ve solved equality and reconciliation under Fresh Start II: Similar but not the Same?

  • Jollyraj

    I wonder if I’m alone in finding it odd in the extreme that Irish Republicans bear such bitter hatred for unionists – and yet are so incomprehensibly desperate to claim equivalences between themselves and unionists. Seems to point to a self-loathing at the heart of the Irish Republican soul.

  • Ciaran74

    Agreed. If Unionists do not wish to, why should the Nationalist body politique bother.

  • Kev Hughes

    So you’re saying he should just keep quiet and not point out a side is not helping with reconciliation… to HELP reconciliation?!!

    Wow, I can see you’re trying to be funny again…

  • Declan Doyle

    Your comment is pretty typical of the type of Unionist approach he is addressing. Say nothing for fear we upset the Unionists? Don’t point out the obvious and deliberate failure of Unionist leadership to seriously engage with outreach and reconciliation efforts? We have wasted enough years tip toeing around Unionist leadership failings, it’s time to get real.

  • chrisjones2

    Ah so one side wants to reconcile but the other doesn’t?

    You mean weaponize reconciliation dont you?

    Neither side politically is open to the idea as it might cost votes. The people generally however are far ahead of them

  • chrisjones2

    ………….perhaps its conscience and all those years of teaching on sin and atonement

    We do know that some of those most involved have come to deeply regret their earlier actions …. you know all the ones that Gerry labelled as drunks, mentally ill and enemies of the peace process

  • chrisjones2

    we might make progress by Fresh Start XX after the latest batch of crime related murders in 2045

  • Kev Hughes

    I can’t believe I will actually write a response to you, but for the sake of fairness, I’ll engage this up to the point you decide to REALLY go down that rabbit hole.

    ‘Ah so one side wants to reconcile but the other doesn’t?’ – it would appear so. Show me some genuine Unionist outreach.

    ‘You mean weaponize reconciliation dont you?’ – No.

    ‘Neither side politically is open to the idea as it might cost votes.’ – hence why Nat pols discuss this at length. Just go through the Slugger archives, I’ll wager its Nat pols discussing this more than there Unionist counter-parts.

    ‘ The people generally however are far ahead of them’ – holy crap, something we agree on!

  • 05OCT68

    So who within republicanism or for that matter nationalism do unionist take seriously?

  • 05OCT68

    The rise of SF is a direct result of Unionism ignoring the concerns from Nationalism. Nationalist turned to SF post 94 and the GFA in the belief that supporting SF would secure the ceasefire & GFA. Nationalist are now in regret. Countless political initiatives (Unionism’s attempt to rewrite the GFA) have turned them off the political process hence the low turnout in recent elections. This disengagement should act as a wake up call to Unionism, Nationalism is not content with the status quo. Evidence of an awakening are appearing, SDLP calls re: unification, support in my own city Derry for an official name change etc. We now see the GFA is a failed project.

  • Ciaran74

    There in lies the crime……

  • the keep

    Hang on the Unionist community was told the GFA was the only game in town now nationalists are not getting their own way all the time now they start to whinge telling us things must change how telling.

  • Ciaran74

    It could have been that game if everyone had played it from the start. Not playing it, delaying it, demanding new agreements, and then not implementing all of it, undermined it. Implementation of the GFA offered no-one the advantage. Is Unionism now prepared to implement the GFA which also has a spirit of cooperation and recognition of all sides? Unionism’s current leader does not appear to agree.

  • Jollyraj

    I’d agree with your analysis to an extent. It is partially the case that”The rise of SF is a direct result of Unionism ignoring the concerns from Nationalism.” Much more so, though, the rise of SF was due to the shocking success of the terrorist tactic of attacking the state whilst hiding behind civilians. The sometimes ham-fisted attempts by the state to contain terrorism thus inadvertently and led to the sone of the civilian population being caught in the crossfire. To the delight and benefit of Sinn Fein.

    “Nationalist turned to SF post 94 and the GFA in the belief that supporting SF would secure the ceasefire” I’d agree with that – largely because the nationalists knew exactly who Sinn Fein were and that the fanatics could be bought off with political power – though I would see it as a dangerous gambit to reward such.

  • 05OCT68

    Keep can you articulate how nationalists got their own way? I voted for the GFA as I saw it as a necessary compromise, I’ve now rejected the GFA and I’m urging the young nationalist(SDLP) politicians not to fear upsetting unionism. A united Ireland is a legitimate political aspiration. My Irish identity is as legitimate as any British identity. Respect for both identities can only happen in a united Ireland.

  • 05OCT68

    The GFA was seen as a genuine reaching out to unionism, nationalism assumed that It would be reciprocated. The huge emotional wrench of giving up articles 2&3 of the constitution has never been recognized by unionists. The dangerous gambit was unionism rejecting this compromise, dangerous in that young nationalist’s who have no memory of violence nor want it will hold unionist intransigence to account without being dismissed as terrorist supporters. The Brexit result has also brought recognition that the majority of the UK doesn’t care about Northern Ireland nor Scotland for that matter. For them there is no downside to a united Ireland.

  • Dan

    Not sure there’s any of them that I take seriously.

  • AntrimGael

    The Yanks and their puppet South Vietnamese regime said the same until the last helicopter flew out of the American Embassy in Saigon…..and the rest is history.

  • AntrimGael

    It’s starting to happen. Interest in making Stormont work is draining away within the Nationalist community and and the emphasis now will be on an ALL island basis. It’s finally starting to dawn on the Shinners, SDLP and many Nationalist commentators that Unionism is ALL about control, domination, aggression, provocation, supremacy, apartheid, bigotry and sectarianism. They are cut from a 17th century, fundamentalist medieval cloth and are incapable of embracing equality.

  • Jollyraj

    “The Brexit result has also brought recognition that the majority of the UK doesn’t care about Northern Ireland nor Scotland for that matter.”

    I think we learned a lot from Brexit. But it doesn’t in any way prove what you want it to in the snippet above. If anything probably the reverse.

  • Dan

    Bringing the old boys out of retirement?

  • 05OCT68

    Is that politicians in general or just non unionist politicians?

  • 05OCT68

    Apart from that you agree with the rest of the comment

  • Jollyraj

    No, the rest of it is mainly the old stuff (all the Protestants’ fault), so didn’t bother with it.