Remembering, Forgiving and Forgetting – Civic Conversation at Queen’s, 24 October

mcbride&mcavoyThe Institute for Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen’s will host a one-day civic conversation on ‘Remembering, Forgiving and Forgetting’ on Friday 24 October in the Great Hall.

The conversation follows on from an event last month (17 September) that launched the series of the civic conversations on ‘Building a United Community.’

At that event, two speakers – one academic and one from the community – addressed five different issues before the floor was open for comment and conversation.

The five issues were: parading, shared education, shared space, dealing with the past, and dealing with emotions.

Alan McBride from the WAVE Trauma Centre and Prof Kieran McAvoy from the School of Law at Queen’s spoke on ‘dealing with the past,’ setting the stage nicely for this first in the series of civic conversations.

The OFMDFM’s ‘Together, Building a United Community’ document framed their initial comments and the conversation. McBride said that the document offered the ‘same old, same old’ and that it lacked credibility because the parties that wrote it had not demonstrated courageous leadership on dealing with the past.

He said that the document produced the Haass-O’Sullivan team after talks last year was encouraging – but what was not encouraging was that it had been shelved, like the Eames-Bradley Report and the Healing Through Remembering Report before it.

McBride said:

‘My main concern is – are our politicians up for the job? I haven’t seen much evidence that they are.’

McAvoy also said that he had been hopeful about the Haass-O’Sullivan document, noting that the document demonstrated ‘we know how to do this.’ He highlighted a speech Chief Constable George Hamilton made recently at the British-Irish Association conference, titled ‘Dealing with the Future by Dealing with the Past.’

In part, Hamilton said:

In the sixteen years since the Good Friday Agreement, while we have failed to agree a more holistic approach to the past, there has been significant work conducted quietly and diligently by the likes of Healing Through Remembering, the WAVE Trauma Centre and many more Groups.

This work in turn contributed to the substantial report by Eames Bradley; which itself contributed to the more recent Haass proposals. The results of all this work indicate that, while we seem to understand the need for change, there is no sign of political consensus on how to make progress.

I fully accept that reaching agreement on such a challenging issue is not easy. But, to continue to ignore, hesitate or procrastinate on the past will have unpredictable and far reaching consequences. If our own politicians cannot reach consensus on the issue, then it would seem appropriate and necessary to seek and accept much more “hands on” support from the British and Irish Governments; and indeed other interested and influential observers of our peace process.

The status quo is simply not an option. My view is that action is needed if policing, and indeed our peace process, is not to be dragged backward. We must strive for something better. We owe it to all of those who have suffered; and we owe it to the children and young people of today who have the right to a safe, confident and peaceful future.

In closing, I will quote Hannah Nelson, the school girl, who welcomed President Obama on his 2013 visit to Northern Ireland: “We should not let the past pull us apart and stop us from moving forward… Our past. Our future. It is all about time… It is in the present time that we need to be responsible, accountable people; and live to make a better future for ourselves.”  ( Hannah Nelson, Waterfront Hall, Belfast 17/06/13)

McAvoy’s response was:

‘I agree with the Chief Constable. If we continue to ignore the past, there are unpredictable consequences. But we need to seek more hands on support from the British and Irish governments.’

McAvoy added that he was surprised that Hamilton’s speech had not generated more conversation and asked, ‘Why has civic society not embraced what Hamilton said?’

The line-up for the 24 October event is here. The event is free and open to the public but pre-registration is required and places are limited. To reserve you space, register online here.

Speakers will include Colin Parry OBE, founder of the Warrington Peace Centre, England, Professor Thomas Brudholm, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and  Professor Gobodo-Madikizela, University of Free State, South Africa.

The morning talks will be chaired by Bronagh Hinds of DemocraShe in Belfast, while BBC broadcaster William Crawley will chair an afternoon session with local civil society activists Jude Collins, John Dunlop, Paul Gallagher, Alistair Little, Dawn Purvis and Jennifer McNern.

(Image of Alan McBride and Kieran McAvoy by Brian O’Neill. More photos from the ‘Building a United Community’ event can be found here.)

Gladys is a Research Fellow in the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s University Belfast. She also blogs on religion and politics at