National reconciliation: “Patriotism is not enough”

In the second of a series of seminars organised by Niamh Mental Wellbing, Reverend Dr Gary Mason facilitated a civic engagement in a packed room at Skainos on the Newtownards Road, Belfast.

The discussants were Declan Kearney (Sinn Féin), Reverend Harold Good (former President, Methodist Church in Ireland) and Nelson McCausland MLA (substituting for Jeffrey Donaldson MP).

For Mr Kearney, national reconciliation is for Protestant, Catholic, Dissenter and those of no religious affiliation and beyond. His concern is that the journey of reconciliation gets reduced to a political blame game.

Yet the prospect for reconciliation “could make us all winners”, he continued, but only if based on mutual respect and the assistance of civic society.

He saw the Stormont House Agreement as a catalyst for reconciliation, by establishing the framework for such a process.

And he agreed with Rev. Mason’s assertion that we must all be willing to engage in “uncomfortable conversations”.

Mr Kearney called for a genuine unity of purpose, required now more than ever: “It’s time to make reconciliation the new phase of the peace process.”

Reverend Good began by mooting the question, do we really need reconciliation? The strong consensus in our society is, yes we do.

But what does national reconciliation actually mean?

He applied a broad dictionary definition, that of friendship between former adversaries.

Citing the progress in the relationships between the northern and southern parts of this island, as well as between the British and Irish governments, he said that the real challenge is to reconcile within this part of the island.

So what would a reconciled community here look like? Rev. Good held up a copy of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement booklet, saying, “This is a good starting point.”

Furthermore, he described the origins and practice of National Reconciliation Week in Australia, which commemorates relatively recent events.

“How about we commemorate the 1998 Agreement?” Rev. Good asked the audience.

To achieve reconciliation here would require two attitudes, he suggested:

  1. Be realistic — but just because we’re not going to reconcile the narratives doesn’t mean we can’t be reconciled as a people
  2. Be serious — do we really want it; but to reconcile is an action verb not a noun

The Reverend ended with three words of theology — confession, grace and forgiveness; or for the secular — honesty, generosity and forgiveness. He doesn’t know of an alternative word for forgiveness.

And what is forgiveness? Rev. Good suggested that only those who forgive and those who have been forgiven know what it is.

Rev. Good concluded by quoting an inscription on a statue of nurse Edith Cavell that was executed for assisting both sides during World War I: “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards any one.”

Nelson McCausland (DUP) began by reflecting how the topic of national reconciliation has not gained much traction in contemporary political discourse.

He made two major points to the audience:

  1. There are different views of what a nation might be; it does not need to be one nation for one island, giving the example of Scottish, English and Welsh nationalism on the neighbouring island
  2. Reconciliation does not need to be for unification, citing the current majority support for the maintenance of the Union

Mr McCausland called for reconciliation within a better and shared Northern Ireland, a place that is different from the rest of the United Kingdom and from the rest of Ireland. Here we have a mixture of peoples from elsewhere — English, Irish, and Scottish.

For him, forgiveness is preceded by demonstrations of remorse and repentance: “When I became a Christian, I repented and asked for forgiveness from God.”

Finally, Mr McCausland prefers any change in society to be incremental, because of the fear that can be caused by the proposal of sudden, major change.

The first of two formal responders was Dr Donna Hicks, who emphasised the role of dignity in both the creation and resolution of conflict — the restoration of dignity in society is the crucial link.

The Harvard University associate saw the 1998 Good Friday Agreement as not an emotionally acceptable agreement, reflected in the unaddressed issues — “the wounds that are still alive and need to be acknowledged”.

Dr Hicks acknowledged that jumping straight from hatred to forgiveness could be too much to ask, yet the recognition of dignity by all sides can serve a useful interim step in the process.

The next responder, former PUP leader Mr Brian Ervine, described nationality as something like beauty in the eye of the beholder, “and there’s some ugly ladies here!” He compared the historical one-party (Unionist Party) “corrupt state has now been replaced by a two-party corrupt state”.

For Mr Ervine, the Good Friday Agreement meant a spirit of generosity that has since evaporated: “Everyone is back in their silos; we need to have a shared culture, heal the wounds.”

To emphasise his point, he described a Quaker leaflet that depicted two donkeys, tied to each other, pulling apart with the consequence of neither reaching the piles of hay. Then when the donkeys approach each pile together, they eat twice. Interestingly, this very image was used in 1975 Alliance Party literature (see end).

In the further question and answer session, the issue of the definition of a victim was discussed, with a criticism that current attempts by the DUP to codify a definition “is going the wrong way” and will take away recognition from more than the intended group.

Rev. Good went further, saying that to politicise the hurt, pain and grief of others is near unpardonable. Rather, there needs to be generosity in our attitudes and support of victims and survivors.

He answered the major objection to the Eames-Bradley Report — the proposal for a financial payment to those who have suffered — with an example elsewhere whereby recipients didn’t cash their cheques but framed them. It was the act of acknowledgement that mattered.

I directed my question to Mr McCausland, suggesting that the major changes in southern society — rapprochement with the British Government, dropping of their irredentist claims to the North, the increasing secularisation of its people — presents an opportunity in their reflection coming up to the centenary of its proclamation of independence.

“If reconciliation with northern nationalists is too much, then perhaps pursue it with southern nationalists. I reckon you’d have a willing audience,” I suggested.

He responded by acknowledging how Ireland today is far from deValera’s Free State for a Catholic nation, and that commemorations in the Republic will be far more tempered than those he remembered for the 50th in 1966. “But we’ll sit and watch” how they act.

Thus reconciliation with the Republic not yet on the contemporary unionist political discourse. “I wouldn’t just sit by and watch,” I replied.

20150219 National Reconciliation - Two Donkeys

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  • Croiteir

    Good questions – interesting that it centred on what is national reconciliation, precisely the question I asked which went practically unanswered in a previous post by Gladys Glaniel I think.

    To me you cannot get reconciliation with addressing the border. It is the constant reminder of our differences. With a border in existence you will never get reconciliation in Ireland.

    Perhaps it would be better to reconcile ourselves with that?

  • aber1991

    So Ulster Prods should seek reconciliation with the people of Eire. And that would lead to a United Ireland in which the people of Eire would pander to the Prods and the Catholic people of Northern Ireland would be treated like dirt. To put it another way, Garret Fitzgerald’s father’s people (Eire Catholics) would do a deal with his mother’s people (Ulster Prods) and we Catholic people of Northern Ireland would be left in a cold house. Conor Cruise O’Brien insinuated such a scenario in his last book. He advocating the Prods seeking a United Ireland as an alternative to rule by Sinn Fein, the party of the victims of their tyranny.

    A United Ireland? No, thanks.

  • barnshee

    I`ll drink to that

    PS who funded this meeting of the usual suspects (I suspect I know the answer)

  • Croiteir

    Niamh seems to be a mental health charity who seems to have suffered chronic mission creep with a stance on diverse subjects as justice to transport.
    When I think of it though they may have a point – other drivers are always doing my head in.

  • Croiteir

    Why pandering – just treat everyone the same

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    I enjoyed your question last night, though McCausland may not have got the gist of it (but then he wouldn’t would he?). The fact that ROI has shifted almost unimaginably beyond Dev’s vision leaves Northern Unionism with little or nothing to rail against south of the border. It would be a missed opportunity for them not to bypass Sinn Fein in furthering reconciliation/increased cooperation on both parts of this island. It could result in the SF project looking politically isolated on both sides of the border.

    As for the rest of the meeting, I have to say how frustrated I was at Rev Mason’s chairing. He allowed Messrs Kearney and McCausland to witter on endlessly without properly answering the questions put (but then they would wouldn’t they?). Aside from hearing from DUPers & Sinners enough, it was the emptiness of what they were allowed to take so long to say that made me feel I was just in a politer Nolan Show. At least they had the opportunity to articulate continuing obstacles that still have to be overcome.

    There was also no reference made to the need for psychological change amongst the people. Bigotry, fear, paranoia, suspicion and triumphalism still shape many people’s thinking and attitudes. This silo mentality along with the trauma and damage done to many has to be recognised as mental illness.

    As Rev Good pointed out:- reconciliation presupposes confrontation and I had intended to ask an at least challenging question of both Kearney & McCausland but time restraints (see above) prevented this. Sour grapes perhaps but my intended question was: “if reconciliation requires recognition among the people that they were/are badly led, how willing are Messrs Kearney and McCausland to inform their electorate that they lead and have led the people badly?” This was a key ingredient in Rwanda’s (far from flawless) reconciliation process but I don’t think this is acknowledged deeply enough here.

  • Ben, thank you for your considered remarks. Considering the known time constraints, I was as well surprised that Dr Mason didn’t take sets of queries from the floor, instead of one at a time.

  • I’m not following your logic — how does reminding southern society of your distinctiveness — complete difference from them — lead you or them to want to have a united Ireland?

    As Ben argues above, a southern recognition of difference would annoy the Sinn Fein project (don’t forget how much they are not liked in the South).

    And it wasn’t so long ago the SDLP pushed the “we’re all the same Irish nationalists”, to which many southerners replied, “no we’re not”.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    I think a United Ireland’s a great idea as long as Northern Ireland’s left out of it (well at least most of its people).

  • Dan

    Do some people actually take Kearney seriously?

  • PaulT

    “As Ben argues above, a southern recognition of difference would annoy the Sinn Fein project (don’t forget how much they are not liked in the South).”

    Sinn Fein, not liked, are you serious!!! they are expected to poll 20%+ in the next GE, and Adams regularly polls as 1st or 2nd most popular leader, WTF qualifies for been liked in your opinion

    And it wasn’t so long ago the SDLP pushed the “we’re all the same Irish nationalists”, to which many southerners replied, “no we’re not”.

    Really, Everyone seems happy to see the All Irish Cricket and Rugger teams doing well, and Northern footballers seem to be welcome in the Irish team, and this stuff didn’t come up during the Presidential elections, which had two Northern candidates. I even recall the FG Candidate offering to be Head of State for all Ireland.

    D’Oh there goes me referring to “the North” again instead of treating it like a separate jurisdiction, really sorry being listening to RTE to much

    Only on Slugger……………….. big old face palm,

  • Jay
  • Turgon

    “He answered the major objection to the Eames-Bradley Report — the proposal for a financial payment to those who have suffered — with an example elsewhere whereby recipients didn’t cash their cheques but framed them. It was the act of acknowledgement that mattered.”

    The financial payment was not per se the major objection to Eames Bradley. Abandoning by sleight of hand any prospects of prosecutions was a major objection; making everyone responsible for the Troubles and ending the concept of personal responsibility was also a massive flaw.

    In that the recognition payments were the issue which most concentrated objections it was not the Ford Focus of money, however, which was the central problem. Rather it was the equivalence that all those who died in the Troubles were counted equal in those payments which was unacceptable. It equated Brian Robinson, Lenny Murphy or Jim Lynagh with Ruth Eakin, Marie Wilson or Barney Greene. That was the fundamental problem. It was excused with the emotive and meaningless “a mother’s tears are a mother’s tears”. That was and remains true and indeed there is no hierarchy of grief for the relatives of the dead.

    There is, was and always will be, however, a hierarchy of responsibility. It was that refusal to accept such a difference between innocent victims and perpetrators who also became victims which was the major objection to Eames Bradley. Its supporters disingenuous attempts at revisionism must be resisted.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    you’re being trolled.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Sinn Fein, not liked, are you serious!!! they are expected to poll 20%+ in the next GE

    Yeah. Because 80% being against you means you’re popular.

  • aber1991

    “And it wasn’t so long ago the SDLP pushed the “we’re all the same Irish nationalists”, to which many southerners replied, “no we’re not”.”

    That is very true. So why should we Northern Ireland Catholics seek a United Ireland when the Staters regard us as dirt?

  • Cagey Feck

    “Here we have a mixture of peoples from elsewhere — English, Irish, and Scottish.”

    Aye, all those Irish immigrants from places like county Down, Antrim etc… What are ye on about sir

  • tmitch57

    Aber,
    I always enjoy your posts because they so well illustrate the status of Irish in “Eire.”

  • carl marks

    well tell us then, I love that every time something happens that you find suspect you imply that it is only done for the money!

  • Kevin Breslin

    Nelson’s Ulster independence urges manifesting themselves there.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I only wish I could take him in good humour, he takes himself too seriously for the rest of us.

  • Kevin Breslin

    “Rev. Good went further, saying that to politicise the hurt, pain and grief of others is near unpardonable. Rather, there needs to be generosity in our attitudes and support of victims and survivors.”

    Fat chance of either the DUP or Sinn Féin doing that in our lifetimes.

  • aber1991

    I do not understand. Please, no more cryptic comments. Plain English, please.

  • tmitch57

    Using Eire, tanaiste, taoiseach, etc. when writing in English and not having any national newspapers in Irish is the state of Irish in Ireland.

  • barnshee

    “well tell us then, I love that every time something happens that you find suspect you imply that it is only done for the money!”

    Not for the money -but WITH the (taxpayers) money

  • carl marks

    So we have a situation in NI where a lot of money is wasted on things which are divisive (separate education systems, maintaining peace walls, policing contentious parades , to mention a few) but some people get together to talk about what is dividing us and you complain about taxpayers money being wasted!
    I wonder how much it cost (and you are assuming it was taxpayers money) hall hire £200 max, advertising a few posters and some emails another couple of hundred, and general admin for the event, say £600.
    Whole thing went off for maybe a grand, you could get 40 of them for a week of Twaddle, and I know what I would prefer to spend taxpayers (if it was taxpayers) money on!

  • Zeno

    To me you cannot get reconciliation with addressing the border.

    I don’t get that. Interest in the Border has waned over the years. Sure there are a few who are obsessed with it and a few more who are obsessed that it might be removed, but it doesn’t really matter anymore. It’s a whole new world now.
    Besides, what is this reconciliation you speak of? It’s not as if they are all going to magically start to love each other, is it?

  • Niall Chapman

    “shared Northern Ireland, a place that is different from the rest of the United Kingdom and from the rest of Ireland.” Something tells me Nelson is hoping for a Northern State where his Evangelical Christian Bias can go unchallenged and where Petitions of concern can be used at every attempt of introducing secularism

  • barnshee

    “So we have a situation in NI where a lot of money is wasted on things which are divisive (separate education systems, maintaining peace walls, policing contentious parades , to mention a few)”

    It is alleged that 60% + of the economic activity in NI is state funded- The (largely GB) taxpayers fund the nonense that is N I.

    This is Stormont and its direct thievery via the expenses system and seriously overpaid public sector workers. Continue with the general “public sector support system ” “Trade Unions” The “Fair employment” industry then we have “community ” support. The list is virtually endless. Then we have the DLA capital of the world status.

    The intercommunal division is essential if this Byzantine construction (and rewards system) is to continue. God forbid that NI would have to live within its means.

  • Mirrorballman

    How can there be reconciliation when so many in both communities are stiff suffering under the paramilitary jackboot? When these people look around their local areas and see paramilitary displays and murals, punishment beatings continuing and paramilitary immunity.
    How can both communities reconcile with eachother when peace hasn’t been established within both communities?

  • Kevin Breslin

    > 2 different types of “Irish”
    Prefix Southern, Prefix Northern
    > and 1 hybrid term
    Suffix Nationalist

    I never got much grief from a Unionist or a Southerner personally.

  • carl marks

    right so we still don’t know if it was taxpayers money then. bet you feel a bit silly complaining about something that you don’t even know is happening!

  • barnshee

    “right so we still don’t know if it was taxpayers money then. bet you feel a bit silly complaining about something that you don’t even know is happening!”

    Don`t know because we cant find out

    However
    “The discussants were Declan Kearney (Sinn Féin), Reverend Harold Good (former President, Methodist Church in Ireland) and Nelson McCausland MLA (substituting for Jeffrey Donaldson MP).”

    All purveyors of codwallop and hypocricy of various degrees and all funded by other people money

  • Croiteir

    Hardly wasted unless you have a beef against education, if you want to look at waste target the millions which are earmarked for if not already spent on social engineering trying to force parents to agree to surrender their rights to a government.

  • Croiteir

    The obsession with maintaining the border by a pampered minority has perpetuated the problems we have in Ireland and has not done anything to remove them.

  • Croiteir

    No – he is being consistent with his previous leader Paisley. He also did not want the English about the place. They want a we Orange state that allows them to lord it over the taigs. Pity the taigs will not agree. Damn those ketlicks.

  • Croiteir

    No – just the “our wee country” mentality should go.

  • carl marks

    wow cant find out, who have you asked anybody? I doubt it is top secret. feeling sillier now!

  • Zeno

    Some might say it’s the exact opposite of that.

  • aber1991

    “I never got much grief from a Unionist or a Southerner personally”

    I have – from both showers of so-and-sos.

  • aber1991

    I still do not understand what you are getting at. My posts made no references to the Irish language. My posts never do. That language is far beyond my intelligence. I have no flair for languages.

  • tmitch57

    No, but your insistence on using an Irish word instead of an English word when writing in English and your confession about languages seem to be typical for Irish.

  • Tochais Siorai

    tmitch, Taoiseach and Tánaiste are correct terminology and universally understood in Ireland – using the English equivalents is unusual. However, Eire in the context our trolling friend uses it in incorrect – it is not and never was meant to describe the southern state (i.e. it is the word used in the constitution to describe the whole country / island not the 26 county state).

  • Kevin Breslin
  • Croiteir

    Que sera sera

  • Croiteir

    They would be wrong then

  • tmitch57

    Most countries with a healthy national language have their national newspapers published in that language and then possibly an English-language newspaper that is for the benefit of foreign diplomats, investors, and ex-patriates. In these international-language newspapers and other media office titles are translated from the native language into English (or French). In Ireland your national newspapers are in English but use the Irish office titles. This is a poor substitute for having a living language. I know Eire is incorrect, which is why I put it into quotes when replying to Aber.

  • Tochais Siorai

    True but then again most countries weren’t subjected to a rigorous campaign by a coloniser to have their language wiped off the face of the earth.

  • barnshee

    yea askeds still waiting a reply

  • John Collins

    Paul
    I would suggest to you that the vast majority of those who vote SF in the South have little or no interest in the North. For the past ten or fifteen years (and probably long before that) the Labour Party have forgotten their roots and a disillusioned polity, who would have normally voted for a decent Labour Party have now resorted to the Shinners. I am in my mid sixties and I have never heard more people down here saying they would not touch reunification with a forty foot pole. The sight of McGuinness and Paisley, after all their hatred for each others positions, doing their ‘chuckle brother’ act have left so many people just so confused