An uncomfortable conversation* at #Feile15 [*in the sense that a lack of hope leads optimism to wither]

Uncomfortable Conversations panel feile15Pulling names out of a hat to decide the order of speaking, Presbyterian Minister and deputy Equality Commissioner Rev Lesley Carroll began by looking through “a dark lens” and delivered a downbeat assessment of the present state of reconciliation in Northern Ireland – we need to “change our tune, change our dance steps, or we’ll burrow a hole in the ground and fall into it”.

She was followed by CRC chair Peter Osborne who spoke about continued segregation, relative funding of reconciliation and the need to sell the positives of the peace process.

The light has gone out of what the GFA means at an individual level.

Academic Sophie Long referred back to the warmth, empathy and interest she’d experienced around her contribution to the Loyalism in 2015 panel at Corrymeela over the weekend.

You’re not supposed to win conversations … defeating the other is no way to build peace.

She suggested that it’s time to listen for the so-far unheard voices and deliver the peace that they’re looking for.

Assembly Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin replaced Martin McGuinness in the advertised line-up for the Uncomfortable Conversation on Steps to Healing and Reconciliation. He assured the 140 people gathered in St Mary’s assembly hall that he wasn’t demoralised about a lack of progress on reconciliation as he could see progress being made.

Sectarianism is a form of conversation, it’s a way of building up a defence against listening/communication

After giving their opening pitches, facilitator Susan McEwen gave the panellists the opportunity to quiz each other before opening up to questions from the floor.

Several panellists unpicked and tried to understand some of Mitchell’s comment:

… the fault line that’s in our community is around the constitutional question which wasn’t and which couldn’t be resolved at the time of the Good Friday negotiation. [25 minutes 30 seconds into the audio]

He believed that the constitutional question was a barrier to reconciliation because “people know this issue will be returned to”.

Panellists queried whether steps were being taken together to make NI work as we journey forward? Or are we still in a struggle that puts a United Ireland first? And does this ambiguity mean that republicans don’t feel respected for the moves they have made?

Uncomfortable Conversations hall feile15During the questions from the audience, one contributor cast doubt on why republicans were engaging in First World War commemorations. Many in the hall shook their heads in disagreement and Mitchel took the opportunity to justify why he was taking part in WW1 events.

In the end it was a very civilised conversation and the main discomfort was around the gloomy vista that most of the panel surveyed in Northern Ireland’s near future rather than any difficulty in listening to clashing perspectives.

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  • james
  • Robin Keogh

    I am surprised to see that Alex Kane believes IrishUnity is inevitable even if as he says it is a long way off, I would have thought he was more of a never never man.

  • Zeno

    There is maybe 10% or 20% tops of the community that need to sort themselves out. The rest of us are fine, so less of the “we” stuff……… it’s them.

  • james

    Ever the glass half full, old chap…

  • While we’re drifting off topic … Mitchel did make a point last night that I heard as him admitting that he didn’t see there being a swell to support a border poll in the near future.

  • chrisjones2

    …and a large % of them are elected and rely on the 20% to continue to be elected

  • chrisjones2

    Reunification is long way off but personally I think it will come from reconciliation in the next generation or two and that the IRAs campaign will be seen historically as having put it back perhaps 100 years

  • chrisjones2


    This is a genuine point not a wind up.

    If the people of Ireland are so very keen (and they are) on a united Europe and full integration into that, how will they reconcile that with , in effect, integration alongside the UK? Leave aside for a moment the UKs attitude to that because I have no doubt that we will stay in the Union but not the rotting hulk that is the Euro

    Given Ireland’s economic dependence on the UK within the EU in effect it will largely be owned by / dependent upon many major UK commercial interests if not its Government. That has always seemed to me an odd juxtraposition

  • murdockp

    what is irish unity? am intrigued

  • murdockp

    Historians amongst you,of which Slugger has many, can they please explain to me at what points in Irish history was the whole Island Unified. i find Irish reunification an interesting paradox as the last time it presented itself as unified when ruled by the British.

    My old irish teacher use to bang on about the ‘black pigs dyke’ arguing that ulster has always been a bit detached from the other provinces… but admit I did not listen enough.

  • Robin Keogh

    Its an agreement amongst the majority of people in both jurisdictions on the island to self determine as one island state

  • Robin Keogh

    The european project is indeed supported by the irish even if we have rejected two treaties in referenda. Irish economic dependence on Britain is a far cry from what it was in fact the vast majority of our trade is with countries other than the UK so i am not completely sure what your question is. My own preference is for Britain to stay within the Euro and continue our economic relationship as is. If Britain leaves it wont do so without an irish government brexit strategy to protect against adverse affects. Experts are divided as to whether or not a Brexit would in fact be a negative for Ireland. As it stands there does not appear to be obvious signs of danger in such a situation. In any event Ireland and Britain are inextricably linked socially, politically and economically. That will always be the case in my view. This is interesting…

  • murdockp

    50% and one vote does not sound too united to me.

  • barnshee

    Wee I suppose it keeps out of the pubs and bookies for a period

  • Zeno

    Yes indeed, when the price of votes is just a bit of goading themmuns and eye poke politics, it’s easy for them to get elected. Politicians are a hindrance to progress.

  • Nevin

    “the present state of reconciliation in Northern Ireland”

    Alan, should you not have unpicked the nuances in that phrase? For unionists, the context is Strand 1; for nationalists, it’s Strand 2.

    The use of honeyed language by hardline unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland is wholly bogus; it’s just a way of eating into the votes for more moderate stances.

    What you describe as a civilised conversation is more aptly labelled a dialogue of the deaf. The authentic voices of unionism and nationalism can be heard in the Assembly and in the local council chamber as well as on a Loyal Order platform and at a Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa commemoration. Nuala O’Loan, in her Corrymeela speech, catalogued some of the ongoing uncivilised activity by paramilitaries.

  • John Collins

    whether it comes or not there is no reason why ROI and NI should work together wherever it is mutually beneficial.