Uncomfortable Conversations – the Chief Constable, Sinn Féin Chair and me

Tomorrow night in Derry, I’ll take part in an “Uncomfortable Conversation” that will include the PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton, Sinn Féin Chair Declan Kearney and Alan McBride, member of the NI Human Rights Commission and victims’ campaigner.

The event, part of the Gasyard Féile, is one of a series of conversations around how we both deal with our past and build our future as communities, towns and cities and indeed islands seeking to emerge from conflict. These events and the book of the same name launched at an event in the Linenhall Library in April of this year are branded as “an initiative for dialogue towards reconciliation.”

There is no doubt, however, that the tone of the conversation tomorrow will be different to the one which took place at West Belfast’s Féile an Phobail where George Hamilton shared a platform with deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. In the intervening time we’ve seen the killing of Kevin McGuigan and the PSNI assessment that dissident Republicans, Direct Action Against Drugs and the Provisional IRA were somehow all responsible.

We have heard assertions that the IRA has gone away.  We’ve heard from Teresa Villiers, the Secretary of State, that it hasn’t gone away but we never said anything so long as they were quiet.  We’ve seen the parties in Leinster House be pushed into a harder line stance than the intelligence of the Garda on the matter ought to dictate.

In the midst of all this, hardly anyone has mentioned the £7million man in weeks!  We’ve all heard of the 24 hour news cycle but who thought that story was going to disappear as quickly as it has?

The result is that on top of a Stormont crisis brought about by welfare cuts and failure to agree a budget, Unionists are now considering excluding Sinn Féin from the political institutions as a result of this PSNI confusion, thus rendering the institutions of the Assembly unworkable. Crucially though, everyone will still show up and still get paid in that scenario.

But I digress – that’s probably a topic better written about after tomorrow night’s debate. It will be a challenge keeping the original theme alive in the midst of current events, but it’s a challenge we must rise to.

On the same day as the event, the Department of Justice will meet with victims’ families in Derry to discuss proposals for legislative reforms that will see changes in how historical investigations and legacy cases are investigated and processed by the justice system.

The events of recent weeks and days serve to give proof, if it were needed, that rather than being a post-conflict society we are still a society in transition.

What of reconciliation in these conversations? I was at the Linenhall Library book launch and the emphasis at that event very much was on forgiveness as an essential component of reconciliation. For me the first part of that uncomfortable conversation needs to be about the burden of forgiveness as an element of peace-building.

We also need to admit what we’re seeking is conciliation and not reconciliation – we never did get along in the first place. And just as the conflict wasn’t just internal to the six counties of Northern Ireland, neither can the solution be. More of these conversations need to take place on an all-island basis and between this island and our neighbours to the east. There is much to say.

But as important as these uncomfortable conversations are, the talking is probably the easy part. We can’t overlook uncomfortable listening either and the inevitable acknowledgement that accompanies it.

“Uncomfortable Conversations” takes place at Clooney Hall Centre, 38 Clooney Terrace, Derry BT47 6AR on Wednesday 26th August 2015 at 7.30pm

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  • Nevin

    “And just as the conflict wasn’t just internal to the six counties of Northern Ireland, neither can the solution be. More of these conversations need to take place on an all-island basis and between this island and our neighbours to the east.”

    Patricia, these are essentially the three strands propagated by John Hume which were rejected during the course of the construction of the 1998 Agreement. It would appear that nationalist and unionist mindsets are so deeply ingrained that the respective protagonists can’t imagine a future that respects both constitutional aspirations.

  • Kevin Breslin

    The Assembly can’t exclude Sinn Féin from taking their seats Stormont, Exclusion from the Executive is theoretically possible but believing you can continue a democratic institution after 25% of the representation is removed would be farcical and against the determinations of the Good Friday Agreement anyway.

    I can’t imagine anything that would ramp up even more sectarianism in our society than such a move.

  • Hilarious.

    So the poster wants to have an uncomfortable conversation, but just not about a topic which clearly makes her feel uncomfortable.

    Pure comedy gold.

  • chrisjones2

    They can bring an exclusion motion but Nationalist Parties can veto it., The only option then is to collapse the whole mess and let the NIO take over

  • chrisjones2

    No like so many people here she wants to make everyone else uncomfortable

  • Steve Larson

    If the assembly collapses then joint rule is on the cards.

    It is as simple as that.

  • chrisjones2

    ….and the problem is …….?

    What we have now isn’t working. I grew up with the Troubles just starting, lived through the worse times and saw the peace. Before I die (in say the next 20 years) i would like a degree of certainty for my children’s sake that it is all over and we are reconciled with each other. I would like to see some sense of economic progress for them and my community (all of them in NI)

    I see nothing at Stormont that suggests we are even on the road to that

  • T.E.Lawrence

    “Uncomfortable Conversation” which excludes the most important ingredient of any chance of peace in the emerald isle “The Working Class Protestants ” ?

  • barnshee

    “Crucially though, everyone will still show up and still get paid in that scenario.”

    And that this the problem– shut the shop put them all on the dole for a year

  • Kevin Breslin

    How were the three strands rejected?

    We have a DUP Health Minister arranging a cross-border pediatric heart surgery arrangement with Dublin and a Sinn Féin agriculture minister calling in the British RAF to help poor farmers with relief efforts.

    Good Friday Agreement Page One … It’s Your Decision.

  • Nevin

    Kevin, the 1998 Agreement is closer to my analysis than it is to that of John Hume’s. John left out the relationship(s) between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK and he had Dublin speaking for the island of Ireland in Strand 3.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I’ll check the fine print, but ultimately the sort of Strand 2.5 where Belfast speaks to Dublin speaks to Belfast speaks to London speaks to Dublin speaks to London speaks to Belfast pretty much follows from the possibility of Strands 2 and 3 together in my mind. Yes I know I could expand the network to Edinburgh, Cardiff, Douglas, St Peter’s Port and St Helier … But I don’t think I’m going to do the 50 other bilaterals you get when they are included.

  • Steve Larson

    The degree of certainty that it is all over could not get much higher. The only threat is from militant loyalism and the very most UDA/UVF/UFF members also receive orders from the Special Branch so they will not act unless told to.

  • patriciamacb

    I think you misunderstand. What I was saying was that I didn’t want to pre-empt the content of tomorrow’s debate on here. More than willing to report back on how that goes and keep the debate going online.

  • mary

    Another talking shop. Talking about nothing, same old same old same old same old crap.wish youliars would all just go away, let families lost lives speak for a change. Would not even sit in same room as those who have nothing to offer but their egos.Same old, same old same old nothing.What those did to communities wreck our civil rights , right to truth justice accountability. Untrustworthy ruthlessness wreck lives destroy trust. Talk to the cows come home.

  • mary

    2 sides to every story time to listen to forgotten families, no truth, no justice, no accountability. Pasty Gillespie, Mary Travers, paul quinn child beat to death. Frank Hegarty, thousands more. We don’t hear you lot speak about innocent men wowen children babies murdered! Sick of your same old same old.enough. justice for everyone not just some. Brass necks you lot in power.

  • If you didn’t want to pre-empt anything, why did you spend several paragraphs clearly putting your point of view across re Kevin McGuigan, before then closing the argument down?

    And what was the £7million man a reference to anyway? Presumably some sort of uncomfortable conversation that you would much prefer to talk about, given that you brought that topic in from out of nowhere.

    Once again, you’re only prepared to have the uncomfortable conversation that you’re comfortable with. Everything else gets closed down.

  • Nevin

    Kevin, the difference between John Hume’s three strands and the three strands negotiated in the 1998 Agreement isn’t exactly fine print. For example, David Trimble would not have signed up to a Strand 3 where the Irish government was the government of the island of Ireland and the UK government, the government of the island of Great Britain. Irish presidents may well seek to portray themselves from time to time as heads of an all-island state but, in doing so, they are anti-Agreement.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Obviously Irish nationalists in the Forum Talks wanted a United Ireland and that would be top of the wish-list, but the New Ireland Forum, which the SDLP presented contained two other options, Irish Federalization and Condominium between Dublin and the UK.

    Even without accepting the Principle of Consent, or to take that as a compromise of the forum, the thought that a Belfast administration could not meet people in London the way the Scottish Parliament government can meet people in Dublin seems unlikely.

    If Strand 3 couldn’t allow Belfast to have autonomy over affairs with London as well as with Dublin, Strand 2 would be redundant under those terms. Especially when you consider that the SDLP are a party that sends politicians to London, as it had Dublin before Mallon had been banned from the dual-administration representation.

    Also given Austin Currie’s role in a Dublin government, the idea that there would be no Northern Irish/Belfast people in an Irish administration in Leinster House seems unlikely. There was a Belfast President of Ireland after all.