“genuine reconciliation”, is based “on calling things wrong that were wrong”

Their love of country, millions all mis-spent,
How reconcile? by reconciling rent!

– George Gordon Byron

Reconciliation is a word bandied around as though everyone had the same shared understanding of what it means. Those who do use it in freely in terms of Northern Ireland’s shared history seem oddly reluctant to define it clearly when asked.

Within the tenets of the Catholic Church confession is often referred to as the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. It’s a largely private emotional experience volunteered into by those who participate.

But it is a requirement of those who seek to take Holy Communion. It seems to me that, however it began, the way the same term is sometimes gets used by Sinn Fein politicians is a sort of quasi-religious echo of this order.

This may be why it comes over as just plain odd by those unfamiliar with that structure. Even amongst those of us that are, reconciliation is by and large a votive act: ie given without the intention of recovery or use.

What it isn’t is a market-based transaction or a necessary qualifying act for the further acquisition of political grace. Ruth Dudley Edwards quotes an old friend of mine (and Slugger’s) with a fairly blunt truth on the matter:

Trevor Ringland, a policeman’s son who has spent much of his life trying to bring Catholics and Protestants, nationalists and unionists, together, rejects Sinn Fein’s concept of reconciliation, which allows them to honour their dead murderers.

“They feel they were justified in the campaign they carried out,” pointed out Ringland. “If we all adhered to that standard we would all say that Bloody Sunday, Michael Stone and all the other loyalist atrocities were justified – but the rest of us don’t feel they were.” Sinn Fein was not engaged in “genuine reconciliation”, which is based “on calling things wrong that were wrong”.


Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty