This long term perspective from Jarlath Kearney last week in his Irish News column is a piece of the bigger picture which (I reckon at least) we all really need to hear (if “it’s not too much effort not to have another war”)…
There’s too much play-acting at peace-making. Reconciliation needs our urgent, relentless attention. It’s a lifetime journey – not an election cycle.
Society properly focuses on big ticket news items like Brexit and borders. Similar attention is needed to building relationships of respect and rights. And not through the rhetorical colonisation of words or ideas.
Engagements between the Irish presidency and Queen Elizabeth, including those involving Martin McGuinness, helped stabilise Ireland-UK relations during the past decade. While politics was driven into cyclical (so-called) ‘crisis’, patient diplomacy kept with the long game.
Between 2011 and 2014, the president’s secretary general Adrian O’Neill was a crucial figure. Mr O’Neill became Ireland’s ambassador to the UK in 2017. When he speaks, it’s worth listening.
Ambassador O’Neill recently remarked that Ireland-UK relations are in a “challenging phase”. He cautioned everyone to “be vigilant” for the peace process and Good Friday Agreement.
He (rightly) describes the controversy over President Higgins’ non attendance at the ecumenical service in Armagh as a bump in the road, but that we should take note of the danger of such bumps in the road continuing over time:
The bigger challenge is to reconstruct diplomatic channels that calmly avoid such situations from constantly becoming the new hill on which virtual battles are fought.
Reconciliation won’t happen at one prayer service. But nor will it be won through press statements. Reducing everything to a test of nationalistic loyalty is gravely counter-productive. Look at Brexit.
As with diplomacy, reconciliation needs more than just formulae of words. It pleads for spirit alongside substance: courageous actions that evidence our willingness to walk in worldviews which challenge our own particular experiences and perspectives.
It’s seen in quiet relationships emerging gently from mutual commitments for common good. It’s the leadership of giving, without any guarantee of reciprocation. The act becomes the outcome.
(Look at Tutu and Mandela’s approach. And even then, deep societal wounds still persist.)
I’m tempted to use a Forth Bridge analogy that as soon as you’ve finished painting its complex steel structure, you have to start all over. While that was not the case for most of its history, it’s had a maintenance crew for its more weathered parts.
We need to be vigilant about everything all the time. To be so, would quickly exhaust any good will that’s left towards the devolved 1998 settlement. But we do know that what weathers first and rusts deepest is inter-communal trust.
With so much of the press deferring to what amounts to the political gaming platform (where numbers beat quality of attention almost every time). As the philosopher C. Thi Nguyen told Michael Garfield in his podcast Future Fossils:
“…when you let yourself be gamified by Twitter or Fitbit you’re outsourcing your values” [thus dropping us into a world in which] “conspiracy theories offer you hyper simplified explanations of the world”.
This privileges short term emotion (often the most destructive ones that serve to keep our nervous systems on edge, in order to maximise user engagement), meaning that we have our work cut out to keep a collective eye on the long term.
However, as Jarlath notes, there is much to play for…
Our island has been transformed since 1998, but there is much unfinished business. Many people honourably yearn to sow the seeds of border referendum(s), but do so without ploughing the stony fields of reconciliation. The conundrum is that crops usually fail in hard ground. We owe the agreement a duty of care – ‘in all its parts’.
“This is the city, and I am one of the citizens”
— Walt Whitman
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