13 August 2012
Political unionism must make new strategic choices – Declan Kearney
‘We cannot undo our past, nor can we, or should we, forget. But neither should we allow the past to place a brake on our future and continued journey of the Peace Process’
THE FAILURE of many unionist political leaders to move the peace and reconciliation process forward is helping give cover to groups violently opposed to the Peace Process, a senior Sinn Féin figure told a Derry Gasyard Wall Féile forum tonight (Monday).
Sinn Féin National Chairperson Declan Kearney was speaking on the theme of ‘Reconciliation in the Process of Nation Building: Vision of a New Ireland.’
He was critical of some sections of political unionism who have failed to step forward and engage in a process of reconciliation.
Stonewalling on progress or initiatives, Declan Kearney said, is “a wrong-headed strategy . . . about slowing down the Peace Process with the politics of stasis, which in turn provides cover to those refusing to resolve remaining contentious parades in nationalist areas, or others violently opposed to the Peace Process”.
“Political unionism must think bigger than that. Ordinary unionist and Protestant citizens deserve and should ask for better than that of their leaders.
“Republicans, unionists, loyalists and nationalists need to create common ground. Collectively, we can start by agreeing on core issues of equality, rights, and mutual respect.”
Working to produce resolutions to those remaining contentious parades, uniting to face down all forms of sectarianism, and providing united political leadership in opposition to “anti Peace Process militarism” are practical examples of such common ground, Kearney said.
“But that means political unionism must make new strategic choices. That is a choice for more equal change and equality – and sooner, not later.”
This is the full text of Declan Kearney’s address:
OUR Peace Process to date has been a transformational journey for everyone in Ireland.
Twenty years ago, none of us could have imagined the scale of change that has been brought about.
But the process is incomplete. Although we enjoy a substantial peace in our country, we are still not at peace with one another.
So whilst the Irish Peace Process is irreversible, it cannot be simply measured against the relative absence of violence. The reality is that the North in particular and its communities continue to be blighted by deep divisions, hurt and fear.
Even though the conditions of conflict have been addressed, and war has been put behind us, the legacy of division, hurt and fear – on every side – has the potential to be passed from one generation to the next in the same way the Civil War gave way to nine decades of trans-generational divisions and ongoing faultlines in the South.
Our generation needs to stop that happening.
Derry City and this immediate area have endured massive suffering. Political and economic inequality and discrimination set an historic context for what happened during this most recent phase of political conflict.
The killings of Bloody Sunday happened hundreds of yards from here. Opposite this building stands a monument to 16 local IRA Volunteers from this locality killed in battle, or on active service, or – as with Colm Keenan and Eugene McGillan – shot dead while unarmed by the British Army just around the corner.
Many unionist and Protestant people in Derry have also suffered deep pain due to the conflict; and many British soldiers and RUC personnel were killed and injured here.
The reality is our society shares a huge collective pain within itself which must be equally acknowledged and addressed. For some, that may be a difficult thing to do.
We cannot undo our past, nor can we, or should we, forget. But neither should we allow the past to place a brake on our future and continued journey of the Peace Process.
We need to face up to the challenge of strategically managing the legacy of the war. An agreed plan is required to end the continued sectarianism, entrenched divisions, and the fear that has existed here for decades.
That can only be done by opening up a new phase of the Peace Process, which injects new momentum and helps to bring about more change.
We believe a new level of engagement is required involving all sections of Irish society, and in particular between republicans and our Protestant and unionist neighbours in the North.
That type of dialogue needs to be focused on the development of a reconciliation process which attempts to overcome the unresolved hurt on all sides but also inter-communal fear and divisions, partitionism, economic disadvantage, and social inequality.
And none of that will be easy because it will demand that we all have the courage and compassion to try and understand what it has been like to walk in each other’s shoes.
I have described it as a dialogue of ‘Uncomfortable Conversations’ that did not take place during all the heavy lifting of previous negotiations.
Now, however, there’s more heavy lifting to do – that is, how we begin to build new human and community relationships among our people based on equality, increased understanding of each other, and mutual respect for our political differences.
Refusal to embrace this challenge runs the risk of that potential for making more change being subsumed by a new status quo which fetters the Peace Process and normalises sectarianism, division and fear – a remodelled status quo which pays lip service to reconciliation and seeks to limit its vision to institutional processes, and tactical, short-term management.
That is a strategy currently being pursued by some sections of political unionism.
It’s about slowing down the Peace Process with the politics of stasis, which in turn provides cover to those refusing to resolve remaining contentious parades in nationalist areas, or others violently opposed to the Peace Process.
It is a wrong-headed strategy.
Political unionism has to think bigger than that.
Ordinary Protestant, unionist and loyalist citizens deserve and should ask for better than that from their leaders.
Republicans, unionists, loyalists and nationalists need to create common ground. Collectively, we can start by agreeing on core issues of equality, rights, and mutual respect.
Working to produce resolutions on those remaining contentious parades, uniting to face down all forms of sectarianism, and providing united political leadership against anti Peace Process militarism, are practical examples of such common ground.
But that means political unionism must make new strategic choices. Those are choices for more change and equality – and sooner, not later.
Those unionists who describe our vision of reconciliation as a republican con job on unionists, or who demand so-called tangible actions from republicans to match our words, are locked into a tired narrative of ‘whataboutery’.
That begets questions of themselves, their parties, and their own pasts – and not-so-distant pasts.
It’s a rhetoric matched only by the silence of the NIO and British Government on their responsibilities to face up to the past.
For silence, read British avoidance and evasion, and that policy position is unsustainable.
The British state has a significant leadership obligation to fulfill in helping to reconcile the historic division and conflict between Ireland and Britain.
So there is an imperative on all political, community and civic leaders now to look to the bigger picture and begin exploring together how we can design and facilitate an authentic reconciliation process; that we apply common purpose to heal the past, with new thinking about truth recovery, supported by a scaffolding of economic and social rights for all citizens, and an openness to new political accommodations.
And this cannot be the property of one political party or individual community.
Sinn Féin has views on how this should be done. We do not seek to be prescriptive other than to assert that the dialogue required should be inclusive.
That’s why our leadership has prioritised this discussion within republicanism and continues to take bold initiatives for national reconciliation and in the wider interests of the Peace Process, and is absolutely committed to building bridges with the Protestant and unionist community.
It is also why we have said to political unionism that we want to discuss how we and they can together strategically advance peace building within wider society, and not simply work the institutions.
We are committed to a vision of a new, pluralist Irish Republic.
A prerequisite to a future ‘Ireland of Equals’ must be an Ireland at peace with itself, based upon new relationships and friendships among our own people.
Our future generations deserve the right to a transformed future.
Reconciliation is indivisible from nation building.
Opening this new phase of the Peace Process will bring with it many new challenges for Irish society.
But the possibilities outweigh the risks.
We have proved that with leadership and vision over the last 20 years we can overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges.
But today, new, fresh and imaginative thinking is necessary.
We need political and community consensus on the importance of taking more bold and brave steps forward.
And we all need to find the courage to continue stretching ourselves and making new compromises to ensure all our children grow up in a better place than we did, and live in a society which prizes economic equality, social justice, difference and diversity, and where citizens live free from domination or fear.
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