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1 November 2016 Edition

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Steps in the right direction

UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS

• Martin McGuinness has reached beyond and stepped across barriers that still exist

I have an uncle who died fighting against the British and a great grandfather who fought for the British at the Battle of Jutland

I SPOKE at the opening of a new 1916 community garden in Camlough in October. The sacrifice of 1916 and the enduring vision it set out for all of us is something I have commemorated many times with pride. 

This was different, though.

This garden was a memorial to all those who lost their lives in 1916 at home – and abroad.

Camlough has always been a proud republican village, home to people like Joe McIlhaw and Raymond McCreesh, therefore this gesture holds particular significance.

I know that republicanism is, by its nature, tolerant, respectful and inclusive and so recognising the sacrifices made by those of different traditions and opinions is hugely important.

We measure the impact of gestures not by the response or reciprocation of others but by how we ourselves feel about them. Initiatives like this are a sign of confidence in our beliefs and in our society.

I am a proud republican. I have never shied away from that fact. But in my role as a Junior Minister in the Office of the Executive, I represent people of all persuasions. As a republican, I am very proud to do that.

The complexities we deal with in our society today are down to our very complex history. It’s a history we all share. 

Of course, we tend to view it through the prism of our own individual backgrounds. Certain aspects of our history or the motivations behind them may not sit well with us but in a mature society we should be able to respect the right of others to view history differently.

Yet our political narratives are often too selective in the parts of history we recall whilst we continue to shy away from exploring those parts which sit uncomfortably with our own views.

In my own family history I have an uncle who died fighting against the British and a great grandfather who fought for the British at the Battle of Jutland. This example is not uncommon across Ireland.

Ignoring the multifaceted history we have would be a mistake because those events continue to influence our present.

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• Megan Fearon speaks at the Stormont Assembly

It is only right that we remember the sacrifices of those men and women who struck a blow for freedom that Easter Week, and I have done so countless times. But the fact is that many young men from my tradition (and others) gave their lives on the battlefields of Europe during the First World War. It is a fact we may not like but it is one we cannot ignore.

1916 was an important year in our history. This year’s centenaries gave us the choice of whether we paid attention to only the anniversaries which mean more to us personally or whether we try to seek a better understanding of that shared history which has shaped us all today.

In that regard, I’m very proud of the steps Martin McGuinness and others have taken in reaching out and stepping across barriers that still exist in our community.

Going forward, opportunities will be presented to us to build respect and a sense of understanding that has perhaps been lost in our recent past. These opportunities must be embraced.

During the last few months as Junior Minister in the North’s power-sharing Executive, I’ve engaged with many people and many communities I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do this before. Our society is more diverse and multicultural than ever before. I can see that selective views of our shared history, or the idea that cultures must compete against each other, will not positively influence the next generation of citizens.

We should give due attention and effort to building respect and understanding between our communities. Any step towards reconciliation and building a more inclusive, equal and united society is certainly a step in the right direction.

Megan Fearon is Junior Minister, Executive Office

Editor’s Note: Guest writers in the Uncomfortable Conversations series use their own terminology and do not always reflect the house style of An Phoblacht.

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