20 April 2015
'Uncomfortable Conversations' collection launched in Linen Hall Library
A SMALL SELECTION of the contributions in the 'Uncomfortable Conversations' series published in An Phoblacht since March 2012 have been published in booklet form and launched in the Linen Hall Library, Belfast.
Uncomfortable Conversations: An initiative for dialogue towards reconciliation carries the legend from Nelson Mandela: “Courageous people do not fear forgiving for the sake of peace.”
The book was launched to a packed audience of key figures from the churches, academia, the media and wider society as well as senior republican figures and voices from the unionist community.
Introduced by Agriculture & Rural Development Minister Michelle O'Neill MLA, Sinn Féin National Chairperson Declan Kearney, the public face most associated with this party initiative, said that reconciliation and healing represent our only future.
“It is a vision which can be inspired with important deeds and gestures.
“Examples of leadership are demonstrated when individuals or sides take hugely important risks to build new relationships: just as some in this room have done.
“Yet single moments or events, no matter how symbolic, are also not enough in themselves.
“They are important signposts for our overall direction of travel and must be built upon.”
He insisted that the successful development of a reconciliation process in this society will depend upon “a critical mass of our community” actively supporting the pursuit of reconciliation and healing.
“Whilst reconciliation is a process, it still needs to be supported by strategy.
“Goodwill needs to be harnessed and then actively mobilised to ensure the reconciliation vision is not simply a theoretical ambition and is instead anchored in an unstoppable, forward momentum.
“I have argued for a popular, public discourse on all these issues across society through what have been described as 'Uncomfortable Conversations'.
He described the collection of articles in this book as “a snapshot of the type of dialogue and range of issues with which all sections of Irish society need to engage”.
Dr Heather Morris, the first woman President of the Methodist Church, whose address to a Sinn Féin Republican Youth Congress is included in the book, said:
“One of the reasons I welcome this book is that it is not a theoretical piece on the need for uncomfortable conversations, or even solely a call for participation in those conversations – it is a record of those conversations. The contributions are part of a real process.”
“My plea, my personal hope, is that this book isn’t an end point, the full stop on a project, but that it sparks more conversations. Martin Magill and Steve Stockman and indeed Mitchel McLaughlin in his response stress the need to move beyond soundbites. The commitment to the building of relationships which this book evidences must continue and push into deeper more uncomfortable conversations and into action.
“This book contains different opinions, does not edit words of challenge and criticism. There was much with which I agreed, much that moved me, and some things with which I found myself arguing back. One of the joys of this publication is its breadth but one of the sorrows are the voices which are not there, because of unwillingness to engage or questions about the motives behind these conversations, or perhaps because across our divides we do not yet trust each other enough.
“There are more conversations to be had and for myself I would want to encourage all to engage in those conversations.”
● Martin McGuinness with Rev Harold Good at the 'Uncomfortable Conversations' launch
Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MLA spoke of the 'Uncomfortable Conversations' he has been involved in, including republicans and the IRA as well as with Queen Elizabeth – and her 'Uncomfortable Conversation' with him, as a former leader of the IRA.
Both he and Queen Elizabeth could have come up with any number of reasons as to why they shouldn't meet and face those 'Uncomfortable Conversations', Martin McGuinness said – but they didn't.
"Regrettably, the past cannot be changed or undone,” Martin McGuinness. “Nor can the suffering, the hurt or the violence of the conflict be disowned by republicans or any other party to the conflict.
"The challenge for all of us engaged in the Peace Process and the political process in Ireland – and indeed for the British Government also – is to ensure that there can never be a repeat of what went before.
"Reaching out the hand of friendship, taking initiatives and working together in a spirit of generosity doesn’t mean surrendering any allegiances.
"It is not always easy but it is the right thing to do. For our part, republicans are prepared to enter into dialogue and have the ‘Uncomfortable Conversations’ with others but those conversations also present challenges to republicans.
"Reconciliation needs to become the next phase of the Peace Process. That is the future. We may never agree on our past but the future belongs to all of us.
"Dialogue, building trust, making political compromises are the seeds to achieving this new beginning."
➤ Watch video here – Uncomfortable Conversations
◼︎ The full series of Uncomfortable Conversations articles can been accessed with a €10 annual subscription to An Phoblacht Online.