28 August 1996
3rd Glencree Summer School
Wednesday, August 28th, 1996
by Sinn Fein Councillor and Ard Chomhairle member
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin
``While the causes of conflict remain in our country it would be foolhardy for any of us to claim that there is peace in Ireland, but great work has been done and there is great and justifiable expectation for the future.''
I shared that great and justifiable expectation and sitting in Dublin Castle on October 28th, 1994 at the inaugural public session of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, my heart beat a little faster as my colleague and Party President Gerry Adams commenced delivery of the Sinn Fein opening statement with those words. I and we genuinely believed we were on the threshold of a new beginning.
Twenty two months on, to the day, and the evidence of that shattered expectation stares at us all in this room this morning. ``Healing the wounds of Political Conflict''; ``Forgiveness in the Peace Process''; ``Dialogue with the political parties''. The Banner theme, sub-theme and session heading from the promotional brochure for this, the third Glencree Summer School. I will go straight to my point. It is dialogue not just with but between the political parties that can lead us all to an understanding where from the power in forgiveness can take root, helping us all in our quest for healing from the wounds of our past and our respective and shared histories.
That all inclusive dialogue, that essential anchor of each and every genuine peace process, has never been facilitated in the case of Ireland and the conflict on and between these islands. And the evidence before us this morning?
This session seeks to address a nationalist perspective, while that immediately following will address a unionist and British view. Not only is there not a facility to engage with each other but worse, this format has been designed at the instigation of one view to keep our respective analyses apart and further, has sought my exclusion from the session to follow. What notion of reconciliation is served by these arrangements or conditions? How can we resolve a conflict if we refuse to talk to one another? The answer simple is - ``We cannot!''
Dialogue - listening - particularly with and to those whom we have viewed as enemies in that past and even still, is required. There is no other way to address our differences, to resolve our quarrels.
Last June 6th I was privileged to be here in Glencree for the very special and important visit of the multi-party South African peace delegation. Speaking with the individual members of the delegation I noted their shared deep disappointment that no public dialogue had taken place between my party and those of the unionist persuasion over the eighteen month period of the IRA cease-fire. Their disappointment transformed to shock and amazement when told that there was then and for a considerable period no direct contact, public or private, with Sinn Fein by the British government. That sorry situation maintains.
Let us acknowledge now, as then, that South Africa has set an example which has inspired us all, where seemingly irreconcilable forces and diametrically opposed views could come to an accommodation with each other through open, inclusive dialogue without preconditions. South Africa also illustrates the sub-theme of this Summer School - the spirit of forgiveness in which people there set about building a new society based on equality and democracy.
But dialogue had to come first.
Forgiveness, reconciliation and agreement cannot come about without a basis. That basis was and is in our case, the prospect of change through negotiating a peace settlement. And that depends on the acceptance by all of the necessity for change. It is impossible for forgiveness and reconciliation to come about while the conditions of conflict remain and are endlessly repeated.
The key is dialogue.
We must all be prepared to give leadership, not just the politicians but each and everyone of us must view our opportunities, yes - our responsibilities from a leadership perspective.
And so this morning I conclude my pre-discussion address with an appeal to each and everyone of you, irrespective of your individual political viewpoint, irrespective of the hurt and pain that you have suffered and continue to bear, to not only aspire to but to pro-actively seek the achievement of the necessary conditions in which forgiveness and reconciliation can flourish. Let us not be afraid.
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