Peace – mirror image of war – deadlock

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The Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt was a handy athlete at one time; if I remember correctly in the two-lap 800 metres and over the 400 metres hurdles.

In both events you need to be tactically astute.

Going too fast too soon in the half mile track event often means jogging on the spot in the home straight as others race by – a promising start becoming a poor finish.

And if you misjudge the hurdles race, any one of the ten barriers has the potential to knock you off your feet.

So maybe the one-time runner was applying tactical racing thoughts, about pace and positioning, when he responded a few days ago to an article penned by Sinn Fein’s national chairperson Declan Kearney.

Kearney challenged republicans to say “sorry” – not for the IRA war, but for the human hurt caused by all its armed actions.

The article was placed in An Phoblacht; its publication in that newspaper to first address the republican base, but its wider intention to speak to unionists.

Kearney acknowledged that: “A deep suspicion remains within unionist communities towards republicans due to the legacy of the armed struggle.”

And that deep suspicion was heard in the initial party political reactions both from Nesbitt and the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson.

Donaldson again focused on Gerry Adams’ denial of IRA membership and the Kingsmill massacre of 1976, with Nesbitt asking Kearney if he would describe the killing of Protestants in that attack as “a war crime”.

From the Ulster Unionist this was just one of the 28 questions he said he had for clarification after publication of the An Phoblacht article; an indication from the one-time Annadale Strider of a marathon rather than a sprint approach.

At the weekend, I told a Sinn Fein youth conference that it is perfectly fair for journalists and others to ask questions of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness about the IRA and their roles.

And, those questions will continue to be asked, until there are believable answers.

I was one of three journalists – along with David Cochrane of and Sarah Bardon of the Daily Mirror– invited to speak at that Dublin conference, where I also said that addressing the past is not just about asking questions of republicans.

There will be many questions for governments, security forces, intelligence services, politicians, including unionists, churches, media and many others – and the “war crimes” debate will go wider than the armed activities of the IRA and loyalists.

That is if we want to go there.

How agents participated in murder, and who knew, are questions that also demand credible answers.

The Kearney article brought more welcoming responses from the former Methodist President Harold Good, and the former senior police officer Peter Sheridan.

Sheridan – now chief executive of the peace-building organisation Cooperation Ireland – was targeted by the IRA.

But he recognises the potential significance of an initiative that could see the republican leadership use that word sorry in accepting the hurt caused by armed struggle.

Sheridan and Good have a better feel for these things – can read republicans better than political unionists can.

Long before the peace and political processes, the churchman took the risk of speaking to republicans, when others ran a mile from such an engagement.

And on the Kearney article, he commented: “The time has come to take each other seriously, to respond to clearly genuine ventures without assumption of ulterior motive or hidden agenda.

“Talk, truth and trust – these are the three Ts that will release us from our tragic past and take us to a new place whatever its shape or form,” the Rev Good said.

In an editorial the Belfast Telegraph commented: “Kearney’s comments…deserve close attention. Of course there will be some who will dismiss any apology out of hand, such is their grief and their distrust of republicans.

“But could it be a tentative step along the way towards reconciliation which everyone really wants?

“For that to happen the mainstream republican movement needs to act as he [Kearney] suggests and utter those necessary words.”

That is the challenge to republicans, and if they deliver, then it will be for others to reciprocate.

On the last lap of this article, I want to return to the track and the issue of tactics.

Those who know this sport will remember a famous race over 1500 metres in Oslo in 1981; remembered for a remarkable victory by the pacemaker Tom Byers who held off Steve Ovett.

Pacemakers usually step off the track or are swallowed up by the pack, but Byers took this track contest outside the tactical norms, stayed in front and could not be caught by Ovett, the then Olympic champion at 800 metres.

So, what I am saying to Mike Nesbitt and other unionists is that pacing and positioning – while important – don’t always produce the best results.

If republicans are involved in a genuine initiative that could produce a statement saying sorry for all the human hurt caused by the IRA campaign, then we need momentum not stalling; quicker not slower.

And if the initiative is not serious, then there will be only one loser.

Unionists have nothing to fear.


To read Sinn Fein’s Declan Kearney article in An Phoblacht click here:


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About Author

Brian Rowan

Brian Rowan is a journalist/author. A former BBC correspondent in Belfast, four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Press and Broadcast Awards. He is the author of several books on the peace process. His latest book (published by Merrion Press) POLITICAL PURGATORY – the battle to save Stormont and the play for a New Ireland is now available at


  1. Harold Good (Rev) on

    An important and challenging response from one of Northern Ireland’s best informed and dispassionate political analysts.  A timely challenge to all parties to our conflict.  As Brian Rowan reminds us, an opportunity which must not be dismissed lightly or otherwise by any party or sector which claims to be serious about reconcilliation and the healing of hurt, however ‘uncomfortable’ they fear this conversation may be initially.   Is there an alternative route to the next stage of the journey that deep within us we all want to take ?  To pick up on Rowan’s athletic analogy, the stakes in this marathon are too high to leave it to a lone runner !  Maybe we should think of a team in a relay race in which everyone is a potential winner, at whatever stage they played their distinctive part. 

    • Harold – developing this process has always been a team effort. Those who go into the race  fearing they may drop the baton often do just that – fail in their endeavour. But those who have confidence, and the vision of the finish line,usually find their way to that point. You know how to run these races – and have often shown others the way.   

  2. Peter Sheridan on

    When statements such as that by Declan Kearney are made they are either viewed from a position of distrust and therefore dismissed immediately or they are viewed with fulsome praise – both run the risk of missing the real intention behind what is written. There is a third way of course and that is to view the statement with an open mind and perhaps test out the possibilities it may present. There can be no doubt that the statement has a new language that suggests new thinking and perhaps the opportunity to explore how we might resolve some of our outstanding issues from a dark and horrible past. In the interests of a better future perhaps it is worth keeping our minds open to what is being said in the statement and test out its possibilities.

    • Peter – and that is all that is being asked for at this time – an open mind, quiet conversations and a dialogue on possibilities. I agree, it is much too soon to get excited, but between the lines of the Kearney article we can see how things could develop. These considered pieces, as you know, are not written to fill space. Usually they lead to something else. And that is what should be explored – what more can be said, and how best is it said?

  3. Peter Sheridan on

    I agree Barney – keeping an open mind creates the possibility that someone will drop a useful thought in it!

  4. Barney, Thanks for your post, drawing attention to this thoughtful and possibly very significant piece in AP.    There are some important lines in here, especially given who is saying them and where it is published, and it would be a serious mistake not to explore them.  They should also be seen in the developing context where the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, made a fulsome apology for Bloody Sunday and The Queen in her own symbolic way expressed sorrow for the past in her visit to Ireland.  There is a real possibility that this article is a next step in exploring how we deal with ‘the past’.  As you know I am convinced that we all need to find our way of doing this and I am encouraged by this intervention.   I will be drawing it to the attention of my friends.

    • John – I’m surprised after your years with the IMC that you still have “friends”. What was it Dick Kerr had printed on those shirts?

  5. Kieran McEvoy on

    I too think that Declan Kearny’s thoughtful article is an interesting contribution at this juncture. For such a senior Republican to call for ‘moral leadership’ from Republicans, a willingness to have ‘uncomfortable conversations’ in the interests of reconciliation and  recognising ‘the healing influence of being able to say sorry’ – this suggests to me, at the very least, that Republicans should be tested on their commitment to seriously engaging  on dealing with the past.
    In the broader context, a cynical view would be that Republicans are safe in calling for a independent international truth commission because they suspect it wont happen because a) the British government doesn’t  want it and b) neither do unionists, on the stated grounds that they don’t trust Republicans to engage with such a body properly. Martin McGuinness’ reference to the IRAs code in his evidence to the Saville Inquiry is invariably used to question Republican bona fides. That said, if the cynics had their way, there would never have been a peace process in the first place.

    A couple of practical things might form part of the sort of engagement Mr Kearny is talking about.

    On the issue of apologies, Republicans obviously can explore with their own base, and perhaps more importantly with those who were harmed by Republican violence, what types of apology or acknowledgement of hurt would assist in the push towards some reconciliation. Ofcourse not everyone is going to be fully satisfied.  However, the experience of, for example,  former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s historical apology for the legacy of brutality and racism in Australia towards the Aboriginal community suggest that sustained prior engagement with those most affected on issues such as wording, timing, delivery, follow up and so forth mean that any apology is likely to be given a fairer hearing at least.

    More broadly, on the issue of trust and dealing with the past, Republicans too can explore what exactly would be required before Unionists, for example, could be persuaded that any former Republican activist giving evidence to some sort of truth recovery process might be believed. The IRA no longer exists so no Republican can be ordered to participate in such a process. This inevitably leads us towards a conversation on whether conflict related prosecutions can be waived in the public interest  if  people were to come forward to tell the truth? Some individual victims and victim organisations are on the record that, in the interests of truth, they could countenance such a move. Could Unionist politicians ? Or, if they insist on sticking to a line of prosecutions,- what does this actually mean when in reality very few are going to take place (because of lack of reliable evidence etc) and even if they do – people will only serve a maximum of two years for pre 1998 offences – in effect a symbolic censure for serious offences such as murder.  Where does the public interest lie here – a few instances of selective and largely symbolic censure versus truth ? 

    This sounds to me exactly the kind of ‘difficult conversations’ all of us should be having, both in public and private, Republicans, Unionists, victims organizations, ex-prisoner groups but also the police and prosecution service themselves. Leadership is required on all sides on these issues. If all us know the limits of prosecution, and most of us accept the moral impetus towards truth as a form of support to victims, then this is the space that needs to explored to see what is feasible. Hardline rhetoric on prosecutions, well it is what it is. 
    Of course as Barnie Rowan points out – Republicans will rightly point out that other actors – the state, loyalists, unionist politicians, the Irish government,  other powerful institutions – should all be required to account for their past in any such process. However does the reluctance and ambivalence of these other actors to engage give Republicans a free pass ? The, ‘they won’t budge, so we don’t have to, thank heavens’ approach to politics. Mr  Kearney seems to be suggesting that hiding behind the intransigence of others should not suffice, if I read him correctly.

    If Republicans do engage seriously on this issue, and  are seen to do so, then Unionists too will be presented with exactly the same dilemma. Are they up to  task of providing the necessary leadership ?.

    The history of the peace process has shown incredible examples of political leadership on all sides. If the will is there,  with a bit of imagination, this is all doable.

  6. John Howcroft on

    AIt is not how we approach or begin to
    address the issues raised in the article, analysis and subsequent commentary;
    but more specifically, how we begin to frame the issue that is fundamental.

    If we frame the issue as a process of culpability, then we
    invite truths and narratives to emerge that may be more akin to justification
    or apologia, as in a strengthening or defence of one’s position, which
    invariably seeks to weaken another’s in retort; we may also allow retribution
    to take precedence over re-conciliation; and allow the perennial hand-wringers
    of any notion of blame continue to finger-point, yet whilst their finger
    directs that spotlight so intently to illuminate what represents maybe only a
    few dark corners, they themselves remain confident, albeit anxious, that they
    won’t become exposed to the intensity of the very light they direct.

    Is it not much more conducive if we frame these issues not as
    a process of culpability, but as one of responsibility? And if we can take this
    forward within a paradigm of responsibility, where do we as a society fit
    within this? This seems to be the point Mr Kearney eloquently makes. Yet a note
    of caution, the baton of responsibility, if it is to be carried, cannot be
    about taking and holding the moral high-ground for any particular section of
    the community or indeed to service party-political interests, but must be a
    reciprocal process that society itself fully embraces.

    As stated In the Common Sense document of 1987, “There is no section of this divided Ulster
    community which is totally innocent or indeed totally guilty, totally right or
    totally wrong. We all share the responsibility for creating the situation,
    either by deed or by acquiescence. Therefore we must share the responsibility
    for finding a settlement and then share the responsibility of maintaining good
    government.” In this
    context, we have a collective responsibility, or indeed a collective
    culpability, as a society. 

    Until we move from the specific frame of reference that views
    dealing with the past through the lens of culpability, and especially the
    restrictive format of culpability now wielded as a blunt instrument, then
    responsibility will not be able to secure a foothold.

    • John – I agree a process that explores the past cannot be a re-run of the war on another battlefield. It should not be reduced to silly games of winners and losers and right and wrong. Your reference to a section of the Common Sense document makes sense. A process on the past should be about achieving maximum information and explanation and an understanding why we should never go down these roads again. It is not just about what happened, but why it should never happen again. Declan Kearney’s article is not just a challenge to republicans, but to us all – something that Kieran McEvoy deals with in his comment on this blog. There are those who would like to blame ex-prisoners such as yourself for everything that happened during a decades-long conflict. But what is the purpose of such narrow blame? To allow many others an escape route from any responsibility. 

  7. The Godfathers- 10K PER WEEK DRINKS BILL LAVISH STORMONT-YOUR TAXES – YOUR THE MUG WHO VOTES THEM IN.Listen to Nolans show this morning dup=ps/f could not run a raffle- but ye all get what you vote for -no health-no education-no jobs-no justice- no truth!

  8. Sorry for the hurt caused-but not for the war! Certainly this is ambiguous- because war by its very nature causes hurt and suffering. So you can’t be truly sorry for the hurt- but then defend the war. Sounds hypocritical to me.

  9. As an ex-combatant and ex-UDA Prisoner now deeply involved with the Prison to Peace Project I can understand how individuals on either side of the divide have difficulty accepting that the perpetrators of the violence,murder and mayhem during the conflict might be capable of showing any remorse or regret for their actions. Through Prison To Peace and my experience working with Republicans on interfaces I have come to know many ex-combatants whom I would have seen as my enemies in the past but now I see them very much as an essential part of the Peace Process.
    Many people will find that strange and many people don’t and won’t accept that ex-loyalist combatants-ex -prisoners are an essential part of the Process but I firmly believe there couldnt be or wouldn’t be peace without the interaction between,UDA-UVF/RHC-PIRA-ORM and INLA ex-combatants.i believe it takes those who made war to make peace,or at least create the environment for negotations towards peace.i have visited schools and Youth Clubs,met teachers and Youth Leaders and tallked to and listened to many young people With members of the aforementioned groups,with the intention of de-glamourising paramilitary ism.Every member of our panel at these get togethers has at one time or other agreed that much of our violent past could have been avoided and all have agreed that their respective organisations had done wrong. None condemned the actual conflict because of the circumstances that brought each organisation into being,who could have predicted how things would evolve from the violence we witnessed on the streets of Londonderry in 69 to Bloody Sunday,Bloody Friday,Warrenpoint or countless other atrocities,or how men and women, especially young men and women would adapt to it. We all agree we must not allow things ever to get that bad again,that in itself is admitting the past was wrong,and that no organisation can see themselves as blameless Freedom Fighters for one cause or another,nor can the
    British Government or the Security Forces under their control deny they could and maybe should have done things differently. Mistakes were bound to happen and everyone involved in the conflict made them,the question is what do we do to ensure there are no more mistakes,no more perpetrators,no more victims. How we move on or if we move on is surely what must be the greatest concern for every right minded person in our society,it will take much debate and soul searching,trust and compromise. When we talk about peace some cynics NOT peace at any price,I ask what price is war,too many families unfortunately know the answer to that question!

    • Jackie – reading the posts from both yourself and John Howcroft it strikes me that loyalists have more of an open mind about this conversation than party political unionists. I’d be interested to know what significance you would attach to a statement from the republican leadership saying sorry for all the human hurt caused by the IRA’s armed actions, and if that were to happen, what the likely loyalist response would be. Also interesting that you mention that the Government and the security forces “could and maybe should have done things differently”.
      Will loyalists take their lead from unionist politicians in this debate or think and speak for themselves? 

  10. Stephen Blacker on

    This is just another part of what has become our “Peace Process”, lots of people in our society are going on a journey of discovery about themselves and others at different speeds and degrees depending on what they did or had done to them in our “Troubles”. This challenge from Mr. Kearney to republicans will be seen by some as “not enough” and others “too much” but in the round it should be welcomed and treated positively as our society continues to move in a peaceful direction.


    Hi Barney,

    I hope you won’t mind me wandering in from my own column on
    this site!

    It strikes me that you and a
    number of those commenting on your article are buying into the notion that, as
    Peter Sheridan puts it, “there can be no doubt that the statement has a new
    language that suggests new thinking…”

    Well, I’m not convinced: it just
    seems to be exactly the same thinking, albeit in slightly more nuanced
    language. All of what Kearney says can be boiled down to the usual stuff about
    Irish unity.

    1) Why does the engagement with
    unionists have to be about “encouraging a discourse on the achievability
    of a united Ireland”? Why can’t it be broader than that? All of the polling
    evidence suggests that a majority of the electorate in Northern Ireland will
    opt to stay in the United Kingdom for a very long time to come, so why not
    broaden the engagement into a ‘conversation’ about how republicans deal with
    that probable reality? Actually, why not have a conversation about how,
    collectively, we make sure that NI is governed as well as is possible and shift
    from the absurdity of mutual mistrust balanced by mutual veto?

    2) Kearney says: “Armed struggle is not a
    point of principle or an end in itself. It arose from political conditions, as
    a last resort and those conditions no longer exist.”

    I suspect that most within the pro-Union
    community (and many others outside) would take the view that the armed struggle
    was always a first resort for the IRA. Indeed, it was the IRA’s campaign which
    made reconciliation impossible. We had to wait until the mid-1990s until they
    realized they couldn’t win by terror and then until 2007 until they realized
    they had no choice but to do an internal deal with the DUP.

    Has it ever dawned on SF that community divisions
    continue because IRA apologists within SF refuse to acknowledge that the IRA
    was in the wrong? The
    armed struggle was wrong—in every possible sense of the term. But the IRA and
    SF will never admit that. That’s the basis of the never-ending stalemate.

    3) The thrust of Kearney’s piece is all about
    uniting Ireland. Any apology, or mea culpa etc., will be determined by no
    yardstick other than that of whether it could, in some way, move unity a little
    closer. The reality is brutal, cynical, simple and calculated. This so-called
    new thinking is as much a part of the unity project as was the armed struggle,
    the ballot paper/armalite strategy, the Hume/Adams dialogue, the sitting in the
    Assembly, the DUP/SF deal of 2007. This has nothing to do with genuine
    reconciliation or building a shared future. To my mind this is as morally
    reprehensible as every other part of the SF/IRA campaign.

    Morally reprehensible? Yes, because there is
    a blatant lack of sincerity at the heart of Kearney’s piece. Sinn Fein doesn’t
    want to be in the Assembly, joined at the hip to the DUP. It doesn’t want to be
    in the United Kingdom. It doesn’t want any shared future arrangement which puts
    a brake upon its relentless push for unification. Sinn Fein’s definition of
    reconciliation is that Unionists should reconcile themselves to the
    inevitability of a united Ireland and then prepare accordingly.


    Reconciliation—if it’s actually possible—will depend on honesty and a lack
    of hidden agendas. The Rev. Harold Good argues that “the time has come to take
    each other seriously, to respond to clearly genuine ventures without assumption
    of ulterior motive or hidden agenda.” Maybe so—but the difficulty for me (and
    I suspect I’m not a lone voice within the pro-Union community) is that I don’t
    regard Kearney’s piece as a ‘genuine venture.’

    You conclude, “Unionists have nothing to fear.”
    That’s true, in many senses. But on this occasion they have nothing to gain by
    a dialogue which uses Kearney’s piece (and I think most of us agree that he is
    merely the front man on this occasion) as a starting point.



    • Morning Alex – I’m delighted to have you here, and you’re welcome any time. I don’t think unionists are going to be lured into a United Ireland by the republican leadership saying sorry for all the human hurt that resulted from the IRA armed campaign. But I do think, as do others writing here, that saying sorry can be a contribution to reconciliation. So, let’s see if it’s said, and what then can develop from there. I mentioned in my piece that I spoke at a Sinn Fein conference last weekend on the role of the media in Ireland. One of the delegates asked what journalists could do to promote a United Ireland, and I told him that’s not our job. I also referred to the Sinn Fein document of the 1980s Scenario For Peace, which suggested that anyone who didn’t want to be part of a United Ireland should be given a resettlement grant to go and live elsewhere. I described that as “cloud cuckoo” stuff. That document has since been re-thought, re-worked and re-written. I also told the delegate that it was a million people in Northern Ireland he needed to persuade – not a few journalists. So, let’s take this one step at a time – wait for the word sorry to be used, see in what context it is said – if indeed it is said – and how people respond. And let’s remember that the process of reconciliation and trying to deal with the past is not just about one big bad wolf.

  12. Jackie McDonald on

    John McMichael said it 25 yrs ago,he had the foresiight and the courage to say what needed to be said. We all might learn something if we look at the past from all angles,from other peoples point of view. I’m not for one minute trying to justify anything that happened,either from a Loyalist Paramilitary or Republican paramilitary viewpoint,I’m wondering if it would be easier to understand how combatants on either side evolved from,in the early days at least,ordinary working class people,into the self styled Freedom Fighters they thought themselves to be. I began that journey in1972 as did many others,and I became a completely different person because of what was happening around me. The places I worked in,drank in,shopped in and socialised In we’re being blown up,friends killed and injured and it wasn’t safe to go out at night,or walk the streets in Dunmurry village where I lived. The abnormal became the norm,for both communities,and that was only the beginning. As the years passed younger people became involved who never knew normality,they could only identify with hatred,bigotry and violence. Young Soldiers,UDR,RUC and Prison Officers Never knew any sense of normality,only threats and danger,and unfortunately all too often death or serious injury. As the conflict continued it was a case of mans Inhumanity To Man,the prisons were full,everyone either knew or was related to someone who had either been murdered or was in prison,paramilitaries on both sides enjoyed their notoriety and the support from within their respective communities. That’s where the conflict took us,it took everyone to places they didn’t necessarily want to go,there was no manual to refer to it was made up as we went along and although it wasn’t right it was deemed necessary. Everyone involved did wrong but it seemed to be the right thing To do at the time. We have come a long way since the GFA,people have changed,attitudes have changed,circumstances have changed. We have the opportunity to complete the journey and I understand only too well the difficulty many people have boarding the ship,but please.. Try to accept we are all on the same boat now. Don’t let it be the Titanic!

    • Jackie – those of us who remember that period of the early 1970s know why we should never return there. But we are still shovelling our experiences on top of another generation, and that is why we need to do something that attempts to explain what happened and why. And, as that process develops, we need to put ourselves in the shoes of others – look at things from those different angles that you describe. The Declan Kearney article has started a conversation, and I think that’s what was intended. And on this website people have had the courage to put their names beside their thoughts. There has been no attempt to hide behind the curtain. So, let the conversation/debate continue, and let’s see where it leads.

  13. A very significant statement by Declan Kearney.  It is through dialogue and having ‘uncomfortable conversations’ that we begin to understand each others experience of the conflict here.  It was not comfortable conversations that brought about political agreement and it will not be comfortable conversations that build peace and heal wounds.  The statement acknowledges the hurt caused by violence and the impact that an apology can have on restoring relationships.  Saying sorry in this context is a process whereby you set out first to understand the hurt caused by your actions, acknowledge the impact of those actions and then apologise for those same actions.  This may not be welcomed by everyone, and may be rejected outright by some, but the process of understanding, acknowledging and apologising, is just as, if not as, important as the outcome.  Individually and collectively it will help to repair the broken human relationships that extend throughout the country and in doing so help to tackle the legacy of sectarianism and division that haunts our present and our future. 

    While some are happening quietly, other ‘uncomfortable conversations’ have yet to take place within political unionism, between unionism and loyalism, within loyalism, within republicanism, between republicanism and nationalism, with the police, army, churches, media, those injured and victims organisations and so on …

    Privately and publically these discussions will contribute to dealing with our past.  Political unionism have a responsibilty to provide leadership and engage in these discussions and ‘passing the parcel of blame’ in the hope of scoring a point will make it all the more difficult when the time comes to eventually lift the rock.

  14. Declan Kearney on

    is much reason for hope in the variety of thoughtful and open minded
    contributions written in reaction to my article “Uncomfortable Conversations
    are Key to Reconciliation”, and Barney Rowan’s blog.

    firmly believe we can make substantial progress in consolidating the peace, and
    advancing the political processes by having the discussions now, which have not
    yet taken place.  There is no right
    moment for those conversations.  If we
    decide to pause in search of that moment we may wait another 10 or 15 years…
    and, so responsibility will pass onto another generation to make sense of
    inherited hurts and divisions.

    try now to heal the pain which exists, by opening a new dialogue that, does
    indeed explore the value of using new language, and is open to developing new
    thinking to take our politics onto a new level.

    an authentic reconciliation process won’t be easy.  It will require compassion and
    imagination…and given our past, that may be a challenge in itself.  But this is an inevitable stage of our
    collective journey away from war.  Surely
    better that we take at least the first steps towards its completion.  Better still, that we choose to complete the
    journey, and let the next generation celebrate the new horizons we create.

    are open and committed to continuing to deliver the type of leadership which
    will facilitate and realise this potential, and achieve that future

    • Declan,


      You will be aware from what I have written below that I have huge personal difficulties with your recent article (although I do accept that mine, on this occasion, may be a minority view).

      That said, I would be genuinely interested to know how you define the term ‘reconciliation.’



  15. Jackie McDonald on

    The more I think about ongoing debate over Declan Kearneys article,the more I feel the need to defend the Loyalist/Unionist view on what has been said. As a member of the UPRG I will discuss this in depth with my colleagues at the first opportunity,what I’m about to write is only my own opinion. The question of trust is an obvious one when you consider the past,and whilst I’m one of those people hoping for a better future which can only come about if its a shared future,Nationilists and Republicans,in particular ex-combatants must surely understand why the P.U.L community have such difficulty with the issue of trust.What Declan says makes sense as does a lot of what Sinn Fein has said since they became part of the Government. The problem is what has gone before and how P.I.R.A/Sinn Fein got to where they are today and it will take a lot of hard work to convince the P.U.L that Republicans are genuine. Through Prison to Peace I find myself in the position to speak to and listen to all the Republican ex-paramilitary groups,or at least representatives of them and I have,hopefully a better insight and understanding of the overall picture. I now realise that those groups had different views and opinions of how the conflict should or should not be fought,they still have different opinions today.Loyalists had the same differing opinions on tactics and ALL the paramilitaries not only fought the ENEMY they also had their internal feuds,and they too have different views today. I think it’s important that everyone realises this,and I say to me colleagues Until our people know as much as we know they won’t understand why we do what we do. I think it can only help if we share the conversations that we have,let as many people as possible be part of the conversation and dialogue,young people from both sides of the divide would hopefully benefit from being brought into the discussions,they are part of our future and they should be made feel important and that their contribution is essential and vital. I began by defending the doubts and reservations of my own community and I will always do so,but I also realise how important it is to move on because standing still is so dangerous,in fact there is no standing still,the danger is we go backwards. Everyone has their reasons for doubt and they cannot be criticised for that,many have personal reasons why they Cannot complete the journey to peace and I have always tried to understand just how difficult it must be for them,what I do hope though is that somehow,maybe through being made more aware of how we got to where we were and how we became the people we became more people in both communities can at least begin to think of a better future.Nobody can tell anyone how they should feel,surely the responsibility for changing minds,addressing the doubts and fears of those deeply affected by the conflict,lies in the main with the perpetrators and the decision makers at the time. This is a difficult time for us all,there is no simple answer,therein lies the danger to all of our future.

  16. Alistair little.

    When I first heard about Declan Kearney’s
    comment on saying ‘sorry’ my prejudice instinctively kicked in. I was filled
    with instant skepticism full of assumptions and making judgments about his
    motivations, all the things Declan says we should enter into dialogue without.

    My next step was to check out An Phoblacht
    online thinking I could read the full article (free) but I was only able to
    read a few paragraphs, so I called a friend who is a former republican prisoner
    and asked him to get me a copy of An Phoblacht.  I told him why I wanted it and asked him for
    his initial thoughts; they weren’t too far from my own, although for very
    different reasons. I read the article and thought about it for a few days, had
    a few conversations with a number of people whose opinion I value, I decided to
    wait and see how the press would respond.  I heard Nolan (stirring it) then Mike Nesbitt
    and his twenty eight question on his first read, Jeffery Donaldson asking about
    Kingsmill all understandable and predictable but I heard nothing new and
    switched off and spent the next few moments venting (self talk).

    was quickly able to acknowledge my initial responses and with a little more ‘talking
    to myself ‘ I was able to OWN them and give a more thoughtful response to what
    Declan was saying.


     I am
    a former UVF prisoner I have been involved in the field of conflict
    transformation for many years. I have yet to meet anyone, especially anyone who
    has lived through and actively engaged in a violent conflict, who actually
    enters the ‘room’ so to speak and leaves self outside the room. This is what
    one would need to do if they were to be free of all of those initial feelings
    and thoughts I had.  I have met plenty,
    although they are becoming less and less who claim to be free of, or suspend,
    all of those feelings and thoughts I instinctively had.

    It sounds good, but it is not real, and in
    my opinion and experience, it takes very little to prove the case and
    demonstrate how quickly those who claim to do so move from the self outside the
    door to being honest and real in the room with all their assumptions,
    judgments, prejudices, suspicions and skepticism very much present.

    I don’t want to even go into the difficulty
    this would pose for those who have been on the receiving end of our violence to
    enter into the discussion.

    If we are going to have a dialogue about
    saying sorry, then let us acknowledge how difficult that will be, and own what
    we will bring into the room with us and see if we can find a way to work
    through those difficulties and different experiences’ of the ‘other’. I along
    with others, have engaged in many debates, conversations, and eventually
    meaningful dialogue, were very little if any trust existed to begin with, why
    would we expect it not to be the case? 

    I was not expecting to read about Sinn
    Fein’s inclusive, pluralist united Ireland and their responsibility to persuade
    and convince the rest of us that it is something we should desire.

    I need to be honest and say reading this
    rekindled my initial skepticism and tainted my desire to want to believe that
    Declan was being sincere in his call for a discussion about saying sorry
    without in his words ‘hidden agendas’. I thought ok, he needs to include this for
    his republican readers whom I am assume are not going to be pleased about this
    notion of saying ‘sorry’ because in their minds this could be, or will be,
    understood by some at least, and possibly by most, as an apology for the armed
    struggle. So even though I felt it was not appropriate to include this in an article
    that was about the suffering, loss (killing) and saying sorry I read on.

    I started to ‘self talk’ again, asking
    questions as I went along, knowing how I understood the concept of
    reconciliation and how I was making sense of what he was saying I was more
    interested in how Declan made sense of it.

    ·      1 
    Wh  What is his understanding of


    I  I wonder what he means by
    ‘authentic reconciliation’ and what of the reconciliation to date?


       What does he mean ‘listening
    unconditionally’? The very nature of this type of dialogue and sensitivity
    required and understanding needed calls for some sense of agreement (condition)
    if learning and meaning are to be gained regarding PUL fears and apprehensions.


    ·            Who is going to say sorry and
    for what?


        Will it be a collective sorry that won’t
    require the agreement of all republicans or be    necessary for any individual to
    be responsible? 


      Collective sorry is much easier and one
    never knows how many of those involved actually
    feel sorry or how many believe there is no need to say sorry for doing what
    was right and just as they would see it.


    C  Can a person say they are sorry
    for killing your father, brother, son, mother, daughter or for whatever they
    may have done that involved death, injury and suffering, and at the same time,
    say “but I believe it was the right thing to do”? 


    DDoes it make sense for him to
    say weI were justified in doing it and if the same circumstances existed, I
    would do it again because although weI don’t believe weI need to use violence
    now, because things have changed. Although weI still believe violence is a
    legitimate tool that can be used if justified.


    DDoes he mean by ‘sorry’ that it
    was wrong to kill the people who were killed or injured?



    Having asked these questions I am still
    encouraged by Declan’s article, and some of his language leaves me with a sense
    of hope that we will be able to have these conversations and ask the difficult
    questions within society as a whole.

    These conversations have already been
    happening for quite a few years now and I have been present when Loyalist,
    Republican, and security force members (although few in number) have
    acknowledged the pain and hurt they have caused to each other and to society as
    a whole and have said they are sorry for causing that suffering, but possibly more
    importantly they have expressed this to those who have ‘lost’ or had loved ones
    murdered not ‘lost’ as was pointed out recently in a workshop.

    It may be as I suspect that most of those
    engaged in the violence believe it was the right and just thing to do, and at
    most they regret that it was necessary, as they see it, and feel some sense of
    sorrow for those who were killed or injured. But that is a world away from
    saying sorry in any meaningful way,
    in fact if that is the case it may be more of an insult to say sorry.

    It is important to acknowledge the healing
    potential that exists in public acknowledgment and recognition of suffering and
    in saying sorry. However, it must also be acknowledged that depending on why it
    is said, how it is said, and the actions of those who say it after it has been
    said are all factors in wither it heals or causes further hurt.

    It is also true that it is not always clear
    as to whether saying sorry helps or makes things worse. It can’t just be a case
    of saying sorry whether it is welcome or not because it suits a political
    agenda; so that conversation needs to happen also.

    However, I do believe these conversations
    need to happen especially with those actively involved in the violence, and by
    those who supported the violence but didn’t carry it out themselves, those who
    encouraged it and benefited from it politically, and those who governed and
    socially engineered and abused their power.

    How these conversations happen is another
    fear that I was aware I was feeling and am anxious about with good reason.

    I expect that if taken seriously and the
    desire increases, the usual suspects will fight tooth and nail to be seen to be
    heading up these conversations, and the ‘experts’ will be coming out of the

    Such is the dark-side of ‘peace-building’
    that everyone knows exists but few are willing to discuss. But I guess that is
    another story waiting to be told.

  17. Barry Fennell on

    The ‘conversations’ whatever form or shape need to happen and be supported – the possibilities need to be explored. Outreach, exploratory dialogue, active listening and engagement if Sinn Fein are genuinely serious would involve challenging engagement with ‘hard to reach’ groups, which is about building new connections, the extension of assistance or services to persons or groups not previously served through the Peace programmes and the provision of information or services to groups in society who might otherwise be neglected for whatever reason. This initiative could extend and embed reconciliation within and between communities by creating avenues and space to deliver a wide range of activities.
    Pertinent community and indeed personal issues need to be addressed and as a party they would have to be prepared to offer and facilitate a safe space for crucial and frank conversations, which can lead to further, agreed and progressive approaches for transformation and change. These approaches and efforts should reflect the totality of relationships at different levels within a community and should also be dynamic, pragmatic, and risky – the format should just not be the ‘same old same old’, work with exclusive or familiar groups or even about regurgitating old methods with favoured individuals or existing groups but something tangible and potentially transformative that impacts locally.
    A locally informed programme of intervention or community capacity building should be responsive, not a quick solution and reflective of needs. It should also be concerned with ensuring and creating a safe space for exchange and dialogue. An integral element for SF I would imagine should not only be based on equality, fairness, and genuine inclusion but about building a better future for everyone that underpins and influences what we can all do in shaping a better society.
    Seeking, constructing and sustaining peace is one of the most complex, intriguing and outright frustrating challenges we face across our global community. Long-standing and bitter conflicts between identity groups continue to frustrate the quest for peace in the world. In the North of Ireland whilst there appears to be a general desire for true transformation there must also exist a desire and collective willingness to build a new future involving the ‘hard to reach’ regardless of who or what they are or represent. People whether as individuals or within their communities have and will continue to reach out across their divides – these efforts are sincere and appear to be persistent. I feel that there is a realisation that by combining energies, creative responses, adopting risky approaches and sitting down together we can finally confront and transcend our differences, extend horizons, explore new political spaces and get on with the task of reconstruction. Grassroots peace building, local activism, participatory methods and honest dialogue can offer alternatives and also strengthen and enhance the search for peace.
    Peace is one thing nearly everyone in Northern Ireland wants. There is a genuine opportunity for further change, and also in attempting to bring to fruition a more open and tolerant future. This doesn’t mean that our many difficulties, and problems will go away. There are always problems. This is partly because every person is different – learning more about each other, being able to identify and understand one’s emotions, values and individual needs are important aspects of building, making and keeping personal local and national peace. Perhaps Sinn Fein’s suggestion to ‘talk’ and to move us towards working for more and deeper intercultural and inter-communal understanding with unionists, and for better communications and improved abilities to address and resolve our differences without violence has to be taken for what it is – this is a shift in terms of their engagement strategy and should be welcomed. There has to be room for other views too particularly within the wider republican family.
    We must all not only try to work to end sectarianism, bigotry, discrimination, prejudice and violence but also to contribute to designing structures that are capable of creating, and maintaining peace within and between communities. We all can do our part – and uncomfortable conversations are key to furthering the possibilities of change

  18. On Wednesday night last I
    attended a commemoration in the Bogside for two young men killed by the British
    Army 40 years ago in 1972.  These young
    men were Volunteers in the Irish Republican Army although they were not on an
    operation when they were killed.


    As an Irish Republican I was
    comfortable amongst the large crowd that had attended to remember these two
    young men however it also made me think of Declan Kearney’s article penned in
    An Phoblacht.


    This year another 478
    families, friends and communities will also remember the 40th
    anniversary people who died in 1972 the worst year of the conflict.  Amongst them will be the relatives of British
    army, RUC, Loyalists and innocent civilians who died at the hands of
    Republicans.  Over the following years of
    the conflict many more people died at the hands of the varying groups involved
    in the conflict including the British security services and each and everyone
    of those deaths caused heartache and pain to families, friends and communities.


    Since the inception of the
    peace process republicans have been challenged at many junctures from the cease
    fires, putting weapons beyond use, the declaration by the IRA of leaving the
    scene and Republicans engaging in policing. 
    Each of these major events had the potential to tear the Republican
    community apart yet with discussion, and engagement with local communities the
    outcome actually strengthened Republicanism.


    I think that this is due to
    the fact that that modern republican politics are now increasingly understood
    as being about the true republican principles of Tone and Emmett.


    The basic principles of modern
    republicanism must embrace all the cultures on this island if we are to improve
    the lives and conditions for everybody. 
    In order to do so we must heal the hurt of the past and build trust
    amongst former adversaries and allow a political debate to take place
    that will guide us towards the future. For republicans, we will of course seek
    to persuade for a united Ireland.


    I think Declan Kearney’s article is a genuine attempt to bridge
    that gap between us all, and to challenge republicans and others to take a walk in someone else’s shoes and see the
    hurt and pain that we have inflicted upon each other.  It is about looking at basic human emotions
    and allowing people to make a genuine contribution in resolving the problem of dealing
    with the past.


    As I walked away from that
    commemoration I saw the pride that the families of the dead volunteers had for
    their loved one but also the pain that still exists forty years on.  I believe republicans can take a
    lead in helping to diminish the pain caused by the conflict by seeking to heal the
    hurt caused to all victims. Not only can this help to heal wounds, but also
    reinforce the need for an all encompassing

    reconciliation process; and beyond that, perhaps allow more
    people to realise that true republican politics is about working towards the betterment
    of all our citizens.

  19. On March 16th I  blogged the following and after reading all that is here I thought I’d add it in to the discussion which is robust and challenging and with good shades of reality to it – just the way I like it.
    On Saturday 3rd March Brian Rowan reported in the Belfast Telegraph on the  challenge Sinn Fein’s national chairman, Declan Kearney, brought to the IRA to say ‘sorry’ not for the war but for the hurt caused by all its armed actions. Sorry, it has been said, is among the hardest of all words to say but it is also said that sorry is one of those words that has transformative power. Even the British government knows that sorry can change things these days. Kearney said:“Regardless to the stance of others, we should recognise the healing influence of being able to say sorry for the human effects of all actions during the armed struggle,… All sensible people would wish it had been otherwise; that these events had never happened, that other conditions had prevailed. The political reality is those actions cannot be undone, or disowned. A deep suspicion remains within unionist communities towards republicans due to the legacy of the armed struggle. This is a time for republicans to free up our thinking, to carefully explore the potential for taking new and considered initiatives in the interests of reconciliation.”Kearney’s challenge has yet to be publicly responded to by the leadership of the Republican Movement in the sense that we have not yet heard how, or even if, they will move to such an apology –  a ‘sorry.’ But Kearney’s article in An Phoblacht has engendered much conversation. Rowan, rightly I think, situates this article and the idea it transmits into the public domain as part of the Republican Movements process to engage beyond ceasefire with political realities and with the process of reconciliation.I cannot yet let go of my belief that there are Republicans who believe that this process of reconciliation will lead to everyone joining ‘their side’. But that is in no way to suggest that they are disingenuous. The truth about us all is that we hope, in the inner recesses of our being, that reconciliation will mean that everyone comes to see it ‘my’ way. That’s why it takes a big heart and a sturdy character to  become involved in reconciliation. The deepest human fears have to be faced in that process – the fear that you might have been wrong all along, that your view of the world might have been compromised by your own prejudices and that it is you that will have to do the changing. But what the process of reconciliation offers is, in the short-term, companions with the same worries about the process and, in the longer term, a more robust view of the world developed through engagement and shared across a broader base of people. That means a developing society which is more likely to cohere even when under stress. So suspicion of Republican engagement in a process of reconciliation is natural. In that sense none of us is above suspicion when it comes to what we want out of the process.Ironically a willingness to say sorry is at least to credit enemies with a humanity that isn’t always attributed to them. It is to look someone in the eye whom you were once prepared to dehumanize and injure at best and at worst murder.It would be churlish to look to the Republican political agenda as evidence of a devious game in play. That political agenda is made clear by Kearney elsewhere:Our political strength in the North remains solid; it has provided the momentum for our national project in recent years. But there is still untapped electoral and party-build potential.
    The objective in the North must be to maximise our electoral performance. However, in learning from our experience of the last four years, a step change is needed as to how Sinn Féin uses our political authority and power in the institutions.
    The party’s strategic position in the North has grown out of national and democratic struggle. Our political strength now needs refocused upon the growing primacy of economic and social issues. Beyond the Northern elections we need to bring forward a coherent political strategy for delivering change in government and ensuring maximum effectiveness in local councils. What next for Sinn Fein? By Declan Kearney March 4th 2012So the attempt at ‘sorry’ is not to be snubbed. But it is also true that sorry is not enough and for some people it will never be enough and can never be enough. Sorry doesn’t repair the world. Sorry doesn’t bring back that which has been lost. Sorry doesn’t right the wrongs and rebuild the broken. The limitations of ‘sorry’ have to be acknowledged, even if it is the hardest word. Yet it holds transformative power at political and social levels for it allows people to begin to look each other in the eye and to acknowledge a shared humanity which had to be denied to keep the war going and which is often still denied in what are less deathly but neverhtheless sectarian circumstances. When we debase each other using words like ‘scum’ then we dehumanise. Sorry is a humanising word and that is a good place to start.Unlike Harold Good I don’t believe that what Kearney said has to be responded to without suspicion. I believe that suspicion is crucial in the process of saying sorry and it is crucial that the sorry sayers face the suspicion that others have. Otherwise the sorry doesn’t mean very much and its healing power is decreased. What is important, though, is that suspicion doesn’t dull anyone to the intention for something new and to the possibility of a new hope, however fragile it might be, of a reconciling society.We should not forget all that sorry acknowledges- that there was one offended against- that hurt has been caused- that there is recognition of harm done- that there is repair needed and this is an offer for that repair to begin.Sometimes, in mediation practices for example, reparation is offered along with the sorry but always with the recogntion that things can never go back to the way they were. My personal belief is that this is a crucial thing to be said, over and over again – that things cannot be made right, that the past cannot be restored, that nothing can fill the gap left by one who has gone. Sometimes people are held back from responding to an offer of repair because they know things can’t be made right and they don’t want to be part of a pretence – so sorry should never be viewed as an attempt to make right or put back. Rather sorry is an attempt to begin repair work which will take people to somewhere new.Equally it is true to say that sometimes people resist responding to sorry because they cannot let go of sorrow, grief and mourning because it so strongly attaches them to their lost loved one. It is a complex picture but without the clear acknowledgement that sorry does not, cannot and is not intended to be an attempt to gloss over what happened then the possibilities that saying sorry open up can always be resisted. The chink of light can be shut out and the transformative power of sorry can be lost. For some people in this society we must respect that choice.For others there has to be liberty and courage to respond.

    • Morning Lesley – and welcome to the discussion at Your description of sorry as a “humanising word” has to be one of the big arguments for using it. And I think you’re right that we all have stitched into us suspicion and scepticism. We all want to know more. What is this about? Why now? Who’s going to say what and when? But all of us need to understand that this is not just about what the IRA did. It can’t be about one sides sorry, and there should be a contribution from the many different players/actors stretching well beyond the republican and loyalist communities. One possible answer to why now is found in the post below. We’re 40 years on from all the Bloody Days of 1972 – not just Bloody Sunday and Bloody Friday. And maybe the biggest challenge is in that post below – for us all to walk in the shoes of others. Your description of the conversation on this website as robust and challenging is what it should be. There’s no point in a cosy conversation. And I imagine as the debate moves off stage into private dialogues it will become even more difficult.