Goal of Sinn Féin reconciliation strategy is “destruction of Unionism” – by Alex.Kane

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I was born in Northern Ireland in 1955. My natural parents were British citizens as, later, were my adoptive parents. I am a British citizen by birth and I remain one by choice. That’s part of what makes me a unionist.

I’m an atheist, so my unionism has nothing to do with Protestantism or anti-Catholicism. I’m a republican (in the sense that I prefer a presidency to a monarchy), so my unionism has nothing to do with a King or Queen as head of state.

I’m a unionist because I believe that the collective benefits of my citizenship of the United Kingdom far outweigh the supposed collective benefits of an untested United Ireland. Indeed, I have yet to hear a convincing argument in favour of giving up my present citizenship, giving up Northern Ireland, giving up the United Kingdom and swapping it for something which has never existed before.

I have no difficulties at all with those who do wish to make the case for Irish unity. If they can set out a vision, agenda and strategy which is costed and coherent then, of course, I will listen. But all I ever heard when I was growing up—and for many, many years afterwards—was the case for Irish unity being made against the background thud of explosions and teary-eyed propaganda about ‘A Nation Once Again.’ The SDLP wasn’t much better, with John Hume insisting that an ‘agreed Ireland’ was the right way ahead, even though he must have known—and known for a long time—that most unionists regarded an ‘agreed Ireland’ as code for a united Ireland.

From my perspective, both nationalists and republicans promoted Irish unity as a self-fulfilling Utopia; the answer to the Irish Question. Yet I always had the impression that they had never really thought the whole thing through. Unionists were assured that there would be a special place for them in a united Ireland—but how could there be a special place for them? Put bluntly, how could unionism even survive in a united Ireland?

Sinn Fein and the SDLP are republican/nationalist parties. Within Northern Ireland’s borders they have been able to promote their case for unification, able to campaign for the ending of Northern Ireland’s membership of the United Kingdom and the erosion of NI as a separate country, followed by its absorption into a newly united Ireland. From October 1972, when the British/Irish governments agreed that any new post-Stormont settlement in NI would include an ‘Irish dimension,’ pro-unification parties have been accommodated and given a deliberate platform from which to promote their agenda.

But what would happen in the event that a majority in NI voted in favour of unification? How, exactly, would unionism be accommodated in the new, sovereign, independent Ireland? Since it strikes me as very unlikely that you could retain a referendum option for the six counties which had previously been NI to vote themselves back into the United Kingdom, then the conclusion must be that unification kills off unionism.

Similarly, what happens if the 700,000 or so formerly pro-Union voters decide to row in behind the remnants of the UUP and DUP? They would have a pretty formidable bloc vote in the Dail and, consequently, huge influence on socio/economic policy and just about everything else. But to what ultimate purpose, if they were denied the political/parliamentary mechanisms by which they could work towards a vote to bring Ireland back into the United Kingdom? In other words, what is the role for unionism in a United Ireland?

A united Ireland would be entirely different to anything that had gone before. Such a country, independent of and without a very visible manifestation of the ‘British presence’ has not, in fact, existed for hundreds of years. We are not talking about the reunification of East and West Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This would involve the coming together of two countries on the basis of a vote in Northern Ireland which probably wouldn’t represent much more than half of the electorate.

Why would anyone imagine that the unionists ‘trapped’ in the New Ireland would be sanguine about their fate? Isn’t it very likely that there would be widespread unrest and tension, maybe even the emergence of a new anti-United Ireland terror organisation?

I don’t think that either the SDLP or Sinn Fein has any answers for unionism in a United Ireland: and nor do I think they understand the nature and scale of the change that would follow unification. They don’t understand the economics of unity, which may explain why their arguments are little more than jibber-jabber couched in feel-good cliché.

I have yet to see a clear agenda and methodology for converting two into one. I have yet to hear a pro-United Irelander move beyond the mythology and ballad and onto the much more difficult turf of explaining what a United Ireland would look like; how it would function? how it would be financed? what the currency would be? what the party political make-up would be and so on and so on? Feel free to add your own questions to the list!

That’s the real debate which needs to be had about the future. I suspect that the SDLP and Sinn Fein have avoided the debate precisely because they don’t know, let alone have the answers. Sinn Fein’s ‘Uniting Ireland’ propaganda is mostly soft-focus, turquoise-tinged baloney. The SDLP have rowed back from anything resembling a coherent argument because they have largely accepted that they are now the very junior partners in this process—so why give any hostages to fortune?

In fairness, I think that unionists have also made a pretty poor fist at promoting the benefits of the Union. There is still a tendency to shelter beneath the comfort blanket of ‘what we have we hold’ even though that blanket now looks a little threadbare in places. Northern Ireland has changed since March 1972, when unionists lost their Parliament. It has changed even more since Sinn Fein joined them in government. But the Union still exists, as does the United Kingdom: and for all the hoopla surrounding the run-up to the referendum on Scottish independence I still believe that the United Kingdom will remain as it is for a very, very long time.

Which means that republicans/nationalists in Northern Ireland will remain the minority. If that is the case then both communities are going to have to learn to rub along together, share their social and political future and ensure that Northern Ireland has the best possible government.

All of which brings me to the touchy subject of reconciliation. I hate the IRA. I hate the fact that they waged a terror campaign they could never win. They knew they could never win it. That’s why they talked to British governments from 1972 onwards. That’s why they accepted the armalite/ballot box strategy. That’s why they ended up locked at the hip to DUP, co-governing Northern Ireland.

To be totally honest I don’t actually want Sinn Fein in government here, but I accept their entitlement to seats based on their votes. I accepted the Good Friday Agreement because I believed that the IRA had been defeated and Sinn Fein trapped. Their involvement in the new government was a price that had to be paid.

Again—and it is a delicate point—it has long concerned me that so many people felt able to vote for Sinn Fein—bearing in mind, of course, that I make no distinction between the IRA and Sinn Fein. The IRA’s campaign was pointless, gratuitous, ruthless and immoral. They terrorised for the sheer sake of terrorising—yet Sinn Fein’s vote (in every part of NI) has continued to grow. Compare that trend with the failure of political parties ‘representing’ loyalist paramilitaries to make an election breakthrough.

That’s why I despise Sinn Fein and the ongoing ‘Uniting Ireland’ project charade. By their own admission it’s only a “section of unionism’ they need, anyway, so the rest of us can just be ignored and bundled in against our will. I don’t believe one word—not one single word— of the reconciliation strategy (and, make no mistake, it is a strategy) being rolled out by the likes of Declan Kearney. I don’t believe it is sincere. Rather, I believe it is cynical and manipulative. It’s not about a shared future in a United Ireland; it’s about the destruction of Unionism.

The language of Adams, McGuinness and Kearney at various Easter commemorations was the language of deceit and code—a sort of republican parseltongue (the language of serpents in the Harry Potter series). The users of the language know exactly what they mean: the rest of us don’t.

The present Sinn Fein campaign exists because of the failure of the IRA’s terror campaign. They failed to bomb, bully, or blackmail unionists out of our unionism. They failed to terrorise successive British governments into either unilateral withdrawal or, at the very least, becoming formal persuaders for a United Ireland. They even failed to convince the Irish electorate to endorse unity—which is why the South overwhelmingly endorsed the partitionist Good Friday Agreement.

So this Uniting Ireland project and making eyes at unionism (albeit just ‘a section’) is a brick-cold exercise in reinvention, re-positioning and re-writing of the past. It’s about convincing unionists, British governments and security services to ‘apologise,’ acknowledge joint culpability, and admit that the root cause of the Troubles is ‘British occupation’ and ‘unionist misrule.’

All I see is a strategy. It’s the ‘war’ by softer tactics and waffle. It’s a propaganda campaign in which every word, statement and sentiment is weighed and measured before being aimed at the intended audiences. It reminds me of Robert Hughes’ comment in The Culture of Complaint: “We want to create a sort of linguistic Lourdes, where evil and misfortune are dispelled by a dip in the waters of euphemism..”

Personally, I won’t ever be ‘reconciled’ to what any terrorist, from either side, did. Each and every one of them made the choice to do what they did. None of those actions—all of which will have been calculated, prepared, practiced and ‘justified’—can be excused. Sorry doesn’t cut it for me. It never will cut it for me. What they did cannot be and should not be forgiven. We should not be allowed to forget it, either. We should not allow ourselves to be pushed into the thoroughly absurd position in which terrorists are permitted to portray themselves as more sinned against than sinning.

I have no interest in reconciliation with the IRA or their apologists. I have no interest in being ‘won over’ by this latest version of ‘the struggle for Irish freedom.’ I don’t need to make peace with them or pretend that I can ever have a normal, honest political relationship with them. And—before you rush down to the comments box below—I apply exactly the same standards to loyalist terrorists, too!

A very long time ago I made a choice. I chose not to lift a brick, or join a terrorist group, or intimidate my fellow citizens, or supply information which would lead to the death or injury of someone else, or provide an alibi, or supply a ‘safe’ house, or look the other way.

The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland made exactly the same choice, even though, in many cases, they lived in the trouble spots and had to cope on a daily basis with the criminal activities and bullying tactics of the various terrorist organisations. Yes, people make mistakes and do very stupid, very bloody things. They may come to regret those actions, but society must never pave a path towards making it possible for them to retrospectively ‘justify’ those stupid, bloody things.

If there is to be genuine reconciliation in Northern Ireland it must be between the people who chose the civilised, lawful way of life. Once you start to build a reconciliation process around the needs and demands of the terrorists and their apologists you simply make a mockery of decency and justice and allow the terrorists to continue to peddle their beliefs, self-justifications and legacy.

Peace and political stability can’t be built on ground which hasn’t yet been vacated by the very terrorists who primed and kept stoking the instability.


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About Author

Alex Kane is a columnist for both the News Letter and the Irish News and a regular contributor to the Belfast Telegraph. He is also a frequent guest across a range of BBC, UTV and RTE programmes--specialising in political commentary.


  1. Hi Alex– this is amazing piece of art-history- have to agree with you- if the godfathers really wanted an united Ireland they would not be sitting in Stormont-Dail today- they lost their dirty war-yes  they used and abused their power to gain political advantage over the dead.And they have been in talks from 1972 -dubble standards- they are making noise- again playing with the united Ireland -keep the die hards and the sectarian flag wavers happy -its all a bluff -for power /greed- they did a good job -wrecking scaring the nation almost to death for what? It is all a game with hearts and minds of humanity ! They are enjoying the power that they have been given, those who deny the past are doomed to repeat it. Brits America-made it easy for them so that they will go down in history -the peace makers -egos. Out of the ditches ,no responsibility for past actions on all sidesall are in denial are guilty of the truth. I hope that people get truth& justice for the heinous crimes that were committed by State -363 murders- PIRA-pro s/f -over2057 murders -Loyalists 1019 murders- unknown murders 82- Irish State murders 5 persons.47,000 injured-PIRA took 644 lives and 80 children – all in total  over 2057 and the country is suffering from PTSD fear, if they don’t vote the dictators on both sides, people are scared that they will be hurt and harmed again. It was all wrong -it was cold blood murder, henious crimes, against humanity! Ps i respect you for your open and honesty Alex! Please help make change and get the fascists dictators out and help build trust respect and spirit for everyone not just some! What is runing this country is all out of order- sectarian hate that was brought to the table and those who did wrong will have to face the law of the land. So do we tell our generations that all you have to do for power is beat people into submission for greed power over  control  over communites- History will reveal them as the most ruthless  of ruthlessness of this we place we were born into hate.

  2. Jackiemcdonald on

    Just reading what Alex has written reminds me of some of the concerns I had years ago when I was asked how I would feel if a United Ireland was to become a reality. First thing that came to mind was where would the Rev Ian Paisley fit in or how would he survive in such circumstances,remembering that he was in his prime at the time. Then I queried how would loyalists be treated,not just ex-prisoners,Known Paramilitaries and suspected Paramilitaries but ordinary working men and women from a loyalist background. I suggested at the time that if our PUL communities were forced into a United Ireland then Loyalist Paramilitaries would become the equivalent of the IRA,we would be fighting the State. The Irish economy wasn’t really a consideration for loyalists then but I doubt if it could have withstood the bombing and loss of business that would surely have followed. I don’t think too many of those involved in the fight to Unite Ireland or those who fought to resist it gave the economy the slightest thought. I’m happy enough in my own mind that Ulster is not under threat and there certainly won’t be any Irish Unity in my lifetime but I realise we have to share our future and be confident enough in ourselves not to feel threatened by others aspirations .

  3. Have to say that respect must be earn not given-why would they really want an United Ireland anyway. 1974 Sunindale agreement-  both sides the godfathers – all that they really ever wanted was power and control over their communites ! Did they care who got in the way – blown it bits-heads blown off beat into submission! NO they are ruthless on both sides and one day the truth will out and the godfathers will face -their karma. So many children grandchildren today without mammies daddies brothers sisters brothers grandchildren- while those who incicted heinous crimes and planned killings-live a lavish life style with their families-while families of lost loved ones just have grave yards and still missing their loved ones that is their life sentence! This is serious crimes against humanity – against humanity! We all want peace -but this country has it all wrong -and it will all come home to hunt -the monsters who created pain and suffering! Change is need truth and justice- we can live with our difference-true peace will follow with respect!

  4. Ciarán MacAirt on

    Very interesting piece but it is blotted by its very narrow view of our recent history, especially the most latest conflict. It is very easy to blame “terrorists”, be they Republican or Loyalist. I would find this piece even more thought-provoking if Mr Kane tipped his hat to the other protagonists in the misery (although he may tell me they had no part whatsoever and they are some of the civilized people he writes about): the British Army, the RUC and – dare I say it – politicians themselves, especially those who felt it necessary to repress and discriminate. Of course, which came first or begat the other is the sub-text to our politics today. It is moot whether we will able to answer it in our lifetime (but, then again, I would be wary of the fine line between oversimplification and denial).

  5. Ciarán MacAirt on

    Oops just “latest” instead of “most latest” and any other typos on the dog and bone. Memo to self: read what ye have written :b My bad

  6. former united irelander on

    Excellent, honest article. And I am a United-Ireland-er. The recent past has took a heavy toll but I am resigned to the fact that the GFA reinforced partition. SF were neutralised in an effective way and now NI’s future is secured. Catholics/Nationalists like myself openly espouse the need for a UI and our right to rule ourselves but privately acknowledge that it is an aspiration. I do want Irish people to determine their own futures as a whole but the rampant corruption at the heart of the Irish Republic has put people like me off. The whole sectarian headcount sway that the Shinners so dearly rely upon may come to pass but by this stage the new Northern Irish identity will have taken hold and the Catholic middle class will not want to take the risk. I used to defend SF to the hilt but I have woken up and smelt the coffee. 

  7.   The sinners are money mad- they build the their businness on a dirty war! $hame £inn. It will all come home to hunt them! It was all wrong  a waste of -lost lives for what. Building empires greed corruption dictatorship.

  8. ” By their own admission it’s only a “section of unionism’ they need,
    anyway, so the rest of us can just be ignored and bundled in against our

    Isn’t this exactly what the border commission did, bundled nationalists into the 6 counties.

  9. Harold Good (Rev) on

    I have read Alex Kane’s contribution with a mixture of respect for his position, his right to express it and the temptation to ‘switch off ‘ that comes from having been there so many times that you know what is coming next !  Believe me, this is not to deny or deride his right to say what he thinks. Far from it. Nor is it to suggest that there is not some validity to aspects of his argument or his articulation of the real and/or imaginary fears of unionists, whether with a small “u” or a large “U”. 

    Having said that, my personal difficulty with Alex’s contribution is that it reminds me of an old 78 rpm
    record (remember those?) with the needle stuck in a well worn groove playing the same old line, over and over and over again !  Or like trying to go forward with the gear lever stuck in reverse !

    Alex, it goes without saying that I respect your self-declared athiesm. I say this as someone who often finds he has more in common with non-believing friends than with some of those who make the loudest professions of faith !  However, while people of faith do not have a monopoly on either the desire for peace or the things which make for peace, I ask you to respect the position from which I and others of us are coming.

    As ‘stumbling pilgrims’ who try to understand and take seriously the example as well as the teaching of Christ, we are all too aware of the very ‘uncomfortable conversations’ which he held with a variety of people within another troubled and violent period of time. People who also lived in a very divided society – passionate about their political views and aspirations and as certain of the ‘rightness’ of their causes as any of us !   To them, whether he was addressing issues of personal relationships, physical violence or intransigent/obstructive political or religoius attitudes, his message was the same … there is always “a better way.”

    Simply put, what those of us with whom Alex may have difficulty are seeking to do is to find a new and better way, for us in our situation, in our day.  Surely Alex, you will not begrudge us that ?
    This is why there are those of us who are prepared to take Declan Kearney’s statement/s very seriously, have chosen not to dismiss them out of hand and wish to encourage those conversations, however ‘uncomforable’ they might be at times.

    Undoubtedly all of this will be seen as naive to some sincerely questioning minds – as well as to  seasoned cynics.   And of course there are risks !  But there are much greater risks in the alternatives which at best is to do nothing and at worst to deepen the chasm between us by derision and/or the summary dismissal of what may well hold the potential for a new and better way to deal with the legacy of our past and the possibility of a new spirit within and between us.

    To deride and dismiss is to fall back into the old way of exclusion … and we know where that took us !  Alex, I refuse to believe that you, any more than any of us, would want to go there.  

    It is as understandable for the people to whom the Union is precious to react to references to a united Ireland as it is legitimate for others to cherish it as their aspiration.  But as this is but a part of the suggested conversation it must not be allowed to prevent us from addressing the other issues which have huge relevance for us all.

    As Jackie McDonald wrote in his latest contribution, ” … I realise we have to share our future and be confident enough in ourselves not to feel threatened by other aspirations.”

    • Alexkane221b on

      Hi Harold,

      My atheism plays no part at all in my difficulites with reconciliation.

      I mentioned it merely to indicate that you don’t have to be a Protestant to be a unionist: in the same way as you don’t have to be a monarchist to be a unionist.



  10. Hi Alex – I’ve been thinking about your piece for a few days now; wondering what it’s all about. I’m sure many people have reasons to “hate” the IRA, and many others will have reasons to “hate” the loyalist organisations, “hate” Governments – British and Irish – “hate” politicians, “hate” the Churches, the security forces and intelligence services, “hate” journalists and the many others who they blame for the decades of conflict here. But to get lost in that maze of blame and hate is to dwell in the past – and not to deal with it; it is to let that hatred fester and then spill into another generation. I think forgiveness is something that is individually decided. I’ve listened to some of those who have been hurt the most, by the very worst of the IRA’s actions  – including Gordon Wilson and Alan McBride – speak remarkable words that I’m not sure I could have found had I been in their shoes. They are an example to us all of what is possible. What happened here is not just a story about  bad “terrorists”. Take the “Stakeknife”case back in the news in recent days. Here we had an Army agent operating inside the IRA whose task it was to cull other suspected agents/informers, interrogate them and prepare them for execution. Who knew what he was up to? Where do we apply the terrorist label in this episode, and who should we hate? You write of your concern “…that so many people felt able to vote for Sinn Fein…Compare that trend with the failure of political parties “representing” loyalist paramilitaries to make an election breakthrough.”
    They may not have voted for them, but many people from the Protestant/unionist/loyalist community will be stepping into parades soon in which to quote Jackie McDonald “the UVF will be in the Somme gear…and the UDA will be suited and booted.”
    I’ve been reading what Harold Good, Jackie McDonald and many others have been writing on this website about the Declan Kearney/republican initiative on reconciliation and trying to heal hurts. They are talking to each other about all of this – but not in terms of hate and blame.It is far too easy for us all to get angry – much more difficult to think outside our own narrow perspectives. The latter is what these “uncomfortable conversations” are about – the challenge of talking to and hearing the other.

  11. @ Barney -lets not beat about the bush- there will be no peace without justice-and i believe that you are playing this down-hate is a strong word-but we have to deal with the injustices that those who brought hate to the table for power greed and control over communites. And not sweep it under the mat for the sake of  humanity greed power and egos. The godfathers on all sides must be taken for war crimes and sectarian crimes-those who created the monsters. are playing with people lives they are not to be trust in my opinion-why because they are dictators fascists and ruthless -a lost cause so many killed blown to bitslets talk about what we are going to do about it-the families first of lost loved ones. The die haeds the sectarian votes the green and orange. NI is dysfunctional Stormont is toxic. It is like the school yard beat enough children over the heads with a big stick and your in elected -it was all wrong cowards rule.

  12. Hazlett Lynch on

    Hello Alex.  Thank you for your analysis of the current (and future) situations and for your honesty about the ‘rerconciliation industry’ – my words.  This industry has been established by the government, and has bought many vulnerable people into it and paid them well. 
    I work with the innocent victims of terrorism, and have sought to promote true reconciliation in Northern Ireland.  But what have I found?  Just this: the reconciliation that I was promoting, and still do, is not what the government, the funding bodies and other ‘do-gooders’ want; in fact, it is the very opposite of that fiasco that Europe funds with its millions of Euros.  The EU will fund ‘pretend’ reconciliation because that shows that it is doing something to improve things in Northern Ireland.  It has a ‘tick-box’ mentality, meaning that if it can show that it has funded so many ‘reconciliation events,’ it is contributing to our best interests.  The fact is that our country has not made much progress in the past almost two decades, despite superficial appearances to the contrary.
    For example, the EU will fund tea and scones parties, and day outings; it will keep inexperienced people in post and support those who support the government policies of member states.  The EU, through the SEUPB, does not seem to be remotely interested in promoting genuine peace and reconciliation.  Even when organisations have been funded to do this crucial work, it was being manipulated by SEUPB people by insisting that a percentage of project participants had to be from the ‘other’ side.  Social engineering is a big part of the modus operandi of the EU and almost a condition of receiving its funding, in my experience – a point that I raised with them and objected to on numerous occasions.
    The ‘reconciliation industry’ has promoted useless initiatives (because they keep people on the ground actively involved in paper pushing, following protocols, adhering to silly procurement policies, keeping all kinds of irrelevant records, and ensuring that the EU gets the credit for whatever has been done.  It is ego-stroking activity that the EU supports, not real reconciliation work.
    Like you, Alex, I have no wish or desire to be reconcilied to the men and the organisation that murdered my young brother in 1977, but with this difference – certain necessary conditions must be met before I will be reconciled to anyone.  The IRA, including those who were not actively involved in that atrocity for my family (the commanders, 2IC’s, brigadiers,etc – many of whom probably now sit in Stormont), will have to acknowledge that it was totally indefensible and unjustifiable for them to murder my policeman brother.  They must admit to this, and make a specific confession – a general confession is useless – telling everything they know about that terrorist attack (who did what, when, how, where and why).  Without this, there will be no reconciliation between us. And any attempted justification or re-writing of the facts or cover-up, either by them of by the HET, will merely demonstrate the hypocrisy and insincerity of their words.  As David Ervine once famously said, the IRA are ‘corporate liars,’ which makes anything they say suspect from the outset.
    They must repent of what they did; which means that they must come to see it and be convinced that they did was totally unacceptable behaviour as a means of fulfilling political goals.  They must say this and show it.  They must with profound grief for and hatred of what they did, turn away from it and turn to God in Christ Who alone can forgive them.  Without true and genuine repentance there is no possibiity of reconciliation between us.  The IRA is coin vinced of the rightnes of its campaign of terror, so getting them to admit of wrongdoing and repent of its sins and crime is a dead duck.  Which is another way of saying that IRA/SF is not remotely interested in reconciliation in Northern Ireland, so anyone who is taken in by their sugared words is a bigger fool that even he or she is prepared to accept.
    These evil-doers must make a commitment not to return to such practice in the pursuit of their political goals and aspirations. Here they have a moral responsibility to inform on those within their camp who are still committed to and involved in terrorist violence.  They must do all in their power to forsake their past living and behaviours, both in practice and intellectually, and thus demonstrate that they have really changed.  Without this, there will be no reconciliation between us.  I’ll not hold my breathe for this to happen.
    This implies that once this admission, etc has been made and received, those actively involved and their apologists must be barred from holding poublic office at any level.  This was done successfully in Colombia under Press. Uribes.
    The change I’m looking for goes well beyond a cessation of terrorist activity, though it includes that.  I want to see a change of heart, a change of mind and of thinking about the things they did, that they  were totally wrong and without defense or justification, a change that will lead to fundamental change in direction.  Unless the change goes right to the root of the problem, it is ephemeral and will not last.  I am looking for lasting change because everything short of that will lead us back into what we do not want – more terrorism.
    The ‘do-gooders’ will not buy into this because it challenges and undermines everything they have thought and done in the past, and that many are still doing.  They are big into healing deep wounds lightly, superficially.  They do not seem to be interested in the total health of the entire body of people.  They want to be well-thought of as ‘peace-makers,’ as Adams & Co. now are.  They want to secure the plaudits of men and nations, and receive whatever honours of state that can be heaped upon them.  This self-serving ‘industry’ is nauseating in the extreme, but it always attracts those who are in it for themselves. 
    Indeed, probably the best reconciliation work is done away from the public gaze and away from the cameras; but this is not recognised because the EU gets no credit for it. 
    Finally, I do not believe that Northern Ireland’s difficulties can be resolved by writing God out of the equation.  Let’s admit it – all human governments are, by definition and practice, anti-God in their orientation, so there is no hope to be expected from that quarter.  The sooner our nation gets back to God in Christ, the sooner will we see a return to better days for us all. 
    And let us not depend on the churches to help in this regard either – their past record is not impressive.  No.  Our people must do before God what I have stated the IRA must do at a political level, and seek their reconciliation first with God and then with each other.  Only when that has been done, will Northern Ireland know the blessing of God once again. 
    Neither atheism nor humanism has anything worthwhile to offer our beleaguered land and people.  The sooner we realise that, the better.

  13. I am
    struggling to comprehend how reconciliation will lead to the destruction of
    unionism? What has unionism to fear from reconciliation? What has unionism to
    fear from ‘difficult conversations’ about the past? What has unionism to fear
    from a shared future? In fact I would argue that it is in unionism’s interest
    to engage politically and strategically in any and all conversations taking
    place around these issues. A settled Northern Ireland at peace with itself will
    be just that – a ‘settled’
    Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.

    The fear
    expressed by Alex is reminiscent of that which I heard from the DUP and Paisley
    for many many years. Shouts of ‘this is a slippery slope to a united Ireland’,
    to engage is a ‘sell-out’ and those who do are ‘traitors and Lundy’s’, still
    ring in my ears at times. The same fear impacted and influenced many lives in
    working class areas. Where we were born dictated our life chances (it still
    does in many respects). Many of us did not have the choices that Alex speaks about and fear
    makes people react in different ways. To simplify conflict as those who were
    wrong and those who were right is to ignore the social, economic and political
    conditions that existed. As my friend David Ervine used to ask, “which
    came first bloody awful conflict or stinking polluted politics? Did the
    so-called bad people parachute in from another country or were they part and
    parcel of the society in which we lived?”. My birth place and my
    experience led me to believe it was the latter on both counts.

    I accept that my
    experience of the conflict is mine and that other people have a different
    experience.  It does not dilute my unionism if I engage with republicans; it does not make me any less a loyalist if I talk to former members of the IRA, it does not make me less a ‘Prod’ (more an ethnic label than a religious one in this context) if I spend time with Catholics. Reconciling Unionism and Republicanism in ideological terms is not realistic. To do so would mean we either all become Irish or we all become British. While a few on either side pursue this as some sort of utopia, increasingly more people are recognising that there is no such thing as a purist in this society.

    It is listening to others experience of the conflict, sharing my
    experience, accepting the diversity of that experience and resolving to build a
    peaceful and stable future that is essentially what reconciliation is about.

    The way to dispel
    fear is to talk and engage. Make no mistake; Sinn Fein is as fearful about
    dealing with the past and having those difficult conversations as anyone
    else. They have opened the door to the new and unknown. The question is, does
    unionism do the usual and the predictable and kick the door shut? I would like to think
    unionism would take the opportunity to have those difficult conversations,
    explore the hurt caused on all sides and find a way to deal with our past that allows this
    society and those most affected to look to a better future.


  14. Gerard Foster on

    Firstly I am not too sure why Alex did not post this article on the “Sorry Debate” blog, as I think that is where it should have been posted.
    On that site I wrote that I did not believe that PSF were being truthful about what they were saying, so I at least have that in common with Alex. I come from an INLA background, and as a Republican the reason I do not believe they are being honest is I see no effort by the Provisional movement having the needed conversations within Republicanism. Actually they would claim I am not a Republican.
     But I see no effort either within the Nationalist community to reconcile with the deaths caused by Republican actions, so if they are not ready to do it in our community, why should Unionists believe that they want to do it with their community?
    But back to the points Alex makes that I want to question, “the touchy subject of reconciliation” and the fact that “he sees no distinction between the IRA and Sinn Fein” Alex makes clear he does not want reconciliation with either Republicans or Loyalists, I have no problem with that, that is his choice. But he then says that reconciliation should be between people who did not get involved in “terrorism” Maybe he can explain why these people need to be reconciled if they did nothing “illegal”? 
    He stated he sees no distinction between PSF and the IRA, that baffles me, what about younger members of PSF who had nothing what-so-ever to do with violence? I could also say that the UUP came out of the UVF an anti-British government “terrorist” group, that was armed illegally by the great and the good of Unionism, OK I accept that was 100 years ago, but more recently we had in 1974, the great and the good of Unionism standing beside the “Loyalist terror groups” then, again threatening the British government. Then into the 1980s, the DUP had its Ulster Resistance, armed and ready to fight to their last drop of blood etc etc. Does Alex accept that these actions led people to get involved in violent actions? Should these people not be held account and told that sorry is not good enough, and actually you do not want them to say sorry as it will be meaningless? Some of these people are members of Alex’s former party the UUP. 
    Alex leaves out the State Forces out of the violence, why? As Barney Rowan points, the State Forces used informers and agents, let them commit crimes, even murder, do you want to reconcile with these people Alex?
    But with such a narrow and blinkered view of reconciliation, that it is to be had by only those people with clean hands, what does Alex believe the rest of us should do? What about the people who looked the other way and did nothing, but by doing nothing were actually helping the violence continue, do they have clean hands because the did not throw stones, shoot, bomb, hid guns and “terrorists” or help in any way, except they did nothing at all? 
    Maybe Alex was one of the UUP members who blocked the roads and work places in 1974, and is now trying to do a “Pontius Pilot” and claim his hands are clean? 
    The only thing I can be sure of is, as both Alex and I do not believe in a God, we will never be reconciled with Hazlett Lynch, though Hazlett speaks many truths about the European Funding policy, Christ is just not on our agenda when it comes to reconciliation.  


  15. This is a post to update the conversation. In a speech in Dublin yesterday, Martin McGuinness repeated something he said recently in Belfast. He was speaking on the question of reconciliation and dealing with the past.
    “Proper reconciliation is key to the future,” he said.
    “Reconciliation is essential between our communities, republicans and unionists, and also between my community and the British State. It will not be easy but must happen. Republicans realise that dealing with the past will not be an easy process for us, republicans inflicted much hurt during the conflict and hurt was inflicted upon republicans, but if we are to build a new future it is necessary and it is a road that I am not afraid to go down.”
    In an interview in the latest edition of An Phoblacht, Declan Kearney who is leading for republicans on this reconciliation/healing hurts conversation commented that political unionists are “missing the pulse… and failing to recognise the importance of meaningful engagement on how we should try to address the hurt experienced by all our people during the war”.
    Responding to unionists he said: “Republicans don’t need to re-write any narratives…We want to talk with others about how we collectively author a new future for our children and that will require courage, compassion and imagination.”
    Also in the interview, the Sinn Fein National Chairman said: 
    “We know the remarks from myself and Martin McGuinness have encouraged very progressive discussion amongst the wider unionist and Protestant community, including senior loyalist figures. These are very diverse and important voices and I would encourage them to engage directly with us.”
    On Thursday In the Belfast Telegraph, the senior UDA figure Jackie McDonald responded:
    “What has unionism to fear – does anyone honestly believe that unionism is going to be undermined or weakened?”
    McDonald is right – unionism has nothing to fear, unless it fears face-to-face dialogue on these big questions, and fears going down the road that Martin McGuinness says he is prepared to travel. If people seriously want answers to questions about the past, then it is in this conversation that they can explore what is possible and what is not. The hot air and headlines of recent days are not going to produce answers. A range of people from the Protestant/unionist community, including loyalists, are taking this discussion seriously. Others should do the same – and to take Martin McGuinness down the road he speaks of, means others having to take those same steps; journalists, Churches, governments – British and Irish – politicians, security forces, intelligence services and others. McGuinness is right – it won’t be easy, but it is necessary.

  16. Jackiemcdonald on

    Oh those terrible Paramilitaries,they are the only ones who ever did wrong so let’s make them tell the truth and then send them somewhere far away. All so simple eh,we won’t be bothered by drug dealers or criminals if the Paramilitaries go! Telling the truth won’t embarrass the British Government or the Security Forces because the never did any thing wrong,sure they didn’t? Loyalists all joined Organisations to be Godfathers,nothing to do with their friends and families being blown to pieces in pubs,clubs and shops on the Shankill,Sandy Row or other parts of Belfast and in the Rural areas,not at all. Nothing to do with crawling through rubble on their hands and knees praying they might find some sign of life,instead finding body parts and dead friends and/or relations,oh no! When working class experienced death and destruction on a regular basis their immediate reaction wasn’t Oh I MUST GO HOME TO MY TYPEWRITTER AND GET A PARAGRAPH OR TWO OFF TO THE NEWS LETTER,their automatic instinct was to defend their homes and their families,to Return The Serve as David Ervine put it. Responding in kind didn’t make those involved rich nor did they become Godfathers,in many cases they became victims themselves,young volunteers lost their lives and their freedom. Many came out of prison to find they were all alone,others who were never in prison still have their demons and suffer from prescription drug dependency and/or drink related problems. Far from the riches Ive heard described. Of course the Blood and Thunder speeches made by some Politicians had nothing to do with these young lads becoming involved,oh no! When a survey was carried out in the Maze Prison asking Loyalist Prisoners why they joined the Paramilitaries a large percentage said it was because of what certain Politicians were preaching week in week out. Some people sit in their Ivory Towers and pass judgement on ex-prisoners,ex-combatants from either side,because they know no better,and they are not interested in the truth. If they knew the whole story,the real story,they would be afraid of the truth. Truth and
    Justice would put this Country back 30 years,the way forward is not looking for revenge,though I can understand genuine victims seeking some closure or explanation,but somehow agreeing a formula that can at least allow us to talk and to listen to each other. I’d rather have civil words than civil war,discussion rather than destruction,inter talks rather than interfaces,there is no easy way to achieve a shared future. There cannot be a TWO TRIBES situation,where we are forever divided.