‘HEARING THE OTHER…’ By Brian Rowan 

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It was one of those ‘what next?’ conversations – a thinking out about the next phase of the peace process, about what has happened and what still needs to happen.

The venue on Monday evening was the Arts and Cultural Centre at Duncairn Avenue in north Belfast – the speakers Declan Kearney of Sinn Fein and the retired army officer Kingsley Donaldson, who stepped in as a last-minute replacement for his brother, the DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson.

Former Methodist President Heather Morris steered the event and the conversation through its various steps.

Donaldson spoke of a past that is “politicised” and of “the clash of the narratives” – the issues that linger but that should not hold us back.

He acknowledged the series of “uncomfortable conversations” – the talking both publicly as well as privately, adding we are “very dominated” by the past and that there is “little agreement”.

As for the future, he put his thoughts in the frame of cautious optimism.

As Kearney spoke, he posed a question: Does a momentum exist for reconciliation and if not why not?

He said reconciliation is not an option but an absolute imperative.

Then, he described the hurts visited on many – the people of the Shankill Road, the Finucane family, the Donaldson family and the people of the New Lodge, just a stone’s throw from where last night’s event was hosted.

The Sinn Fein MLA spoke of victims – not right and wrong victims, not innocent or guilty victims, just victims. And he said there is no point ending wars for them to be carried on politically and psychologically.

Will everyone agree with everything that was said last night? The answer, of course, is No.

But does that mean we shouldn’t listen?

We have to hear the other – whether we agree or disagree.

On Tuesday, Heather Morris tweeted: “Challenging and encouraging input from @DeclanKearneySF & K Donaldson.”

These conversations must continue.

They must, but are the people outside the room – political and other – up for the challenge? Are they really interested?

We need the answers to those questions.

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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 www.merrionpress.ie


  1. A winner takes all attitude persists.
    Therein lies the problem for us all. However another way can exist in which a creative Constitutional set up be created to please a convincing majority. Here the giving and taking will be major and generosity will be required all around and the issue of symbols must be tackled – the GAA and IRFU have already taken steps to deal with such matters.
    Only in the context of a permanent or at least generational new Constitutional arrangement can the past/victims be dealt with.
    Until that time the past/victims are cards in the hand of whoever is dealing on a particular day.

    The Irish dimension is still suffering from a lack of parity and as a 50% + 1 scenario will arise at some time in the future the ball in many ways is in the court of Unionism to safeguard ALL our descendants from further conflict

    • As I mentioned in my comment. The Irish dimension is a nothing which has been poorly served by GFA. But without doubt it will cause problems for all sides and perhaps in particular for Sinn Fein. There is no cultural nor social parity, the opposite in fact. BBCni in particular use bad grammar in a deliberate way to undermine our Irish dimension. I have the mails from them to back that accusation up. BBCni are so extreme that they deliberately ignore BBC HQ’s own training manual on terminology use.

  2. I believe local churches need to do more here. Yes, there has been much done, and many are trying. But there needs to be more at grass roots level in churches, from the pulpits, in youth groups, in house groups etc. Reconciliation is a (the!) key theme of the gospel message. And yet the lack of reconciliation in NI continues to be one of the biggest societal problems. What don’t we (the church – I am a church person) understand?! #YouOnlyHadOneJob

    • Only a permanent fix of the Constitutional position will give space for reconciliation to occur at ALL levels of our society. Religion is no longer the thing it once was, that also allows us to see more clearly that religion was never the true basis of the recent conflict.

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