Sinn Fein’s Booklet Uncomfortable Conversations is now available to the public. I recommend it to everyone, not only because Fr Martin Magill and I have a piece in it.
The TWO words of the title are vital for our wee country if we are to move forward into a peaceful future.
We all need to be part of the conversation. After twenty years of political peace we are being constantly made aware that societal peace is not yet a reality. Indeed it is still a long way off. Flags. The naming of parks after an IRA Hunger Striker. Parades. Even the threat to Stormont falling over the Welfare Bill. We still live in a divided place with tensions. For a better future for all we need to break down the barriers caused by our walls, our wounds and our wealth.
To do that we need to listen to one another. Fr Martin Magill is constantly suggesting that we have Key Note Listeners at events as much as Key Note Speakers. This is simple but profound. We need conversations not shouting matches. We need to stop, to listen and hear.
By listening to each other’s stories and sharing ours we might begin to understand where we all come from and begin to see past our caricatures of the past and begin to build something different.
We need conversations. In this book Sinn Fein have invited conversations about the past, the present and the future. They have, through the series in their newspaper An Phoblacht of which this book is a collection, invited a wide range of people to participate in the conversation.
We also need to make sure those conversations become uncomfortable. There is no point in us listening and sharing and avoiding that which has created the walls or the wounds. We need to deal with the issues.
We are only twenty one years on from the bloody events of The Troubles. A BBC Spotlight programme can very quickly remind us about the violence, the death and the life changing injuries that our 35 years of conflict caused. The conversations are going to include those who caused some of the carnage. That in itself is uncomfortable.
When we start sharing and listening in uncomfortable places we then need to find the ability to open uncomfortable conversations up to one another.
In our contribution to this book Fr Martin Magill and I we were able to ask about the past:
One well thought through party line is how “there was no other way in 1969” than the violent campaign. We’ve heard regrets that people suffered but never a real questioning of whether it was wrong. The united front of the party line on this answer becomes tiresome and we as Christians, particularly with an example like Martin Luther King Jr in the same decade, would suggest that there was indeed another way.
and about the present:
We dare to ask that when Sinn Féin sits down to think through their policies and actions, that they do not only consider what the response of their own supporters will be but that they also put themselves in the shoes of the peacemakers and the other communities and ask how will this contribute to a shared future and how this will promote an equal city on an equal island.
Civic society needs the opportunity to engage in conversation with all of our political parties. We would encourage the DUP, UUP, PUP, TUV, SDLP and Alliance to all find forums for such conversation. Let us be brave enough to make those conversations uncomfortable. Let us not only have separate initiatives similar to this one from Sinn Fein. What about these conversations happening in rooms with us all together? Fr Martin Magill and I are willing to be facilitators.
In the meantime this book Uncomfortable Conversations is a start. If you wonder about the future of our wee country and more than that are keen to start conversing and listening then this little book at a very cheap price is a contribution. Hear what Professor Kieran McEvoy, Professor of Law and Transformation at Queens says; and Dawn Purvis who succeeded David Ervine as leader of the PUP; and Jude Whyte whose mum was killed in one of two bombs at his family home; and many others. Listen as Declan Kearney, Mitchel McLaughlin and Chris Hazard respond for Sinn Fein.
AWKWARD DANCE OF PEACE
Between the bloody dark
And grace’s redeeming light
Between the hate riled gloom
And the rays of forgiveness, bright
Friendships can be messy.
Between the blowing up
And the pieces fixed on landing
Between the bleak black funerals
And the bridegroom standing
Friendships can be messy.
This is an awkward dance
With partners disconcerting
The tender tentative steps
With all our wounds still hurting
Take two up and one back
Move close to hold the seams
Swirl in the suspicious space
To soar in audacious dreams.
Awkward Dance Of Peace available in Steve Stockman's poetry book Awkward Dancers & Audacious Dreamers