Ex-Presbyterian moderator asks London, Dublin, Washington and NI politicial parties for their definition of reconciliation
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Last month Rev Dr Norman Hamilton told the Irish Seanad that it was "mystifying and really quite dispiriting that, to the best of my knowledge, neither the government here in Dublin, nor in London or Belfast or Washington, has a clear policy setting out what reconciliation is, or the steps needed to make it happen."
The Seanad was taking evidence on the constitutional future of the island of Ireland.
Speaking to the News Letter yesterday, Rev Hamilton said he had been "heard really well" by Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Irish Labour Party and Sinn Fein.
However there had been no feedback from London, Belfast, Dublin or Washington. Out of all the stakeholders, he is only aware of Sinn Fein having published a paper on reconciliation. However it carried "an assumption that reconciliation will automatically have taken place" in the event of political unification, which he describes as "far fetched".
He believes that when the term "reconciliation" is used in the public square it is usually cited by nationalists in the context of Irish unification, which is not lost on unionists. "That, I think, is an inevitable consequence."
His own working description is "doing whatever is necessary to rebuild broken relationships".
He suggests two key steps;- "That every level of society needs to say ‘we want reconciliation to be part and parcel of the future for our people’”.
Another would be "much more care being taken by politicians in the language they use about opponents".
He added: "I would welcome thoughtful conversations with those in political leadership and civic society who actually want to make progress on this."
TheUK, Irish and US governments and the Stormont Executive parties were invited to comment. Rev Hamilton suggested that none of their responses offered a working definition of reconciliation.
DUP MLA Deborah Erskine responded that “justice is fundamental to reconciliation" and added that Michelle O'Neill's claim that there was "no alternative" for the IRA's campaign is "grotesquely offensive to IRA victims".
Mike Nesbit said that when UUP leader, he consistently asked other leaders for a definition, but that none of them responded. "Norman Hamilton is right," he said. "Given it is a headline value in the Belfast Agreement, it is long past time we had an agreed view."
Alliance said it is "deeply committed" to fostering reconciliation through means such as integrated education and sharing housing, and that the issue "has not been taken seriously enough" by devolved Executives.
The US Consulate responded with a comprehensive press statement issued last month during a visit to NI by Senior Policy Advisor Counselor Derek Chollet.
The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs said its definition was, "...deeper mutual understanding... initiatives that seek to address and heal the legacy of division and violence and build a society founded upon respect for all identities and traditions”.
The NIO said it is committed to the Good Friday Agreement and will continue to work with NI parties and Dublin to deliver “a stable, peaceful and prosperous NI for all communities who are at peace with its past and looking forward to a shared future”.