Last month, the Reverend Dr Norman Hamilton told the Irish Seanad that it was “mystifying and really quite disheartening that, to my knowledge, neither the government here in Dublin, nor in London, nor in Belfast, nor in Washington, n have a clear policy defining what reconciliation is, or the steps needed to get there.”
The Seanad collected testimonies on the constitutional future of the island of Ireland.
Speaking to the News Letter yesterday, Reverend Hamilton said he had been ‘heard very well’ by Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Irish Labor and Sinn Fein.
However, there had been no returns from London, Belfast, Dublin or Washington. Of all the stakeholders, he is only aware of Sinn Fein having published an article on reconciliation. However, he carried “the 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 generally cited by nationalists in the context of Irish unification, which is not lost on unionists. “That, I think, is an inevitable consequence.”
Her own job description is “to do whatever is necessary to rebuild broken relationships.”
He suggests two key steps; – “That every level of society must say ‘we want reconciliation to be an integral part of the future of our people'”.
Another would be “much more care taken by politicians in the language they use about opponents”.
He added: “I would welcome thoughtful conversations with political leaders and civil society who are genuinely interested in making progress on this.”
The UK, Irish and US governments and Stormont’s executive parties were asked to comment. Reverend Hamilton suggested that none of their responses offered a working definition of reconciliation.
DUP MP Deborah Erskine responded that ‘justice is fundamental to reconciliation’ and added that Michelle O’Neill’s assertion that there was ‘no alternative’ to the IRA campaign is “grotesquely offensive to IRA victims”.
Mike Nesbit said that when he led the UUP, he routinely asked other leaders for a definition, but none of them responded. “Norman Hamilton is right,” he said. “Given that this is a core value in the Belfast Agreement, it is high time we had an agreed view.”
Alliance said it was “deeply committed” to fostering reconciliation through means such as integrated education and shared housing, and that the issue “has not been taken seriously enough” by devolved executives.
The US Consulate responded with a full press release issued last month during a visit to NI by Senior Policy Advisor Derek Chollet.
The Irish Foreign Office said its definition was “…deeper mutual understanding…initiatives which seek to address and heal the legacy of division and violence and build a society based on respect for all identities and traditions”.
The NIO said it was committed to the Good Friday Agreement and would continue to work with the NI and Dublin parties to deliver “a stable, peaceful and prosperous NI to all communities who are at peace with their past. and looking forward to a shared future”.