An uncomfortable conversation* at #Feile15 [*in the sense that a lack of hope leads optimism to wither]

Uncomfortable Conversations panel feile15Pulling names out of a hat to decide the order of speaking, Presbyterian Minister and deputy Equality Commissioner Rev Lesley Carroll began by looking through “a dark lens” and delivered a downbeat assessment of the present state of reconciliation in Northern Ireland – we need to “change our tune, change our dance steps, or we’ll burrow a hole in the ground and fall into it”.

She was followed by CRC chair Peter Osborne who spoke about continued segregation, relative funding of reconciliation and the need to sell the positives of the peace process.

The light has gone out of what the GFA means at an individual level.

Academic Sophie Long referred back to the warmth, empathy and interest she’d experienced around her contribution to the Loyalism in 2015 panel at Corrymeela over the weekend.

You’re not supposed to win conversations … defeating the other is no way to build peace.

She suggested that it’s time to listen for the so-far unheard voices and deliver the peace that they’re looking for.

Assembly Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin replaced Martin McGuinness in the advertised line-up for the Uncomfortable Conversation on Steps to Healing and Reconciliation. He assured the 140 people gathered in St Mary’s assembly hall that he wasn’t demoralised about a lack of progress on reconciliation as he could see progress being made.

Sectarianism is a form of conversation, it’s a way of building up a defence against listening/communication

After giving their opening pitches, facilitator Susan McEwen gave the panellists the opportunity to quiz each other before opening up to questions from the floor.

Several panellists unpicked and tried to understand some of Mitchell’s comment:

… the fault line that’s in our community is around the constitutional question which wasn’t and which couldn’t be resolved at the time of the Good Friday negotiation. [25 minutes 30 seconds into the audio]

He believed that the constitutional question was a barrier to reconciliation because “people know this issue will be returned to”.

Panellists queried whether steps were being taken together to make NI work as we journey forward? Or are we still in a struggle that puts a United Ireland first? And does this ambiguity mean that republicans don’t feel respected for the moves they have made?

Uncomfortable Conversations hall feile15During the questions from the audience, one contributor cast doubt on why republicans were engaging in First World War commemorations. Many in the hall shook their heads in disagreement and Mitchel took the opportunity to justify why he was taking part in WW1 events.

In the end it was a very civilised conversation and the main discomfort was around the gloomy vista that most of the panel surveyed in Northern Ireland’s near future rather than any difficulty in listening to clashing perspectives.

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