Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 April 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Absence of key guests fails to ruin the Sinn Fein party

Part of the story was always going to be about those who declined the invitations to attend – and their absence cannot and should not be ignored.

This conversation on the unfinished business of the peace process needs all voices.

And this was one of the major themes of yesterday's discussion – how to make that happen.

Martin McGuinness said he would love to be invited to a similar conference on the Shankill Road. Answering concerns that this initiative on reconciliation is being driven by Sinn Fein, his response was: "Let's design a process where we are all in the lead."

Yesterday's story is not just about the unionist politicians and loyalists who stayed away.

It's about the people who did come into the room. Chief Constable Matt Baggott, victims' campaigner Alan McBride, former PUP leader Dawn Purvis, clergymen Harold Good, Norman Hamilton and Gary Mason.

They said what was on their minds, and they were heard.

Queen's academic Peter Shirlow included in his presentation the thinking of people he'd spoken to ahead of the event – a feeling that Sinn Fein broadcast and there is no right to reply and they don't listen.

The republican message was the need to build on this conversation – and to work with others to create ways of doing that.

Beyond yesterday's event, this is the next challenge.