When Mairtin O Muilleoir became Belfast’s Mayor he said he would positively address the issues of remembrance and reconciliation during his term in office.
He was reflecting Sinn Fein’s commitment to continue using sincere gestures, initiatives, compromises, and, new thinking to build the common ground of reconciliation and peace.
A shared future won’t be achieved unless we dismantle the barriers of sectarianism, fear and distrust. That presents challenges for everyone.
It would be much better if republicans and unionists could take initiatives together and in an agreed way to develop reconciliation. But conflict resolution isn’t easy.
That’s why gestures, language and initiatives do carry huge significance, when they’re offered in a spirit of generosity.
The Sinn Fein Ard Chomhairle agreed that Mairtin should participate in the Armistice Remembrance ceremony with the British Legion to encourage understanding and trust, show respect, and promote authentic reconciliation.
Particularly against the ongoing context of deep political impasse, and the relentless use of the past as a political weapon, the Armistice Day proposal challenged republicans. Reservations were expressed in the Party, north and south.
However, perfect timing and circumstances rarely conform to the needs of the greater good. If that was the case, Martin Mc Guinness might not have met Queen Elizabeth.
The decision to try and walk in one another’s shoes; to better understand each other, and replace division with trust, is not a negotiation to get something in return.
The reality of division, pain, injustice and resentment run very deep in the north. Our society has much to forgive and have forgiven.
Reconciliation isn’t a one way street. We all need to have the courage and compassion to reconcile and make friends with each other.
Meanwhile, republicans will continue building upon Mairtin O Muilleoir’s Armistice gesture, because that’s the right thing to do.