Belfast Telegraph

Will IRA saying sorry really lead to reconciliation here?

Sinn Fein chairman Declan Kearney has sparked a debate within the Republican movement. It could be a defining moment, says Brian Rowan

When Declan Kearney addresses Sunday's Easter commemoration in Belfast his words will be spoken not just for his republican audience, but to be heard elsewhere.

Sinn Fein's national chairman has started something with his recent article in the republican newspaper An Phoblacht.

In it he used the word sorry - used it as a challenge to republicans, and in particular to those who were part of the IRA campaign.

Kearney wrote: "Regardless to the stance of others, we should recognise the healing influence of being able to say sorry for the human effects of all actions during the armed struggle.

"All sensible people would wish it had been otherwise; that these events had never happened; that other conditions had prevailed. The political reality is those actions cannot be undone, or disowned."

On Sunday we should get the next set of carefully thought-through and scripted words.

And Declan Kearney's involvement in this Easter commemoration is proof - if that were needed - that he is speaking for the wider republican leadership.

At his level there is no such thing as a solo run or one man's thinking.

What is being explored is the possibility of a new initiative that attempts, across the board, to address the hurts of a decades-long conflict. And it is inside this frame that the word sorry fits.

Presbyterian minister Rev Lesley Carroll, who was a member of the Eames-Bradley Consultative Group on the Past, has described sorry as a "humanising" word, "for both the one saying it and the one to whom it is said".

But if that word is used at some point, it will not be an apology for the IRA armed campaign.

What Declan Kearney and other republicans are talking about, is using words to acknowledge hurt.

And from a republican perspective this would speak to the families of "combatants" as well as "non-combatants".

If used, at some stage, it will be a qualified sorry. This was clear in a recent interview given by republican Eibhlin Glenholmes, once called Britain's most-wanted woman.

"I have no qualms about apologising for any hurt," she said.

"And I regret that so many of our lives were lost."

But she made clear that she was not saying that the IRA war was wrong.

"Absolutely not," was her response to my question. "We didn't go to war - war came to us."

So, there will be those who will dismiss that limited sorry.

But remember what the Rev Carroll said. She understands the "humanising" worth of what is often described as the hardest word.

Elsewhere in this newspaper today Lord Alderdice comments on the Kearney/republican initiative.

He deals first with the political scepticism, including his own; thinks out loud about what republicans are up to. Are they trying to use people for selfish political advantage?

But the former IMC Commissioner then moves to another thought - to the point where he thinks this initiative could deliver something ground breaking.

This is what it is really about - about delivering a real peace, "authentic reconciliation" as Declan Kearney describes it.

But that can only happen if others engage, not just republicans. This is a conversation that needs everyone - and it is not just about one side's sorry, however qualified.

The discussion sparked by the Kearney article is now happening off-stage as well as on-stage.

It started with a challenge to republicans to engage in "uncomfortable conversations" and to take the lead in helping to shape an "authentic reconciliation process".

Those who know the past cannot be ignored or wished away also know that this conversation, however difficult or uncomfortable, has to take place.

Kearney's argument is better now than later.

Will it produce something ground breaking? That depends on who is prepared to come to the table.

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