Belfast Telegraph

Alan McBride's letter to the leaders

My wife Sharon was 25 years dead on the 23rd October this year. On that day I posted a blog on Eamonn Mallie's website challenging both of you to sort out your differences and to get back into Government.

I have been encouraged by the response to the blog from right across Northern Ireland, the Republic and GB and I now want to personally challenge you to do the right thing, to show some of the courage that your predecessors demonstrated and end this stalemate.

I have no interest in the blame game as I believe it to be disruptive and unproductive. The real issue keeping the DUP and Sinn Fein from sharing power is attitude. With the right attitude nothing is insurmountable.

In my blog I cited an example of when I moved into a mixed area from a Loyalist housing estate. It was about two years after the bomb and the move was prompted by a desire for my daughter to get to know little Catholic girls.

It worked as she became best friends with two sisters that lived across the street. One Eleventh Night as I was getting ready to go round the bonfires in my old area, their parents called over and invited me to a barbecue at their house. I accepted the invitation and called over before going round the fires.

What happened next has stayed with me for a long time and has served as a reminder of the kind of Northern Ireland I want to live in. When I arrived at their house they had built a small bonfire in their back garden, just for me.

There were no flags on this fire and no effigy to be burned. I sat around the fire, drinking beer and eating a burger. We talked about everything and anything as our kids laughed and played together in the garden. Later on as I stood watching another Irish Tricolour burn on another Loyalist bonfire I thought about what had just happened in my Catholic neighbours' house and wondered why it couldn't be like that all the time.

That's the kind of Northern Ireland I voted for in 1998 and it's still the kind of Northern Ireland I want to be part of in 2018. But I need you guys to make it happen and you can if you show genuine leadership instead of entrenched opposition.

I want both of you to tell those of us who have to live together in this small place what does it mean to be a good neighbour in this society.

What could you do for the 'other' that would make them feel welcome and their culture and traditions valued? How much is 'good neighbourliness' a factor in your thinking?

This is the challenge that I want you to meet - for me, for the people of the Shankill, the people of Greysteel and for people all over Northern Ireland.

I challenge both of you to a live debate with me on the issue of being a good neighbour. There is no need to bring a facilitator in from amongst the great and the good, just a live televised interview with an ordinary guy who lost his wife in a bomb.

I want to hear you explain to the people of Northern Ireland what you are prepared to do to make this country work, in what way will you be a good neighbour. I don't need you to rehash the problems that you face as most of the country is weary with that debate. I need to see how you're going to fix it and when, and I think that will only start when we hear for ourselves that you accept each other as good neighbour.

Belfast Telegraph

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