One of Sinn Fein’s most senior leaders will speak directly to republicans on Sunday – just weeks after challenging them to say sorry for the hurt caused by all IRA armed actions.
Declan Kearney, the party’s national chairperson, is the keynote speaker at the Easter commemoration at Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast.
His words will be delivered to an audience expected to include some of the most senior figures in the IRA’s “war”.
The initiative being explored is to move the peace process beyond ceasefires, the political agreement and the ending of the armed campaign — to an “authentic reconciliation” phase.
And Sunday’s speech will be listened to and heard much wider than the republican community.
“There are two possible explanations for the Declan Kearney intervention – and crucially, they are not mutually exclusive,” former IMC Commissioner Lord John Alderdice told the Belfast Telegraph.
“The sceptical politician in me says that Sinn Fein, recognising that further political success in the South depends on putting the unsavoury aspects of the IRA past behind them, are trying to recruit unionists to help them persuade the wider community to ‘let the past be past’ – or at least the violent republican aspect of it.”
But, Lord Alderdice added: “The alternative explanation for me is that Declan Kearney and his colleagues may now be taking the logical next step along a road of
real political progress into a genuinely new terrain of democratic commitment.
“The possibilities of this are groundbreaking, and for me there is enough evidence of good faith in the last 20 years of engagement with Sinn Fein that we must also take the next steps down this path and see where it takes all of us – not just republicans.”
Loyalists will also be listening on Sunday.
“This is such an essential conversation,” Frankie Gallagher of the UDA-linked Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG) told this newspaper.
He also challenged political unionists to engage in the debate.
“Unless our unionist political leaders take this conversation forward the Protestant community won’t,” Gallagher added.