Peace comes dropping slow," observed W B Yeats. That is clearly true in Northern Ireland, where you might conclude we have not yet achieved a "settled peace". But what is peace? Is it merely the absence of conflict? Or should we aspire to a reconciled society? In which case, how we do reconcile communities with such deep divisions, where there are strong disagreements not only about the constitutional and legal status of "our home place", but even what we call it?
A spirit of generosity and patience is required in order to make real and lasting progress. That sense of patience needs to recognise that 22 years on from the Good Friday Agreement is only midway through our peace process. That was a view expressed by some of the 35 prominent interviewees who contributed to the Holywell Trust Forward Together podcasts, which have now been edited into the book, Lessons From The Troubles And The Unsettled Peace.
"We are in a peace process that will last at least 50 years," suggests Peter Osborne, former chair of the Parades Commission and the Community Relations Council. Simon Hamilton, who has been Finance, Health and Economy Minister, adds: "Nobody wants to hear that it's a 50-year job, but that's maybe at the low end of the scale."
If we want a different outcome than in the past, surely we need to do things differently, including how we govern. To again quote Osborne: "We need to take dramatic, bold policy decisions that are going to structurally change this society."
There actually seems to be a consensus that it is harmful to our society to separate people on the random basis of what religion they were born into - the resolution of which means integrating the education systems and housing estates. Yet, the steps needed to achieve this are constantly avoided and delayed. We live with the consequent service duplication and waste on a daily basis, living also with a system of public service delivery that too often fails us.
If our structure of politics prevents that radical shift, perhaps we need other ways of doing things - not to replace the political system, but to supplement it. "The current mechanisms for democracy that we have aren't all the tools that we need," observed the departing head of Community Foundation for Northern Ireland, Andrew McCracken.
He was one of several interviewees enthused by the experience of citizens' assemblies in the Republic and other places, including France. If a citizens' assembly can resolve the ultra-contentious issue of abortion in the south, there are surely opportunities for assemblies to be used to address such problems as our peace walls, paramilitary recruitment and the restructuring of our health and education systems.
Citizens' assemblies select participants through a randomised process that balances community background, age and gender. Experts give evidence and the members reach a balanced conclusion. The advantage of assemblies is that the membership is not influenced by perceived electoral advantage or disadvantage. As more than one politician has commented regarding public sector reform: "We know what we have to do, we just don't know how to get elected again afterwards."
But just as important is the need to engage in politics in the spirit of respect. Too often the broadcast media has been regarded as a bear-pit. "What is the purpose of trying to start discussion and debate if all we're going to do is poke people in the eye with a strick?" asks former Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir. "No consensus is possible in the adversarial format that's devised," observes the former Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry Ken Good. "So that's not the way forward for me."
Achieving a settled and reconciled society is about much more than mutual respect, though. It is also about dealing with the underlying tensions that separate people - whether by religion, class, or some other reason. It remains true that people's life chances are very strongly related to the community they were born into and the school they attended.
For many working-class boys in particular, the lack of optimism and ambition discourages them from doing well in school and can drive them into the arms of paramilitaries. "The role model in some communities is the local UDA brigadier," warns victims campaigner Alan McBride. Senator Mark Daly, speaker of the Irish Senate, suggests that Northern Ireland cannot be free from the threat of a return to violence until the scale of deprivation and lack of opportunity for many is resolved.
A similar point is made by Fr Martin Magill, who delivered the funeral Mass for journalist Lyra McKee. He believes that it is wrong to talk of a peace dividend from the Good Friday Agreement until this is experienced in "the Creggan, west Belfast, the Lower Newtownards Road, the Shankill".
"How do you demonstrate (progress) to local communities, where you have unemployment as pronounced as 50 years ago, where there are levels of poverty and deprivation, lack of social housing?" asks former PUP press officer Sophie Long. "The jobs that are coming are not reaching them."
Yet, despite the anxieties and the warnings that peace is not yet finally won, there was a sense of optimism across the politicians, civic leaders and authors interviewed. Although the leaders came from across the social spectrum, the observations were consistent and positive. People want solutions - and are willing to put forward ideas on how to make progress. It is the political structure that blocks much of this from being achieved.
This book contains a range of ideas on how the hard-won absence of conflict can be turned into a settled peace. We need brave and determined leadership in politics and civic society that takes us beyond the relief that the mayhem and killings of the Troubles are behind us. We need to turn Northern Ireland into a prosperous and productive place in which people of all backgrounds are happy to live.
Lessons From The Troubles And The Unsettled Peace is edited by Paul Gosling and published by the Holywell Trust, a peace and reconciliation charity, with funding from the Community Relations Council of Northern Ireland and Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs. Copies are available from the Holywell Trust (holywelltrust.com)