Belfast Telegraph

Orfhlaith Begley: Reconciliation doesn’t mean having to give up your ideals

By Orfhlaith Begley MP

The latest example of unionist faux outrage at a republican doing something republican betrays a failure to grasp what reconciliation really needs to be about if we are to move forward with a genuinely shared society.

As the newly-elected Sinn Fein MP for West Tyrone, I have made it clear that I am determined to reach out the hand of friendship to unionism.

But almost immediately I find myself in the firing line for having the gall to speak at a dignified and solemn event to mark the anniversary of the death of another republican MP - hunger striker Bobby Sands.

How dare I attend this event, comes the protest from the usual quarters.

It is a depressingly familiar lament which probably makes for good headlines but provides little else in terms of a constructive political contribution.

It also betrays a fundamental lack of understanding as to what a genuine reconciliation process should actually involve.

Reconciliation doesn't require republicans to stop being republicans or unionists to stop being unionists.

A reconciled society isn't one where only a single set of beliefs, history, values and allegiances are given credence or legitimacy.

That is what this place used to be and there is no going back to that. A truly reconciled society is where differing narratives, differing allegiances and differing aspirations can co-exist peacefully in a spirit of mutual respect and where all are given parity of esteem. That is the kind of society mapped out in the Good Friday Agreement but clearly, significant sections of political unionism have still not grasped the need for a reconciliation process on that basis.

They cling to a notion of eradicating a republican identity.

They want sackcloths and ashes rather than parity of esteem and mutual respect.

But republicans aren't going anywhere. Neither are our unionist brothers and sisters so, sooner or later, they will have to come to terms with the need to share this island together and on the basis of equality. Sinn Fein are absolutely committed to reconciliation and reaching out to unionism.

Our record clearly demonstrates that.

But a commitment to reconciliation does not mean ending our commitment to republicanism. And if and when a unionist leader finally reciprocates in a meaningful way, it won't dilute their commitment to unionism, nor should it.

We will not throw the gesture back in their face or demand that they stop attending commemorations for their dead.

We will not accuse them of hypocrisy or insincerity if they continue to honour organisations that were guilty of killing members of my community. These are the uncomfortable realities that we all have to learn to live with but we can find a way.

It will be a long and difficult journey.

However, it is sad that, 20 years on from the Good Friday Agreement, many within political unionism have still to take the first step.

Orfhlaith Begley is Sinn Fein MP for West Tyrone

Belfast Telegraph

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