Outgoing President Of The MCI Speaking At Sinn Fein Ard Fheis

Sinn Féin Ard Fheis. 16/6/19
Dia diabh go leir. Go raibh maith aguv as an gcuireadh a bheith anseo inniu.
Thank you for this invitation to address you today on the topic of reconciliation and healing. I appreciate your graciousness in inviting me. I have been asked to share a few brief thoughts on what might help authentic reconciliation and healing to be developed in our society, remembering that reconciliation is not a project but a never ending process. I am very glad to do this but please note these are personal remarks and not the official statement of the Methodist church or any other group for that matter.

The first thing to say is that reconciliation would be really easy if we were beginning with a blank sheet of paper. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to be reconciled if we all didn’t have a past. But of course, there is no blank sheet of paper, we all have a past which we can’t forget but the key issue for reconciliation is what do we do with the memory now and how do we unlock the future. In these few minutes I want to offer three challenges. The first is a personal challenge to every single citizen while the second two are more corporate challenges to Sinn Fein and indeed all political parties in this land. But first the personal one.

I would challenge every single person to make a point of going looking for somebody who you know you will disagree with and have a coffee with them. In other words take time to get to know them. The aim of meeting isn’t necessarily to come to agreement but just to get to know the person who you disagree with. It’s still too easy in this land to spend our whole lives amongst people with whom we agree and a segregated community where we only know people with whom we agree will never be reconciled. Only as people from ‘the other side’ become people we know personally can the fear of difference be removed. …… So that’s a challenge to every individual.

Now on to the two more corporate challenges. I have said already that, of course, we can’t forget our past but if healing and reconciliation are to come then we need to find ways of remembering without celebrating, of commemorating without glorifying.

People have many different ways of describing the ‘the Troubles’ but one thing I think everyone can agree on is that there was no military victory for anybody. Clearly many were killed and injured on every side and clearly every side will want to commemorate and remember but when that is done in a glorifying, celebratory, victorious way then it hinders reconciliation and increases pain instead of fostering healing.
Furthermore, as we remember we must also examine ourselves as to whether we need to apologise for wrong things we have done even if we continue to believe they were done for right reasons. If we regret any of the means we have used in the past then we should express that regret because words of apology and regret can play an important part in opening the door to reconciliation and healing.

And, the other challenge that I would offer to Sinn Fein and indeed to all the political parties in Northern Ireland is this. During my year as President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, as I have spoken with political leaders of all persuasions here I have heard them all say that they want the same thing - namely the betterment of life for all people in this society. Of course, they all have different understandings of how to achieve the betterment of life for all people but nevertheless they are united in their desire for exactly that. So, I would urge you and all other parties to unite around what you agree on which is that you want the best for all people. Get on with doing that, start working together on issues that matter to people and let all the issues of sovereignty and so on which divide us follow on in due course.

I want to finish by referring to a conversation recorded in the Bible, in St John’s Gospel Chapter 4, between Jesus and a Samaritan woman who he met at a well. When they first met they were separated by gender, by culture, by religion, by politics and by history because he was a Jewish man and she was a Samaritan woman. Yet the encounter which they had changed her life and indeed transformed the whole village and surrounding area.
But it all began when Jesus asked the woman to help him get a drink from the well.
In other words, uniting around working for the essentials of life was the beginning of a process of healing and reconciliation. I pray that the political parties here can unite around their common desire for the betterment of life for all people and start working together on these issues even as disagreements on issues of sovereignty and history persist.

People reconcile as they work together. 

Go raibh míle maith aguv. 

Issued by     Rev. Roy Cooper
                    Press Officer
                    The Methodist Church in Ireland
Mobile:        07710945104