Reflecting on reconciliation @FeileBelfast

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Reflecting on reconciliation @FeileBelfast
by Raquel GOMEZ for Shared Future News
8 August 2018

As part of Féile an Phobail festival, the event “Reflecting on reconciliation” brought together Pat Magee and Laurence McKeown, former political prisoners, who discussed their achievement of mutual understanding across the political divide. Andrée Murphy, Deputy Director of Relatives for Justice, gave opening remarks and introduced the speakers as examples of “how conflict has harmed us, but also how we can begin or repair relationships and how to build new relationships”.

In a deep and sincere conversation, Magee and McKeown related their engagement with unionists and what reconciliation has meant to them. This was a unique opportunity to understand the reconciliation process through personal life experiences.

Pat Magee explained that his initial engagement with reconciliation work started when he was still in prison after the Good Friday Agreement. “I had in mind that I would like to work to break down the misrepresentations of the Republican perspective, of what our struggle is about, what motivated us as individuals. I had this in mind and then somebody wrote to me [while Magee was] in prison. It was a guy called Harvey Thomas. He was in the bomb of the Brighton Grand Hotel [Magee planted the bomb]. Thirteen years later, he wrote me and he said he forgave me,” said Magee.

When Magee left prison, someone contacted him: “Her father, Sir Anthony Berry, was killed in Brighton and I agreed to meet her.” Magee said that when he met Jo Berry, he truly started to understand and huminise the other side. Pat Magee and Jo Berry have met and worked together since, talking to a wide range of people and collaborating together in several projects.

Magee emphasised how he understands the term reconciliation: as an individual exploration. “Everybody has his own idea of how it should feel, reconciliation. It has to heal. It’s about what an achievement it is to bring people together in the same room and talk and maybe break down the misunderstandings about each other. It is about understanding motivations a bit better. It is a very individual approach. I honestly do believe in the work that tries to create situations to bring people together,” explained Magee.

Laurence McKeown highlighted that the term reconciliation is a bit problematic and means different things to different people. McKeown has been working with different organisations for two decades, having “uncomfortable conversations” with a very diverse range of people. He explained that his motivation has never been for purposes of reconciliation, but it has been for understanding, good manners, and respect. Through these uncomfortable conversations he found a greater understanding.

“Why should people be reconciled? Should a person abused become reconciled with its abuser? It is not about reconciliation. It is about engaging with people. Tell us what is your culture, what do you eat, where do you come from, what are your traditions. We want to hear from you with respect. It is about treating people with respect,” said McKeown.

During the event, the importance of small gestures was mentioned. “There is no doubt that gestures like handshakes with the Queen or attending some commemorations create a better atmosphere to talk. Sometimes these gestures take courage,” said Magee.

The term reconciliation in Northern Ireland could have as many meanings as people, and individuals approach it differently. Also, reconciliation can’t be enforced and it can’t replace the loss. However, reconciliation, in the form of engagement, respect, empathy and mutual understanding, could provide the foundations for a shared future, built with bricks of courageous, small gestures.

Image: Pat MAGEE, Andree MURPHY, and Laurence McKEOWN. (c) Raquel GOMEZ @raqueelglg

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