Imagining a virtuous discourse for peace: President Michael D. Higgins

President delivers the 2018 Annual Harri Holkeri Lecture. Source: President of Ireland

Imagining a virtuous discourse for peace: Harri Holkeri lecture by President Michael D. Higgins
by Raquel GOMEZ
29 May 2018

President Michael D. Higgins called for imagination, remembering, and forgiveness. Societies taking the “risk of forgiving” may open the door for a shared future, which truly bringing reconciliation to Northern Ireland.

Queen’s University Belfast hosted the sixth annual Harri Holkeri Lecture delivered by President Higgins. The lecture was organised by The Senator George J.Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice to celebrate and recognise the contribution of the former Prime Minister of Finland, Harri Holkeri, to the Northern Ireland peace process.

The President of Queen’s University, Professor James McElnay, welcomed everybody and introduced President Higgins. McElnay noted Holkeri’s work of promoting social justice and transforming conflict.

President Higgins delivered a speech highlighting the value of ‘remembering, forgiving and imagining’ and reflected on the challenges of the present and the future.

Through Stephan Daedalus’ words — “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake” — Higgins remarked how important it is to remember the past, in an inclusive way, to build a peaceful and shared future: “I do not think we can gain anything from effecting any blanket amnesia towards the past, however comforting or, even if only for a time, safe or attractive it may seem. It is only by acknowledging, and sometimes revising, but always remembering, in an inclusive way, the events of our shared past that we can begin to build a collective future.”

Focused on the purpose of looking forward and creating a better future, the President of Ireland highlighted how we must approach forgiveness: “Forgiveness plays a central and necessary part in reconciliation. I acknowledge that it is very easy to say that. Some are asked to pay a very high price when they are called to forgive, a great hurt that cannot be expelled from their memory, but their achievement is all the greater. Forgiveness cannot occur without a commitment to remember, as difficult as it may be, the actions of the past.”

In the same vein, Higgins hailed the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), the president described the implementation of the agreement as a “work in progress” and called for a “full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement”.

“In this anniversary year, we rightly look back and celebrate the immense success which the Agreement represented. Let us also recognise that the Good Friday Agreement is a present reality and that implementing it remains a work in progress. Indeed, as Northern Ireland continues to operate without an Executive, in some respects the Agreement is work which has been stalled. It is therefore essential that we remind ourselves and reaffirm that the Good Friday Agreement, with all its imperfections and creativity, represents the best hope for all of our people, North and South,” said Higgins.

President Higgins emphasised the GFA is not just a fundamental pillar to build a collective future, but also a key point in the Brexit negotiations; it is necessary to preserve the provisions and principles of the Good Friday Agreement: “None of us can be indifferent to the future. Now it is important and urgent to find a way, in Dublin and London, but above all here in Northern Ireland, to move away from the hard shoulder where the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement presently finds itself and to start moving together again along our shared journey, and to do so with generosity. In the Brexit negotiations the core aim of the Irish Government relating to relationships on these islands, an aim which I share, is to preserve the provisions and principles of the Good Friday Agreement.”

“Being open to imagining, achieving the ethical purpose of remembering, taking the risk of forgiving, leads to a virtuous discourse that for future generations enjoying peace together will deserve to be in time celebrated and remembered,” closed Higgins.

“Without forgiveness, we remain tethered to the person who harmed us. We are bound with chains of bitterness, tied together, trapped. Until we can forgive the person who harmed us, that person will hold the keys to our happiness; that person will be our jailor.

“When we forgive, we take back control of our own fate and our feelings. We become our own liberators. Forgiveness, in other words, is the best form of self-interest. This is true both spiritually and scientifically. We don’t forgive to help the other person. We don’t forgive for others. We forgive for ourselves.” — Bishop Desmond Tutu


PHOTO: President delivers the 2018 Annual Harri Holkeri Lecture. Source: President of Ireland

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