A split’s not always first thing on agenda

By Father Des (for the Andersonstown News)

During the recent armed conflict in Ireland it was said that the anger between unionists and nationalist/republican people would be healed much sooner than the anger within nationalist and republican people themselves.

From newspapers and their letters columns this now seems to be sadly true.

Anger like this is not an Irish thing in spite of what Brendan Behan said about a split being the first item on our every agenda. It happens everywhere. People under pressure split not because they are bad but because they want the best and are angry because they believe others are not trying to get it for the people. Religious divisions are like this - very few of them were out of badness, most were by people who thought their fellow religious should do better. It may seem extreme to say it, but we should in a way be proud that we disagree on so many issues. It would be a lot worse if we did not give a hoot one way or the other.

We give much more than a hoot, many people gave up their lives, or the integrity of their bodies, the safety of their minds, and whatever group they went with, they were, and still are, our fellow citizens, our friends and, for many, our comrades.

When friends and comrades disagree the fall-out is always specially painful, even terrible. But never hopeless.

There is plenty of good conversation going on now about reconciliation; sometimes it strikes a sour note when it is seen more as burying away government responsibilities than as a generous offer of healing hurts. It would be great if we could show that anger within our communities need not be slower to heal than anger between former enemies. We owe friendship to each other as much as we owe forgiveness to our opponents.

Given time and the generosity that is normal among our people, the healing happens. Maybe only time and the slow working of generous minds will make it happen. There may be no artificial remedies, we may have to rely on time and people’s normal generosity. In the past good people were pushed into enmity against each other by government and commercial policies of controlling votes and keeping down wages. Left to ourselves, we are a gentle people with a great capacity for recognising other people’s needs as well as our own. We should not need government flinging money at people to bribe them into not insulting their neighbours, there are more dignified and useful ways of bringing out the best in all of us. We can understand a government saying, we will reward you for helping your neighbours; it is less easy to understand a government saying, we will reward you for promising not to insult them. Sometimes the best thing to do with government proposals like rewarding people for not burning things in July is to laugh their proposals to death.

There are tremendous possibilities in our country, for the first time in our history we could be on the way to prosperity, and not just for a few.

The political situation, whatever we think of the present phase of it, has the possibility - many would say the almost certainty - of breaking away from the dead hand of London control over our affairs.

To make the most of our intellect and will, we need to be at best a united people, at least a people at peace with ourselves.

People who endured so much hardship know how to create friendship. Our great potential, our reasonable friendships, the disciplining of the London government, the increasing awareness among all our people that we absolutely need to remove London’s veto and take control of our own affairs - these are among the most exciting political developments in Ireland for centuries.

Let’s use them.

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