Irish President tells First Derry audience Anglo-Irish relations at best level in 1,000 years

THE President of Ireland Mary McAleese told an audience gathered in First Derry Presbyterian Church last night (Thursday, October 6) that Anglo-Irish relations are at a 1,000 year high and recalled Queen Elizabeth II’s recent comments on “the complexity of our history, its many layers and traditions” and the importance of “being able to bow to the past but not be bound by it.”

She also said that a new dialogue was possible allowing people with strong views to “listen respectfully to things they profoundly disagreed with but could listen generously for the spaces where consensus could be developed.”

The President warned that both communities had paid too high a price for “insisting on living inside bunkers where only those who agree with us are welcome and where the voices of ‘the excluded other’ are muted or silenced.

“To limit ourselves to friends, colleagues, acquaintances, partners who reflect only ourselves back to ourselves is to live such a diminished and narrowing life.

“To open ourselves to stories, narratives, perspectives, talents, genius, insights and friendships which are new to us is to open the doors of our lives to a much more exciting and enriching landscape,” she stated.

Mrs McAleese thanked First Derry Presbyterian Church and Rev. David Latimer for giving her the opportunity to take part in its new ‘Conversation across the Walls’ discussion series.

“I hope there will be many more conversations across walls of heart and mind, of bricks and mortar so that we can find our way to a future of friendship and leave behind the history of hatred,” she commented.

“This is a good place to be having such a conversation for just before its official reopening David Latimer pledged that it would have a dual role as ‘a place for sacred worship’ and ‘a shared space’ in which friends and neighbours of all political and religious persuasions would be welcome.

“This building suffered more than its fair share of damage and abuse for it was often caught up in the interminable politico/sectarian conflict which blighted your lives and mine.

“Now though it is a powerful statement of intent that new, healthier relationships are being forged, the hard way, person to person, conversation to conversation and First Derry Presbyterian Church is relishing its role as a key influencer, a key architect of a shared and happy future far beyond bitter division,” she remarked.

Renowned as an Irish President who has reached out to Ulster loyalism during her 14 years in office she had words for those republicans who remain wedded to political violence, murder and destruction.

“Look at the past. Look at the wasted opportunities, the lives only half-lived, the grief, the fear, the hurt, the mistrust, the litany of adjectives and experiences that broke many a human heart but miraculously never managed to break the spirit of those who believed there was a better way to live and who set about finding it,” she implored.

“A lot of good people found each other in the dark and joined the dots of peacemaking, holding lines that at times were stretched to breaking point.

“They are now legion. They are now the present and the future but of course there are still those who are unconvinced, who seem to prefer that miserable world of contemptuous division where violence is a raw, desperate, inarticulate and unintelligent power,” said Mrs McAleese.

“They have disrupted Derry in ways we had hoped were long past and their continued resistance to the good future we are building confers on us a responsibility not alone to be wary of the sting in the tail of the dying culture of paramilitarism, but to ensure we do our utmost to prove that our way is best in every way - that it is robust, that we are united, that we are not to be turned from the path of peace.”

During her remarks the Irish President also spoke of her amazement at the attitude of Protestant Church leaders in the city in the wake of the publication of the Saville Report into the events of Bloody Sunday last year.

“We looked on amazed, our hearts lifting as generosity and compassion began to flow spontaneously in both directions.

“We watched the basic building blocks of peace and reconciliation shift into place, lifted painfully by the only powers that can create peace - human hands and human hearts, bridging the gap of division and difference with humanity and decency.

“That dignified and impressive response to the Saville Report showcased to all of us just how far we have travelled beyond the days of antipathy and enmity,” she said.