I thank the committee for the opportunity to speak about the experience and work of the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation on legacy issues on the island of Ireland.
Una O'Higgins O'Malley was one of the founders and drivers of the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, which was established in early 1970s as a response to the outbreak of conflict in Northern Ireland. Described as a quiet, ladylike but resolute woman, her life was shaped by a bitter destructive Civil War that in many ways has shaped politics and life on the island for almost 100 years. Her life and energy, however, were devoted to the building of relationships across and between traditions throughout the island through the establishment with others of the only peace centre in the South of Ireland with over 40 years of conflict in its own back yard.
Ms O'Higgins O'Malley's father was Minister for Justice in the first Government after partition and was shot dead in 1927 on his way to mass by the "other side". She reported in a radio interview in 2005, two years before she died, that the loss of her father had a profound impact on her life, one that made her particularly sensitive to the impact of violence on children.
In an interview to mark her 75th birthday, she told The Irish Times she only once nearly succumbed to bitterness when she discovered the killer's claim that he had danced on her father's grave, and she said:
I got seized with this awful, awful unforgiving cloud, that I hadn't ever felt as badly before. I couldn't stop it, it was like this lava pouring from a volcano ... I had so often gone to that grave. That happened on Holy Thursday and I thought, 'So much for Holy Thursday and Jesus Christ and all that'. I wanted to throw the whole thing out there and then. But on Good Friday, I made my way back to the church somehow and as I put my foot on the church porch, I had this thought: 'Have a Mass said for them all'. And that was when I felt normal again ..."
So it happened that 60 years after the murder of Kevin O'Higgins, his daughter arranged a memorial mass in Booterstown church, here in Dublin, for him and his killers. Her response to his murder or execution, although she admits that living with the loss was very hard to bear at times, was to call the sons and daughters of a bitter Civil War to dialogue. She devoted her life to calling the enemies or protagonists together and to the creation and repairing of fractured relationships across this island.
In a recent publication, aptly called Wounds, BBC foreign correspondent Fergal Keane uses his experiences of civil war to write about the impact in north Kerry, where his people come from. It examines the brutality of "cogadh na mbráithre", the fight or war between brothers, and "how the ghosts of the past return to shape the present as acts of killings reverberate through the generations."
One hundred years on, we have lived a mostly peaceful life in the South of Ireland, although there have been traumatic and violent attacks on this side of the Border. We have often ignored Northern Ireland as having nothing to do with us. We are, however, deeply entwined - historically, politically, economically and emotionally. The story of those in the North is our story too; our legacy is their legacy too. There is no single story. What we do know is that the ghosts of the past will return if we do not heal the wounds of violence in this generation. The Civil War generation chose not to address the impact of the violence and opted for amnesia, passing the responsibility to a later generation. Are we up for it or mature enough here in the South over the next five years to talk about the unacknowledged hurt of those years?
Our centre's work has always been to deepen reconciliation across and between those on the island. The strategic objective for the next ten years is to work in this regard. Our work is done in facilitating dialogue, sharing learning and building capacity, promoting relationships and networks, and encouraging public discourse. Hospitality underpins that for whoever comes and in whatever way we can offer it.
Since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement or Belfast Agreement in 1998, the centre has worked tirelessly to explore the complex legacies and traumas of the conflict, how they can best be addressed and reckoned with, and how those affected can be helped. Our work was done through tough economic times when many said there was no need for it and asked whether there was not now peace and whether the conflict was not now over. What we knew, of course, is that Northern Ireland was in recovery and that, like any society that had experienced trauma, including our own earlier, it would take time to recover, regardless of the rhetoric and the peace talk. That is why Glencree is encouraging the current generations on all sides who experienced the violence of the Troubles to hear the stories of victims and survivors so violence will never again be used to achieve ethnic political objectives.
Two years ago, in the absence of the legacy arrangements of the Stormont House Agreement being put in place, we started an intercommunal project from the bottom up whereby the stories could be heard in Glencree's large circle by the other side. We are very pleased that the EU PEACE IV programme has acknowledged that work and will allow us to continue with it in a more systematic way over the next four years. Through a process of private and confidential facilitated dialogues, it will examine themes and issues that remain as obstacles to deeper understanding and the promotion of positive relations.
No words I can use here today will help members understand the experience and power of people being able to talk about what happened to them and then hear what happened to others. Black-and-white accounts of narratives turn to shades of grey as people start to walk in the shoes of the others and see another perspective. It is never comfortable or easy. We hope the learning accrued through the project will be of assistance to victims' and survivors' groups, interest groups and academics. The programme will also have a very strong women-led process because we have recognised over the years that we have worked that women sometimes carry a double burden in the midst of conflict. They sometimes have to care for their children in the midst of conflict and make sure there is enough food on the table that their families are kept safe.
What is needed? It has been said here before that support is needed for direct victims of the conflict to make sense of and meaning from what happened and how it all happened, and determine what questions were left unanswered as a result of what happened. Victims of the conflict have been forced to carry the burden of the peace process and are often ignored and made to carry a burden of guilt for not being able to get over it in the "we need to move on" narrative.
Support is also needed to deal with the embedded post-traumatic stress in individuals and communities that has manifested itself in mental health issues. Over 3,000 suicides, three quarters male, were recorded between the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and 2014. This is almost the same number as the number directly killed in the conflict in the previous 25 to 30 years. This is often from the unhealed emotional injury that is best worked through by the acknowledgment of the hurt.
Glencree works with women in tough working-class communities to develop leadership. As I stated, women carry a double burden in conflict. They come from a patriarchal society that is economically and educationally disadvantaged and are trying to care for a family and keep them safe.
Young people, like all young people, sometimes struggle with a sense of wanting to understand what happened while many do not want to know anything about the past. Others are held in the past by a sense that if they move forward, they will be at some level betraying their parents or community. As we now know, many are carrying intergenerational trauma.
What have we learned? We have learned that victims have different needs. These can include the need for recognition and for their suffering and pain to be acknowledged publicly or privately, or both, by those who caused it or by those in power, be it the state, judiciary, political establishment or church. They want truth, which means hearing the truth of what happened, regardless of whether it is too late for the punishment of those who perpetrated it. Compensation is often a matter of money or other things. Relationships are so important because they are fractured. For a long period, we have turned our backs on each other. I refer to this State and the Northern Ireland state. The quality and presence of relationships and a sense that there is a place for everybody on this island need to be spoken about in a spirit of generosity, genuineness and service.
It is a matter of using dialogue to have difficult conversations.
What dialogue means is increasing the flow of understanding between people. It enables people to stop rivalling and competing with each other, where all in the room feel safe to speak, are respectful of others and are heard without judgment, creating the conditions that enable people to find meaning.
Language also is heard and understood differently in different traditions. We need to watch our language because our language can be used as a weapon to inflame and denigrate and it also can be used in a supportive way.
The Good Friday Agreement and Belfast Agreement addressed many things. One can be Irish or British, or both, or have multiple identities. However, the acknowledgement of the hurt caused on all sides is not embedded in the text nor a stated commitment to develop, create and recreate fractured relationships at all levels on this island, political, social, and economic, that will enable not just a tolerated coexistence between all of us but a genuine set of relationships that will last into the future that we will be able to give to our children, and now, for some of us, our grandchildren.
In conclusion, I want to say that 20 years ago the Good Friday Agreement did not provide for a healing process. It provided for many things but not for that. There is an urgency for the Stormont House arrangements and the three designated units for a five-year period to be put in place as soon as possible before it is too late for this generation. If political agreement is not possible, then the moneys allocated for the Stormont House Agreement need to be made available to bottom-up processes by reconciliation groups and civil society organisations and churches.
Lastly, we must ensure that the legacy of the past is not another stage to play out tired, repetitive and old worn-out arguments that were neither won nor settled conflicts 30, 40, 100 or 50 years. There must be another way, and Glencree knows that there is.