It is great to see Mr. Quinn and a number of other people I know. I thank the committee for the opportunity to present this effort on which we have worked over some months. It is offered on the basis of being of assistance to various pieces of work currently taking place in trying to organise our island and how we live together.
Given the disturbing events of recent weeks in Belfast and elsewhere in Northern Ireland, it is necessary to take some pause and reflect again on where we all are. Some consideration was given by us to assessing whether this low-key event in the public sphere is helpful at this moment. We consider it adds to the imminent relevance of the document we call the Proposal. We hope and consider that the conciliatory approach shows the relevance, which is even more acutely demonstrated by the continuing tensions in our beautiful island and, in particular, in its magnificent North. Throughout the course of this long journey to peace there have been many courageous initiatory events, not least the acceptance of the Good Friday Agreement itself. We suggest that Ireland North and South yearns to complete the steps to establish an enduring peace for generations to come.
I will quickly mention a story told about Mikhail Gorbachev, which some people may have heard before. At the end of the communist era in Czechoslovakia, when there were mass public demonstrations in public spaces, the then communist government sent to Moscow for help. Gorbachev arrived and as he was approaching the state buildings, he went to the crowd gathered there and simply told them that he was with them. That was effectively game over for the communists in the Czech Republic, or Czechoslovakia as it then was. Václav Havel was still in jail at that time. In telling that story, I am saying that events of this kind have been brought about in Ireland by many people who have brought us to a point where we have a degree of settlement and peace. What we yearn for now is for this process to be brought to a conclusion.
If I may speak very directly to members, person to person, our political culture does not readily embrace the word "love", yet that human, and at times superhuman, quality that is love is not only potent in itself but is also the antidote to fear and anger, and it is the pathway to wisdom. Its close ally and progeny, "forgiveness", is a challenge to anyone. Still, it has the active force to move an individual, a community and society. I include each of us personally in this. Forgiveness has the force to move us from hurt, grief and past injustices, not necessarily immediately but over time. Gandhi knew this. It was characterised in his language by the word "Satyagraha". He was the person who uniquely in our history has characterised the demonstration of love in the political and public sphere.
It is in that spirit that we have the humble pleasure of presenting our proposal. It is not the Gorbachev moment in all of this but it can lead to it or some event or series of events that can lead to a serious settlement of all our major differences on the island. The invitation we make in our proposal is to negotiate immediately with representatives of the unionist community and all those who call themselves Protestant, unionist and-or loyalist, PUL. This is our oar in the water of the ship of our collective destiny. Sometimes the practice of love is manifest in the form of delicate diplomacy. It is precisely this approach that we now advocate in this conversation and the actual text of the proposal, which I am assuming the committee members have read or will read in full. It is not unduly long but it is fairly concentrated and with sufficient detail to represent an entire proposal. I ask members to approach it with an open mind and a discerning heart.
The central recommendation of our proposal is the obvious one of inviting talks, as I have suggested, with members of all sectors of the unionist community, including those who are former members of paramilitary organisations and those still associated with such organisations or who have been in the past. It is for elected authorities in governance to do this or for emissaries to be sent on their behalf. Those of us in the voluntary sector, and there are many hundreds, if not thousands, of us, will assist wherever possible in fostering an atmosphere of reconciliation. The intervention of community workers and adults in Lanark Way on Wednesday night and Thursday night last week to persuade many of the younger rioters to desist and go home is one of the encouraging features of the past fortnight. I am told that adults formed a human chain on the Springfield Road which had practical effect and obvious potent symbolism. Still, we have no choice but to remain vigilant and encourage reconciliation, as I am sure members will all agree.
The conciliatory approach, while being the essence of our proposal, is not its inspiration, however. The inspiration is the realisation that the creation of an entirely new state is not only feasible but provides the best possible approach to the future of relations and administration on this beautiful, enchanting island where we are fortunate to reside and bide some or all of our short enough terms of years.
One version of this proposal for a new nation and a new state has, as the committee will know, been presented by Deputy Jim O'Callaghan lately. It is also the guardian and guarantor of the identity and the participation of those of the unionist tradition, which will be copper-fastened by the role of a new body with international input and guidance in which the particular position on heritage and identity and heritage of unionist folk, with their British identity, can be virulently represented and defended into the future. I have developed an increasing personal empathy for the unionist family's whole position, as I long for the coming together for everyone in and on our island, embracing the entire history and all versions of it, referencing all of our mythology and above all celebrating the possibilities of a shared future on a shared island, however we may be governed.
Our present situation seems well characterised by two brief commentaries on the current situation. The first from is from Mr. Mick Fealty, who many members will be familiar with from the Slugger O'Toole website. I have a quotation from him and from Professor Timothy Snyder of the department of history at Yale University. Mr. Fealty observes "Whether it’s unionism or nationalism doing it, disruption does not represent control any more than it represents a destiny." Quoting Professor Snyder he states:
the whole notion of disruption is adolescent. It assumes that after the teenagers make a mess the adults will come and clean it up. But there are no adults. We own this mess.
The second commentary I will refer to, again fairly quickly, is deeply poignant in the present atmosphere. It has personal resonance, as I had an internship with the Belfast Telegraph. It was the closest I ever got to being interned. I suppose it is all right to attract a bit of humour to the past though I know internment was not a funny thing in any sense. During my year of journalism training in 2012 I met the author of the piece I am referring to, Ms Gail Walker. She has since been editor of the paper for five years and is now editor at large. The following appeared in a strong opinion article in last Saturday's edition. In it, Ms Walker does not offer an exploration of a new nation or any other engagement with the South. There are no presumed outcomes and that is the risk we all take in setting out on a new road; there is give and receive, receive and give and all of us are changed, sometimes changed utterly. The challenge initially is to explore all the destinations, bearing in mind that Scotland’s position and the capacity of the UK to survive its departure is clearly under question as we await the census results - it has already been taken - and another imminent political poll from the Lucid poll agency which will be made available next Tuesday. I am very touched by what Ms Walker wrote when she stated:
Being a unionist isn't easy in a place where people are constantly being told it's a numbers game and the egg-timer of history is running out. When people think they're being defeated, they get scared, and they get angry. ...
People here are easily wound up. Sectarianism is rife. Bigotry surfaces quickly. Social media has brought us a whole new riot experience the first Twitter Translink Bus Burning with drone footage. ...
The past few days have reminded most people what really matters. They want peace and to get on with their lives. They want to live in a normal place where no one is above the law.
There is an opportunity right now for leadership to occur, from within the main unionist blocs. It remains to be seen if there is any individual with sufficient ambition or vision to say the few important sentences which would transform the unionist future.
It's about owning the future, not harking back to old grievances or using old methods to highlight them. ...
We have learned to hang together and not hang separately. Everybody here should be able to have a good standard of living. Most people would rather have this place work than not work.
It's time for unionism to start talking about that on every street corner. And that means in every part of west Belfast and all over the island and in London.
Members who wish to read the full article will find a link in my opening statement. Ms Walker does not offer an exploration of a new nation or any specific engagement with the South. If anything, she probably wants things to remain as they are constitutionally. However, the key, the moment of silence is that also implicit in what she says is that things cannot remain as they are constitutionally. That cannot be the future. There are no presumed outcomes. We can explore the destinations, all of them, evaluate them together and then perhaps negotiate.
There is no event in family, business, club or public structure situations in any aspect of life - national, international or local community - whether it is conducting a law case, as I have done for many years, where there is a situation of difference, let alone outside division, in which one would not want to go and talk to the other person or group, sound them out and arrange a mediator, intermediary or go-between. Please do not ask why we would do such a thing. I ask, from a heartfelt concern for all the people on this island, for their present and future, and mindful of the past, why would we not speak to each other, all of us, and soon? To quote my late father's well-used exhortation, "Get on with it".
I thank the committee for hearing this introductory statement. Mr. Quinn and Ms Diver have some words to contribute. I understand that is the normal procedure from what the committee has done previously.