During the past 30 years we have had to think about how personal friendships can survive among people with the deepest of political differences.
How people who disagree deeply and honestly can still hold out the hand of friendship to each other, not necessarily love each other, but respect each other and disagree in friendship.
Often it did not happen that way because often it took an almost superhuman effort to make it happen, but when it did happen everybody was enriched.
People's dignity was kept intact and that meant a great deal.
Strangely enough, at times it was easier to imagine friendship being created or renewed between republicans/nationalists and unionists than between members of a republican or nationalist or unionist family who had fallen out with each other. The hurts were so very specially deep, what could heal them?
This is not just an Irish thing. Older people remember the years after the awful Spanish internal war of the thirties there were many people who could not even write or talk about it because the hurt was so deep. But in the end when hurts began to heal it was because of the goodness of the people, not because great politics had emerged. Because great people were still there. And they needed each other.
There is going to be great effort now to show that as a united people in Ireland we can create a good community, prosperous, realising its full beauty, and much of the official effort as well as the personal effort will go into holding out the hand of friendship to those who were most opposed to Irish unity in the past. But while all that is going on we remember our brothers and sisters in each of our political and religious families who were separated from us by differences of opinion. The hurt there arose because good people were passionately concerned for the freedom and welfare of all of us. The end aim was not in question, the means towards it were in question, and often our differences led to frustration and anger. Even led to us forgetting that they were friends who were differing from us, not enemies.
It would be a sad irony of fate if we found it was easier to create friendship with "enemies" than to renew friendships with our friends.
It has been said that only a people of great genius could create ten solutions to the one political problem. And yet that is what we were doing, arguing with each other precisely because we had been so creative, had created so many possible solutions to the one problem, the problem of bad and wasteful government in what should have been times of opportunity.
One big difficulty was that although we had created all those possible solutions, they were never allowed on the table. London decreed that one solution and one only should be on the table theirs a solution which nobody, republican, nationalist, unionist, neutral, none of us, had asked for, namely overall control by London and some powers devolved by them to us in Ireland. Always a London administration had forbidden us to put our solutions on the table whether that was the unionist return to the old days, or integration with Britain, or independence for the northeast, or the national/republican ideas of unitary Ireland, federal Ireland of four provinces, federal Ireland of two units. None of that was on the table, and so in frustration we were led into discussion of whether we should or not have anything to to do with London, would it not be better to refuse and to eject London altogether, by force if necessary?
Those who said that London's solution must be only one of nine or ten solutions on the table, not the only one, those who said they believed this was the way, perhaps the only way, probably the best way, to bring about the creation of good government and the renewal of friendship which we wanted. Every solution on the table. We had confidence in our people, whoever they are, that once all the solutions are on the table our people will have the intelligence, the energy, the goodwill and the political ability to reach a solution. Not necessarily just one of those solutions but a reasonable compromise between all of them. In other words, the London solution was to be considered just on equal footing with the solutions proposed by the rest of us. And everybody treated with the respect due to people who had lost so much. Including lost friendship, which was a great loss.
Whatever political courses are taken, surely the best of them will begin with the recognition of the goodness of our people, our abilities, our genius, our potential, as well as our problems.
Certainly we will go on having problems to solve, but one of the problems we must not have is fear. If we create a situation where every person can act without fear, can think without fear, can speak without fear, we are not just winning, we have won.
Guns are laid aside. Fear must be laid aside as well. We are far too able a people to be afraid for our future.
And without fear we shall create it.