For many of us in Northern Ireland, and our friends around the World, the TV pictures on Monday 26th March, 2007, of Dr. Ian Paisley, and Gerry Adams, sitting at the same table, and agreeing to share power, starting May 8th, was wonderful, and, I believe, was indeed a time to give thanks. The event was historic and will have given hope to not only many people here in Northern Ireland, but people living in violent conflict situations, such as the Middle East, Iraq, etc., that peace is possible, even in the most complex, dangerous and dark situations. The message sent out from the Stormont Meeting on 26th March, was that even those who have widely different cultural, religious, and political viewpoints, can with compromise and courage, through patient all inclusive dialogue and negotiation, begin to solve their problems and work together. Both Dr. Paisley and Gerry Adams, showed leadership and courage, and gave an example of how we, the people of Northern Ireland, can move forward together and build a shared future. I personally wish all the Parties involved, and everyone who has helped bring this process about, every good wish for the future.
The way ahead will not be easy. Transforming the old politics of division, dissent and destruction, into the politics of reconstruction and reconciliation, will take all our energies but it can be done together. We have been practicing for some years now to learn to embrace the diversity and otherness we encounter here, and practicing too how to heal the ancient divisions and misunderstandings of the past. We have been practicing how to give and accept forgiveness, of ourselves, and of each other, and we have been practicing how to begin to live nonviolence, in our lives, and in solving our problems. These have been hard things for us to learn, and we have only just begun to transform ourselves and our communities through love and action, into a nonkilling, nonviolent society. We have a long way to go, but this is a time to give thanks, for the long way that we have come. This is not only a political journey it is also a spiritual journey. We have the framework in the Good Friday Agreement, and on May 8th a devolved Assembly, power sharing executive, and new First Minister, Dr. Paisley and Deputy Minister, Martin McGuinness, so the institutions are in place to build equality, human rights and justice for all. But what is also needed is that we build trust between not only the politicians, but also all the people. To do this we need to bring the values of love, forgiveness, compassion and reconciliation. It will not be easy, especially for many who have lost loved ones, but what a great testimony to those we have lost, will be the joy of building a future where no one else will suffer the pain of death through violence.
To build in Northern Ireland a nonkilling, nonviolent, integrated, society is the task now facing us all. To move beyond tribalism, and nationalism, to a larger identity deeply linked to the wider human family and the environment, is indeed a great journey. We cannot leave this only to our politicians, but we as citizens can each take up this challenge to change.
Many people from other counties in conflict will come to see how the Peace Process works. So perhaps the new Assembly would consider setting up a Ministry of Peace and Nonviolence, so that we can share the lessons of conflict resolution with others in more dangerous situations, and thereby return some of the help we have been given in our long journey to peace.
I am full of hope for the future as I believe, in time we can be transformed into individuals and communities of love and forgiveness, which will be an example and give hope in a world crying out for peace.
Mairead Corrigan Maguire is a Nobel Peace Laureate and member of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation Advisory Council. www.peacepeople.com