By Brian Rowan
Belfast Telegraph
Saturday, 3 March 2012

**The comments are interesting.

One of the most senior figures in the Sinn Fein leadership has challenged republicans to say “sorry” — not for the IRA war, but for the hurt caused by all its armed actions.

Declan Kearney, the party’s national chairman, sets out his thinking in the latest edition of republican newspaper An Phoblacht.

But it is not clear how or when the wider republican leadership will respond.

“Regardless to the stance of others, we should recognise the healing influence of being able to say sorry for the human effects of all actions during the armed struggle,” he wrote. “All sensible people would wish it had been otherwise; that these events had never happened, that other conditions had prevailed,” he added.

“The political reality is those actions cannot be undone, or disowned.” He acknowledged: “A deep suspicion remains within unionist communities towards republicans due to the legacy of the armed struggle.”

And argued: “This is a time for republicans to free up our thinking, to carefully explore the potential for taking new and considered initiatives in the interests of reconciliation.”

It is an article for two audiences — its publication in An Phoblacht to address the republican base, but its wider purpose to speak to unionists.

And from his leadership position, Kearney appears to be asking for an initiative that would move the IRA beyond a position outlined a decade ago. That is when it apologised for the deaths and injuries of non-combatants.

Former Methodist President and church witness to IRA decommissioning, Rev Harold Good, described the article as “truly remarkable”.

“It reads as a genuine offering from one part of a hurting community to another,” he said.

And, in terms of dealing with the legacy of the past, he said the article “does not avoid the difficult and contentious discussion of political conditions and what republicans will refer to as context”.

He said Kearney is unambiguous in his understanding of the need for that most difficult, but essential, word “sorry”.

“What a challenge to us all,” Mr Good said.

“What about an initiative which would give us all opportunity to say sorry to one another for what we have failed to be and do, as well as for what we have been and done?” the churchman asked.

Kearney added in the article: “The process of uniting Ireland will be built on increased understanding and mutual respect by reaching out, healing differences and creating trust with unionists and Protestants.”

Commenting on the article, Peter Sheridan, chief executive of the peace-building organisation, Co-operation Ireland, said: “His use of the word sorry is an important step forward.”

A gesture aimed at eliciting a response

By Brian Rowan

At Declan Kearney’s level of the republican leadership, there is really no such thing as a solo run.

So we can therefore be confident that this article reflects wider thinking.

For all of its detail, the focus will be on his use of that one word – “sorry”.

Kearney is challenging republicans, and particularly IRA republicans.

He is not in any way suggesting an apology for the IRA’s “armed struggle”, which he described as “last resort” and linked to political conditions which, he wrote, “no longer exist”.

But what he is asking for is an acknowledgement of all the human suffering caused — to combatants and non-combatants, to those who wore uniforms and to those who did not. And he also wrote about the “real hurt” that exists on “all sides”.

Reading between the lines, this is an article which says everyone was a victim.

Kearney is thinking — and challenging others to do the same — about the next steps beyond ceasefire, the ending of the armed campaign and the political agreement. He wrote about republicans taking the lead “in helping to shape an authentic reconciliation process”.

This is where the word sorry fits.

And if at some stage it is used by the republican leadership in the way suggested by Kearney, then that would be another significant step.

“The time has come to take each other seriously,” Harold Good told this newspaper.

“To respond to clearly genuine ventures without assumption of ulterior motive or hidden agenda.

“Talk, truth and trust — these are the three Ts that will release us from our tragic past and take us to a new place, whatever its shape or form,” he said.

We wait now to see if there are other developments, what the Kearney article will lead to. And if at some point there is a statement from the republican leadership — one that uses the word “sorry” — then Harold Good is right.

The challenge then to others will be to reciprocate.