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Leadership and hope amidst our political crisis

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Last week UTV’s ‘View from Stormont’ broadcast a package which reported on an engagement between Sinn Féin activists and some from within political unionism.

This initiative is the culmination of a recent private conversation I had with John Kyle, a Belfast City Councillor and deputy leader of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) about anti-sectarianism.

John had initially criticised Sinn Féin’s ‘Stand up Against Sectarianism’ #SUAS campaign, and I challenged him to organise a public meeting on this issue in his own constituency and invite me to speak.

We decided to involve Professor John Brewer from the Mitchell institute at Queen’s University in our discussion, because we both knew him quite well.

John Brewer offered the Institute's assistance in hosting a series of discussions to open up participation involving Republicans, Unionists and others. One event has now occurred on anti-sectarianism and two others are planned on civility in politics and the concept of equality.

John Kyle and I have had many discussions over the years. We have spoken together in public and met with others privately. Quite often we have met on our own and had some very blunt exchanges.

John is a left of centre unionist: he was a friend of the late David Ervine a former PUP leader. Of course, I am a lifelong Irish republican activist and Sinn Féin member.

We also have respect for each other.

But we both accept the importance of being able to agree to disagree. We agree on the need for continuous political engagement: that is very important.

Once barriers to engagement are erected mindsets harden. Misperceptions can become ossified. Problems don’t get addressed. They become more intractable.

Without engagement resolution will not be found.

This is the vital lesson of our peace process. It’s the secret to understanding how the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) came about.

Engagement is indispensable to making political progress.

There has been a significant reaction to the UTV broadcast which had as its centre piece a recorded conversation between John Kyle and I in........

© An Phoblacht