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Canadian Thanksgiving Day Re-opening for Glencree's Canada Room

Chairman of Bombardier Aerospace and its Charitable Foundation in Northern Ireland Sir George Quigley (centre) is flanked from the left by Irish Canadian Society Deputy Chair Dave Wilson and Glencree Centre for Reconciliation CEO Mairin Colleary and on his right by Irish Canadian Society Chair Pat McDonnell and Canada's Ambassador to Ireland Mark Moher at the official re-opening of the Canada Room, Glencree's principal reception and meeting room. The refurbishment of the Room, an Irish Canadian Society project, was funded by the Bombardier Foundation.

Glencree was founded during the Northern Ireland 'troubles'. Over the years, it has fostered mutual respect and understanding between individuals and groups in conflict, with a view to building peace and reconciliation within the island of Ireland, between Ireland and Britain and beyond.

The Irish Canadian Society described the Canada Room's refurbishment and re-opening ceremony as 'poetic': the refurbishment was funded by a Canadian company active in the economies of both Ireland and Northern Ireland and the re-opening took place on Canadian Thanksgiving Day.

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Sir George's Address

CANADA ROOM RE-OPENING
GLENCREE CENTRE FOR RECONCILIATION

Sir George Quigley
10 October, 2005

As Chairman of Bombardier Aerospace and of its Charitable Foundation in Northern Ireland, I am delighted to be involved in this ceremony. We were very pleased to support the refurbishment of this Canada Room, which has been so superbly executed.

I am sure that the ability to make use of this renewed facility will give added impetus to the work of the Glencree Centre, now in its thirty-first year of fine service to the cause of reconciliation in Ireland through a range of imaginative programmes involving churches, women, students, victims, ex-combatants, politicians and business.

It is difficult to conceive of a nobler mission in today's Ireland than that of reconciliation. Most people know in their hearts that, however unrealistic the project for reconciliation may at times appear, permanent enmity is an even more unrealistic scenario. We must not condemn ourselves forever to paying the bills run up long before we were born. So we have to keep on reaching out for the apparently unattainable if we are to avoid the unimaginable. Most people want what someone involved years ago in the earlier Middle East peace talks called the quiet miracle of a normal life. There are too many still not leading normal lives in Northern Ireland.

Whilst remarkable progress has been made, there is a lot more work yet to be done on the problem of how an acutely differentiated society like ours can hold itself together. We should have learnt by now that the removal of the bulk of the violence does not, in itself, provide an answer, since the violence itself emerged from a divided society.


We should not be surprised that we are still some way from the summit and that the final ascent is proving arduous. Few societies so deeply divided have faced the challenge of absorbing so much change so quickly. Too often all of us are guilty of the attitude beautifully described by Mark Twain: I'm all for progress but I hate change. It is easy to treasure the illusion that, to address a problem, we simply have to define it in terms suggesting change on somebody else's part.

The Good Friday Agreement was obviously a watershed. One would have liked it to serve as our foundation myth - a story, an event, that embodies a shared meaning and can claim allegiance from both communities. It was, in a sense, a marriage of the two traditions. But don't they say that all weddings are happy; it's living together afterwards that's difficult. When trust between the partners breaks down and mutual infidelities are alleged, restoration is difficult. But one would have to be a congenital pessimist not to feel that the very welcome developments over recent months on the Republican side offer a real chance. There has been too much bitterness to make reconciliation easy or swift. But it is far better that the future should now be solidly built to last than that there should be a superficial fudge which contains the seeds of another rupture. Only then can the benefits of the innovative efforts of so many over the past 10 years be fully reaped and Northern Ireland's splendid potential be released.

One of the very positive elements of the Peace Process has been the success of the North/South project. The progress made by Inter-Trade Ireland and the interaction between business in both parts of the island testifies to that on the economic front. Steps are being taken to develop an island energy market. One could cite many other very practical examples of a determination on all sides to ensure that the opportunities for extracting maximum synergy from a positive relationship between North and South are fully grasped. Even more important, the tone and temper of North/South dialogue has been transformed.

Indeed it is difficult to resist the conclusion that the North/South project has not only surmounted the traditional barriers erected by difference but also has lessons to teach for the reconciliation project within Northern Ireland. Perhaps one of the most important of these lessons is that difference does not cut all the way down through every possible relationship between one's group and those who are different. There is generally much which can be agreed and shared and the challenge then is to practise and to cultivate acceptance of the differences to which solutions remain elusive.

Dare I suggest, paradoxically perhaps, that the North/South project - to which Glencree has contributed so much - offers hope that, in Seamus Heaney's words, 'a further shore is reachable from here' - hope which releases us from the entail of history and assures us that there is no inexorable continuity between past and future.

The negative events of last month undoubtedly dealt such hope a harsh but certainly not a lethal blow. I was not surprised. I became very conscious of the sheer depth of the fault lines, reflecting a deeply riven society, during my Review of the Parades Commission (Report published November 2002). In subsequent evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of the House of Commons on the Parades Issue (January 2004), I drew attention to Survey material showing that, over time, the proportion of Catholics agreeing with the statement 'my cultural tradition is always the underdog' had decreased exactly in line with the increase in the proportion of Protestants who thought their tradition was the underdog. 70% of Catholics were confident that their own cultural tradition is protected in Northern Ireland these days, compared with only a third of Protestants. I suggested that the declining Protestant confidence in their position post Agreement was as worrying as it would be if the statistics were reversed. Both traditions must see themselves as having a stake in a shared future.

The improving situation on the streets had lulled many into a sense of false security. Too little attention was paid to the massive effort required to keep the lid on potentially explosive situations during the marching season and to the paucity of evidence that underlying animosities had diminished.

I believe that any realistic analysis of what happened in September has to recognise that there are multiple factors at work here. Society has always been to a large extent segregated in Northern Ireland but the Troubles hugely accelerated the trend and we now have too many single identity neighbourhoods characterised by cultural exclusiveness, which have their own 'authority' figures in the shape of the paramilitaries. The shift in the balance of power in Northern Ireland has bred within loyalist neighbourhoods, but also beyond them, acute insecurity and uncertainty and a fear (to which I have already referred) that their cultural identify is under threat. Hence the sensitivity of the Parades issue.

Alongside all this, many neighbourhoods share the characteristics of inner city and soulless outer city areas the world over. Educational attainment is generally low and economic inactivity rates are in some areas nearly twice the Northern Ireland average. The traditional instruments of social control (including attitudes towards the police) are badly damaged.

We have to recognise the explosive potential of such a mixture. Starting from the basis of realities, we now need a massive investment in the generation of social capital - but not of the kind that bonds like with like. We have enough of that, reinforcing exclusive identities and homogeneous groups. What we need is the social capital that bridges the cleavages and generates broader identities and sympathies. It is not easy to create the social filaments in a society characterised by so much segregation in housing, work, education and sport. To do so will challenge all our creative energies. But the need for policies to promote integration and cohesion - which is very different from assimilation and loss of identity - is as imperative as in Great Britain, where a Commission to consider such issues in the aftermath of the July 2005 terrorist attack is being established.

As I recommended in my Parades Review Report, there may first of all have to be more emphasis on work with single identity groups as a staging post to intergroup work, particularly when one community is experiencing the nihilism and fatalism which beset those in psychological retreat. It has been well said that only when individuals are comfortable with their own identity and have some empathy with the position of others can contact provide a constructive medium through which prejudice, intolerance and negative social sterotypes are addressed. Such work of course needs to be conducted with care so that (as I put it in the Report) people who are suspicious of or hostile to others are not reinforced in that tendency, with the result that cultural distinctiveness becomes even more key to self-esteem.

Civic society has a major role to play in pulling those on the margins into the mainstream. Bombardier, the largest manufacturing operation on the island and (together with its suppliers) making up some 7% of Northern Ireland's manufacturing workforce and producing 12% of its exports, is determined to shoulder its responsibilities. For example, we have been actively involved in the work of the Task Forces which drew up comprehensive proposals for the regeneration and development of the West Belfast and Greater Shankill areas and we have been contributing vigorously to key aspects of their implementation.

I may say that we are very proud to be part of the Bombardier Group, whose aerospace business ranks as the third largest commercial aircraft company in the world and is No. 1 in the regional aircraft and business aircraft markets. We are key contributors to virtually its entire impressive range of aircraft.

So modest are the Canadians that it is not sufficiently known that Canada has the third largest aerospace industry in the world after the USA and Europe. Its 400 companies employ over 80,000 people and have annual sales of 22bn dollars, 80% of them in export markets.

The Northern Ireland Peace Process proves once again that turnkey solutions are a rarity and progress is never linear. The Good Friday Agreement raised the bar high, requiring enforced fraternity at the top whilst there was a serious lack of fraternity at the base. Stability demands that, for the future, as much attention is devoted to constructing the load-bearing beams as to erecting the superstructure.

May I thank you once again most warmly for inviting me and wish you great success as you pursue your vision of a far better future.

 
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