Brian Feeney: When unionists won't even share a coffee with republicans, what hope for reconciliation?
THE outgoing President of the Methodist Church here, the Rev Dr Laurence Graham, addressed the Sinn Féin ard fheis at the weekend on the matter of reconciliation.
For some years now, since the Rev David Latimer of First Derry Presbyterian church spoke in 2011, Sinn Féin have endeavoured to include a Protestant or unionist speaker at ard fheisanna. It's part of the party's 'outreach' strategy.
Dr Graham reminded delegates that reconciliation is not a project but "a process which never ends".
Of course, they knew that, but the evidence is that as far as political unionism is concerned, it's a blind alley.
Reconciliation has several meanings, the two main ones being restoring friendly relations and making one view, belief or position compatible with another.
You can see that's never going to happen here. First there never were any relations between Sinn Féin and political unionism, friendly or otherwise, and secondly the views and beliefs of the two are inherently incompatible.
The fundamental mistake Sinn Féin is making is allowing religious concepts and definitions to be confused with politics.
Once you start banging on about reconciliation in the north you immediately enter favourite unionist religious territory of repentance and apology.
In a nutshell, for many DUP people you can't have reconciliation until you repent of what they, in their insufferable self-righteousness, see as your sins - religious drivel that has nothing to do with politics.
However before he got onto religious aspects - not, mind you, those of the DUP 'exclusive brethren' variety - Dr Graham did suggest one useful element which is essential for successful politics.
He recommended sitting down and having a chat over coffee with someone of different views.
"Get to know the person," he advised. That, unfortunately, is something DUP politicians refuse to do.
Their behaviour at Stormont (and councils) was/is appalling. They refuse to enter lifts with Sinn Féin people, or in many cases even pass the time of day.
Ironically the only person who developed close personal relations was the most egregious bigot, Paisley.
You won't remember this, but 25 years ago or so when a trip to South Africa was organised in the futile belief it would broaden the minds of unionists they refused to go into the same room as Sinn Féin even to hear an address by Nelson Mandela, a man who had something to teach about political reconciliation.
So when Mary Lou McDonald says, "People suffered, were hurt, endured pain, inflicted pain. We can't make that go away but we can say sorry to each other - I believe it's important that we do", her voice travels into a void.
There's no echo from political unionism, no reply, no reciprocation, zero.
No unionist politician has ever apologised for the stinking political slum their forefathers jerry-built here or the way they, with their political police and armed militia, treated northern nationalists.
On the contrary, after the rotten structure collapsed in catastrophe in 1972 they spent 30 years trying to recreate it, refusing to share power with the harmless, hapless SDLP even at council level - laughably at a time when councils had no powers.
Even after the Good Friday Agreement was ratified by 72 per cent in a referendum in 1998 most unionists switched to DUP to reject that democratic decision.
The DUP has never accepted the GFA. Instead of agreeing to accommodation offered by Sinn Féin they retreated to wallowing in flags, glorifying murder gangs, provocative Orange marches, denigrating Irish, opposing modernising legislation, commemorating annually sedition, treason, armed insurrection against their British government and at the same time deploring and condemning anyone engaged in the same activity against the northern administration.
Not for a second does it occur to any unionist political representative that for many nationalists and republicans, still, the north has no legitimacy politically or constitutionally.
However, given the reforms and the guarantees of the Good Friday Agreement, nationalists and republicans were prepared to cooperate in running the north on the basis of equality of status and parity of esteem.
The DUP bought none of that. None of them has ever praised the concept of sharing power.
You can see the distance they have to travel if they won't even have a chat with a republican over coffee.