An island of peace and potential

Click to follow
The guns are silent. And between the lines of every one of the 58 paragraphs of the Framework Document is one simple intent: to keep them silent.

The guns have been silent in Northern Ireland for almost six months now, and that silence calls for a big, a visionary, and a generous response from all sides.

Of course the fears are still there, fed and fuelled by the leaks of recent weeks. But those fears must be informed by a practical realisation.

Guns kill and maim. Documents don't. Particularly documents which are so clearly and painstakingly positioned as presenting options for discussion and reflection, not ultimata. It would be wrong to fill the silence offered by the stilling of the weapons with shouted rejections of a document, or restatements of past realities.

Talking to people in the streets of Northern Ireland over the past couple of months, it became quite clear to me that younger people are not going to be bound by ideological hang-ups and the baggage of the past. They want to live the normal life they have enjoyed over the past six months. They are prepared to look at change. To consider it positively.

Everybody, all sectors and all political parties, must do likewise and recognise that the time for compromise has come. Nobody can get out of the Framework Document everything they expect. Change is what the future is about. It is our ability, the ability of everyone involved, to manage change that will allow us to consolidate the peace enjoyed during the past six months and ensure we never again see or hear about atrocities in Northern Ireland.

This Framework Document has, as its basis,the Downing Street Declaration. That Declaration set out principles on which we could go forward in a balanced, just and fair way - addressing all the fears and all the grievances of both communities and trying, as John Major and I always did, to approach things in an even-handed manner.

Talking to each other is what it is all about for the future: we won't find solutions without talking to each other. When, as the newly-appointed taoiseach, I set out on the road to talk to and listen to everybody and to establish a network of contacts, in both communities, I posed the question: "Who is afraid of peace?" Another question must now be posed, and it is: "Who is afraid to talk?" Talking and above all listening is the way forward to finding solutions to the very complex problem that exists here in Ireland.

A quite different image of Ireland has been on television screens the world over during the past six months. Not an island of death and destruction, but an island of peace and potential, of difference and diversity.

The Framework Document can indeed be historic if it attracts all the political parties into dialogue which turns that image into a permanent reality. This can happen if we set out to improve the three sets of relationships, within the six counties, between North and South, and between the British and the Irish people.

There are people alive in Northern Ireland today who wouldn't be alive if the ceasefires had not happened. There is, for the first time in decades, a sense in the streets of Northern Ireland towns of being able to breathe more freely, walk more easily.

There is a wonderful, fragile possibility that we all, North and South, might get used to peace, might in the long term take peace for granted. Reading this framework document, and reflecting rather than just reacting, is a simple yet difficult part of creating such a just and lasting peace.

In the silence offered by the stilling of the guns, none of us should be afraid to talk peace.

Albert Reynolds was taoiseach from12 January 1993 until 17 November 1994.