Clergyman in historic SF address
Published 09/09/2011 | 21:36
A Presbyterian minister has called for a symbolic public day of reconciliation in Northern Ireland as he became the first Protestant clergyman from the region to address a Sinn Fein conference.
The Reverend David Latimer also described his friend and Stormont Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness as one of the "true great leaders of modern times" during his landmark speech at Belfast's Waterfront Hall.
The former Army chaplain, who addressed delegates in Irish on a number of occasions, told the republican audience his proposed day of hope and transformation would bring together bereaved on all sides of the conflict.
He said the one-off event, which would see mutual recognition of wrongdoing, could be staged across all of Ireland, adding: "Such a solitary and public event would I believe provide space and time for everybody involved in the conflict to acknowledge the pain that each has inflicted.
"Recognising we have hurt each other and that we have been hurt by each other and that we all need to forgive would undeniably be liberating for all 32 counties, I think, of this island."
He said differing religious and political beliefs should be respected and should no longer be the source of suspicion, adding: "They shouldn't be sufficient to make one side fearful of the other. So with our prevailing political and religious beliefs - these, compared to the benefits of peace, I think we have to acknowledge, make our differences relatively trivial.
"Therefore, for the sake of our children we will keep moving forward together, we must not let the peace die, we will not let the peace die and with a man at the helm like Martin (McGuinness) we can be sure of that."
Rev Latimer's church is close to Mr McGuinness's house in Londonderry and the two have forged an unlikely friendship in the last five years. The Sinn Fein veteran was instrumental in securing funds for the Presbyterian church's much-needed renovation.
The clergyman praised the efforts of Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists to agree to share power at Stormont but stressed that more needed to be done to secure peace.
"Despite our respective Dublin or London preferences which we have to learn to respect and accept, despite our different aspirations, we want to acknowledge that our destinies are tied together and our futures are bound together," he said. "Which means, ladies and gentlemen, that neither of us can continue to walk alone and the more we do together as people on the street and as politicians up on the hill (Stormont), the better we will shape our shared future."