On March 25, I was in Belfast for an event with the John and Pat Hume Foundation on “Building the Common Ground”.
This cross-community event was hosted by the Passionist community, and I was there to speak about the profound legacy of John and Pat as peacemakers and pioneers of reconciliation, and of the inclusive vision of the Good Friday Agreement.
This event was interrupted shortly after it began. A local electrician was hijacked at gunpoint by two men and coerced into driving his van, with what he believed to be an explosive device in it, to where almost 100 people had gathered for this event – located beside Holy Cross church where a funeral was taking place.
As a result, an event about reconciliation was postponed, a man was traumatised and a grieving family was left praying for their loved one in a car park instead of a church.
This advances the cause of no community. It is defending no principle. It is a shameful echo of a darker time. A time that was brought to an end by the Good Friday Agreement and the collective efforts of courageous men and women from all communities, with the endorsement of an overwhelming majority of the people of this island, north and south.
What I was there to say that day was that the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement was achieved by us all and belongs to us all.
It is there for unionists, nationalists, and those who don’t identify as either.
The Agreement is absolutely explicit in committing to “parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities”.
That has to mean not just tolerance, but genuine respect. It has to mean that we recognise that each tradition – unionism and nationalism – is far more than the rhetoric of their most extreme or narrow-minded proponents.
Both traditions are not just legitimate, but can be put forward in ways that are principled and idealistic, aspirational and generous and inclusive.
David Trimble was rightly honoured alongside John Hume with the Nobel Peace Prize.
The Agreement was not the creation of one community, but of both. The progress we have won has been achieved through the leadership not of one, but of all.
And we must also recognise that there is a growing dimension of Northern Ireland that does not define itself by national identity or binary politics.
We must listen to, and respond to, all the diversity of aspirations in Northern Ireland and across our shared island. By doing so, we create a better vision for this place no matter what its constitutional future.
Where we have different aspirations for the future, as we will, there should be an ambition to work not for victory, but for the best and most inclusive version of the society we want.
And where we have the same aspirations for the future, for the health, prosperity and sustainability of our communities, we must take the opportunities we have right now to work together to find the best outcomes for all.
That is the idea that is at the heart of the Shared Island initiative, as the Taoiseach made clear again in his event with the Hume Foundation in Derry on Friday.
We know that there are real concerns and political tensions at present, including around the Protocol.
The EU is listening to and responding to those concerns with proposals to significantly reduce checks on goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We continue to support the European Commission and the UK government in finding agreement – through dialogue – on the sustainable implementation of the Protocol.
Democratic, lawful channels are there to address all concerns. There can be no excuse or tolerance for the threat of violence or disorder.
The Good Friday Agreement set out structures to accommodate difference and disagreement, not dispel it.
It is up to us to differ well. It is up to us to think in terms not of winning a debate, but in terms of how we can find common ground.
That is what the Hume Foundation wanted us to be addressing. That is what the Passionist community have worked for years to build between the Ardoyne and the Shankill. That is what real leaders from different communities and both traditions had come to talk about at that event.
They are the people whose voices should be amplified, because they are voices, not of the past, but of the future.