02 Nov 2015
The Poet, The Peacemaker and The President, Belfast City Hall, Friday 30 October 2015
Addressing an audience celebrating Corrymeela’s 50th Anniversary in Belfast City Hall this evening, former Irish President Mary Robinson praised the work of the organisation:
“It must have sounded hard to be doing the work you’ve been doing over 50 years as well as more recently. You give hope to people who need to see it … Continue to build bridges. I honour the last 50 years and wish you well for the next 50 years.”
Northern Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation organisation celebrated its 50th anniversary with a gala reception on Friday evening at Belfast City Hall. Around 300 guests were joined by Kathleen Kuehnast (a director at the US Institute of Peace), Ireland’s greatest living poet Michael Longley and guest of honour, former Irish President Mary Robinson.
Corrymeela engages with the world at its points of fracture, faith and potential. The community believes that people can learn to live well together. That theme ran through the evening.
In a twenty minute address on Living Well with the Earth and Each Other in front of an audience of Corrymeela founders, members, volunteers, staff, politicians and church representatives, former Irish President Mary Robinson first paused to recall the references to Northern Ireland in her inaugural address nearly 25 years ago which included the statement:
“As the elected choice of the people of this part of our island I want to extend the hand of friendship and of love to both communities in the other part. And I want to do this with no hidden agenda, no strings attached. As the person chosen by you to symbolise this Republic and to project our self image to others, I will seek to encourage mutual understanding and tolerance between all the different communities sharing this island.”
She echoed the words of Pope Francis and his call for the “need to respect our common home”.
“Our home stretches beyond the natural confines to include all the creatures we share the earth with and the natural life the Earth supports … We have a duty of care to the Earth as our shared inheritance … shared with those on it today as well as those who come after us.”
The former President noted the effect of disrespecting “our common home by polluting the atmosphere” and contributing to rising sea levels:
“The human rights of men and women and children living in the most vulnerable places are undermined. The pollution that causes the problem isn’t caused by those who suffer the worst impact. Instead it is caused by the most wealthy in the world … Climate justice is a reaction to this [and] amplifies the voices of people most affected by climate change and least responsible.”
Research by the Mary Robinson Foundation shows that “women are disproportionally affected by climate change”. Examples include when their crops are washed away by rising sea levels, and when as mothers they suffer with increased incidence of disease caused by climbing temperatures. Yet “women around the world are already adapting to the changing climate” including moving their families away from vulnerable areas.
She used the Titanic as a metaphor for the fate of the world’s population if climate justice is not taken seriously:
“When the Titanic hit the iceberg, it wasn’t just those in steerage that went down, it was everyone bar the very few who managed to escape in boats.”
Speaking on the subject of Living Well with Language and Art, poet Michael Longley looked back over Northern Ireland’s conflict: “Poets were as dumbfounded as most people with the violence.”
“Poets would be inhuman if they did not respond to tragic events in their own community, and poor artists if they did not seek to endorse that response imaginatively. Poets are not super–journalists who can respond with spontaneity as events happen.”
The renowned poet quoted from a number of his works (including The Ice–Cream Man, Ceasefire and All of These People) that poignantly remember people who were murdered admitting “we’re all haunted and most go on engaging with ghosts”.
Director for Gender and Peacebuilding at the US Institute of Peace, Kathleen Kuehnast spent the summer of 1980 as a volunteer in Corrymeela. She reflected on Living Well with Gender and Power: “Gender is just another part of the story that as humans we tell ourselves.”
“War is another example of human society going through very rapid change, a change of social and proscribed roles for both men and women. But we rarely leverage these changes to transform the social contract and ensure that women and men’s roles are more equal inside and outside of the home.”
Kathleen added: “Gender equality issues can’t wait until peace is found in order to be resolved. Sexual violence during conflict requires protection of women. Women must have key roles around peace table.”
The gala celebration was hosted by Corrymeela Community Leader Pádraig Ó Tuama and also included music from Belfast singer songwriter Duke Special. Pádraig said that the wisdom of Michael Longley and Kathleen Kuehnast was invaluable.
“As we look forward to our next 50 years it is a privilege to have the art of poetry and the analysis of gender and power at the heart of our vision for continuing the work of peace in Northern Ireland and beyond.”
Corrymeela Executive Director Colin Craig added
“We are honoured that Mary Robinson came to help celebrate our 50th Anniversary. and were excited to hear about her groundbreaking work in the field of Climate Justice and the struggle to protect those most vulnerable to the impacts of global warming.”