AN INSPIRING VISITOR

22 June 2012 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The visit to Ireland this week of Burmese pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi was an important and inspiring occasion.
For one thing, it was a timely prompt to place our own fiscal and economic difficulties into a degree of perspective.
Her presence invited the realisation that, as much as our national problems are a very real source of pain for many and extremely pre-occupying to the occasional occlusion of a global perspective, we enjoy freedoms to complain, argue and protest for change that are not universally enjoyed or even countenanced.
Throughout the long years of her confinement under house arrest by the Burmese ruling military in order to curb her endeavours to bring democratic change to her country, Ms Suu Kyi became a powerful symbol of principled and dignified resistance to oppression that, contrary to the motivation of her effective gaolers, ensured that she and the cause she propounded became known worldwide.
But as her image as an inspirational champion for freedom of expression grew increasingly iconised, the sense of her as a person was perhaps lost in the symbolism.
One of the chief pleasures of Ms Suu Kyi’s visit to Ireland and the media prominence given to the other stops along her current progression through Europe has been the opportunity to discover the person behind the image.
Her dignity and warmth of personality, and the studious intelligence applied to negotiating the complicated diplomatic pathway she must pursue, are particularly inspiring.
In her appearance and disposition, there have been occasional hints of the strains and personal ordeals she has endured, but the sense that her essential self, her force of belief, appears to have been fortified, not diminished, by her experiences, is deeply impressive.
Ireland’s has a strong record of support for the cause of the Burmese people which was gratefully acknowledged by the Nobel Peace Prize winner, whose visit inevitably prompts some reflection on our own activities and record in the area of human rights, not just on a national basis but in our local communities and in our personal lives.
Much has been done in recent times to reconcile the terrible sectarian conflict that raged in the northern part of our island.
The political progress made has been significant and as work continues to address the legacy of the Troubles, what had been a fledgling hope of a lasting accommodation between the traditions is maturing slowly into the substance of true progress.
The people of Co Monaghan and our neighbours on both sides of the Border have a particular stake in the perpetuation of peace – we suffered gravely in human and economic terms during the years when violence held primacy, and have come to enjoy some degree of recompense in the aftermath of its cessation.
Our Border perspective makes us particularly appreciative of the value of peace, and also perhaps less inclined to complacency about its preservation that those who lived at a more distant remove from the impact of its absence.
Just as Aung San Suu Kyi’s endeavour to ensure lasting reforms in Burma has only really begun, the work of peace in our own country is still in its infancy – the field needs constant tending for the crop sown to prosper.
This, then, is a propitious time to become better neighbours with our friends across the Border.
We have of late been encouraging those cross-Border bodies that have created political and community links to examine ways of broadening the remit of their co-operation.
Work being undertaken at present by the Centre for Cross-Border Studies and the International Centre for Local and Regional Development towards the bringing into being of a cross-Border ‘Development Zone’ would seem to form a good rallying point for renewed collective endeavour between existing trans-frontier agencies.
Monaghan Co Council on Monday received a very interesting briefing on this project, which seeks to establish a better prevailing environment for economic growth rather than to create a further tier of bureaucratic structures.
The thinking seems to be that the structures are already in place – if the means can be found to co-ordinate them properly and harness them to concentrated effect, then the many impediments posed to growth by peripherality can be overcome, and our Border region could take effective charge of its own economic development rather than having to wait – most times in vain – for initiatives to come from increasingly centralised national government systems.
We encourage our local authorities and the cross-Border structures they play a role in to take an active stake in the exploration of this concept.
Peace is desirable for its own sake – but peace accompanied by prosperity enhances the chances of peace’s longevity.
Our historical struggles to reconcile religious and cultural tradition have often predominated discussion of human rights issues in this country – to the exclusion perhaps of other areas requiring attention.
We have sometimes been upbraided by international watchdogs for our treatment and attitudes towards minorities such as the travelling community – and the growing multiculturalism of 21st-century Ireland has thrown up other challenges to our accommodation of difference.
Like the fostering of peace, the sowing and tending we need to undertake in this regard is ongoing and perennial.
Some admirable social inclusion initiatives have been spearheaded by the local authority and community sectors in Co Monaghan – but these can only go so far in effecting change in deep-grained attitudes.
Our county’s schools shine out as admirable examples of integration and accommodation of diversity and perhaps offer the best hope for the future of the elimination of the mindset of intolerance which, by no means a predominant one in the attitudes of Monaghan people, can still sometimes manifest itself in ways that can make our county a less than welcoming place for those who are ethnically, culturally, religiously or in terms of sexual orientation, different from the majority.
Like Aung San Suu Kyi, we all still have work to do to build the society we would like to live in and bequeath to coming generations.

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