Talk to each other, listen and understand each other’s fears, and respect each other in a shared society was the theme of the message at the annual Louis Leonard memorial talk at Donagh last week.

Impartial Reporter columnist, Denzil McDaniel was the guest speaker, invited by the Leonard family.

Betty Leonard, widow of Louis who was murdered in 1972 when his body was left in his fridge at his butcher’s shop in Derrylin, introduced Mr. McDaniel.

He is the first speaker in an initiative to start dialogue across the divide, with the Rev David Latimer coming to speak in February.

“Our past is a tough place to go; but we need to face up to uncomfortable truths,” Denzil told the packed audience at St. Pat’s GAA clubhouse.

“The purpose of looking at our past, in my opinion, should be to remember those who suffered and to create the conditions in which we don’t sink to such dark depths again,” he added.

He spoke a little of his own upbringing in Enniskillen referring to the awful housing conditions for working class Protestants and Catholics.

“The dominant narrative today is that Protestant equals Unionist, which is a far cry from the ethos of Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen of 1798. But having grown up among the Unionist community, I can identify with the ideals of Wolfe Tone and Henry Joy McCracken,” he said.

“But,” he went on, “I have a great empathy for Unionists; they are hardworking, people of faith and people who have much in common with their Catholic neighbours.

“I understand their qualities, their potential and I understand their fears, and I would like you, whatever your faith or politics to understand them too,” said Denzil.

He said there were plenty of Protestants and Catholics who live happily together.

“It’s just that when it comes to national identity or culture, we haven’t been able to cope with that difference and it’s ended up in shocking bloodshed. Sometimes we’re good friends, then we’re the best of enemies.”

He suggestedthat to understand Protestants a bit better, I think it’s important to recognise that they are not one homogenous group that all thinks the same way.

He believed that Unionist leaders seem to have difficulty in agreeing to a shared society, never mind enter into a debate about a united Ireland.

Though he welcomes the Stormont deal which appeared to be agreed earlier that day, and hoped the parties would work to make people’s lives better.

“There is genuine fear, though,” he said. “It’s one of the uncomfortable truths that this Unionist fear and mistrust was further deepened by the Republican war to achieve unity. This applies all round in a divided society, once a conflict gains traction, fog of war makes it difficult to control and a lot of inhumanity being perpetrated on the enemy.

He hoped that we would never go back to the dark days. “We need to take the bitterness and anger out of our hearts and move forward in respect for every child of the nation,” said.