Sinn Fein’s leader has called for a “compassionate” approach to the past.
Mary Lou McDonald said the party should acknowledge all suffering during the Northern Ireland conflict and provide a space to remember.
The party president urged a duty of candour and acceptance of difference, and said reconciliation “sits above” the constitutional question surrounding the creation of a united Ireland.
Ms McDonald said: “We need a new conversation about the past, a focus on finding common ground, a compassionate approach to the past.
“All suffering is real and sincere – no one has a monopoly on suffering.”
She urged hard conversations, acceptance of difference and acknowledgement of change.
“To manage and resolve disagreements, to find our common humanity and shared values amongst the rubble of the past and conflicting hopes for the future.”
She said it was not a choice between reconciliation and a united Ireland.
“Reconciliation is central. Reconciliation is not a Trojan horse for unity. Reconciliation cannot be made wait for unity. Reconciliation sits above the constitutional question.”
She was addressing a civic unionist meeting at Queen’s University Belfast on Monday evening.
“We have an agreed process to deal with the constitutional question. We now need an agreed process for reconciliation. A process to resolve the past, to live together in the present and to unlock the future.”
She referenced the suffering of relatives of republican dead and the death of Queen’s lecturer Edgar Graham at the hands of the IRA.
Mr Graham, a Belfast barrister and unionist politician, was shot dead in 1983 near the university.
Ms McDonald said: “I cannot undo that damage or that loss.
“I and my generation of republicans will work tirelessly to build a society in which no other parent is left without a child or a child left without a mammy or daddy. To work to promote peace and reconciliation, to acknowledge all suffering and provide a space to remember. A space for each to remember in their own way.
“It is about remembering the dead, not celebrating conflict.”
Former speaker of the Stormont Assembly Eileen Bell said Ms McDonald did not use the word “compromise” during her speech.
Since her retirement, the former Alliance Party deputy leader has focused on community work.
She added: “Unfortunately it is not over, in every community in the north of Ireland there are problems.”