Standing on the shore at Newcastle during the recent tidal surges, I watched wave after wave crashing over the harbour wall. The wall, otherwise imposing on a clear day, seemed a puny human artifice as it was battered by the tide and overcome by the power of the sea.
Just so with our past. In spite of the wishes of some – including those in high places – to keep the past at bay, the horrors of more than three dark decades of human rights violations and abuses keep crashing over us.
Every other day's news bulletin carries sad reminders of the Troubles, reminders not to squander the peace: Omagh, McGurk's Bar, Shankill, Enniskillen, Ballymurphy, Bloody Sunday, the Miami Showband, La Mon.
Our flawed and fragmented processes for uncovering the past are a mess. They let down victims and the bereaved families.
The failure of the state to properly investigate human rights violations from decades of violence is not just a kick in the teeth to victims; it is a knee in the gut to all here who want solid foundations on which to build a society at peace with itself. The failure of armed groups to come clean about the past is inexcusable.
When information is drip-fed, the truth about past violations and abuses remains hidden; those responsible are shielded.
What we now need is a new approach, one that meets the state's commitments under international law, the victims' right to truth and justice and society's need to address and then move on from its tempestuous past.
The parties at the Haass and O'Sullivan roundtable came tantalisingly close to delivering that prize. Their efforts must not be squandered; losing momentum now would betray victims.
The Executive parties – and the UK and Irish governments – must urgently deliver the proposals on the past, through legislation, funding and full co-operation. Those most affected by three dark decades of violence will not easily forgive those who let this moment pass.
The walls of denial cannot forever hold back victims' insistent call for truth and justice.
Patrick Corrigan is Northern Ireland programme director of Amnesty International