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Foster's confident candour shows those affected by the Troubles need not hide hurt

By Malachi O'Doherty

Published 10/02/2016

Arlene Foster is an example to us all now of how to manage a difficult reconciliation.

There are political calculations being made about why she has disclosed her understanding that Martin McGuinness, her partner in government, delivered an oration in praise of the man who shot her father. She has caused discomfort.

Republican-minded commentators on radio programmes yesterday seemed to feel that the most important thing was to even the balance and remind everyone that others had suffered too and others, including republicans, had been generous in the context of peace-making.

True, but their need to say it suggested that they were a little unnerved by Arlene's candour.

But what she has done contains a couple of implied statements that are good to hear, and are not just about poking republicans.

One is that victims do not need to hide their hurt.

Just because we have to make politics work through numerous compromises does not mean that people have to pretend that their own suffering and loss do not matter.

And victims who are feeling sidelined - and more so after the failure of the Fresh Start agreement to accommodate them - need to know that the First Minister is not going to be coy about her own hurt. The other thing implied in it is that her brand of unionism has the confidence to speak its mind.

She does not need the carping of Jim Allister and, more meekly, Mike Nesbitt, to remind her of the scale of the compromises that she has made.

Some have responded with a sense that she has been indecorous, that she broke one of the unwritten rules of peace-making - that it is bad form to remind people of how they have offended you in the past.

But there is no such rule, and if it ever seemed appropriate, then setting it aside should be a mark of maturity in the process itself.

Which is not to say that there is no political advantage to her.

Arlene Foster has located herself within the victim sector, having spoken more frankly since she took office about her experiences of violence.

This may not only be about declaring her confidence to speak frankly while moving forward.

The next big issue is dealing with the past, and there will be division within the victim centre when compromises are reached on how to go about that.

Arlene has put herself on ground from which she can declare her own position with the confidence that she will be heard as speaking from a victim's experience.

She will be harder to refute when the negotiations begin.

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