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Incredible debate a festival first

By Brian Rowan

It will be another of those moments that speaks of our changing times. For decades, Martin McGuinness was identified as one of the "hawks" of the IRA leadership. Now, he is Deputy First Minister.

And, next month, as part of Feile an Phobail (the west Belfast Festival), he will share a stage and a discussion with Chief Constable George Hamilton.

It is a festival first - and a debating first. The topic under discussion? Will the questions of the past ever be answered?

It is also a sign of political and policing leadership that the two have agreed to participate in such a public event.

It will not be a cosy conversation for either man. The past has many unanswered questions.

These are not just about collusion and how it should be defined and described. There are also many questions for the IRA and the republican leadership and a whole range of others.

McGuinness has been part of discussions under the heading: Uncomfortable conversations - an initiative for dialogue towards reconciliation. And, on the past, Hamilton has challenged people to step outside their comfort zones.

Addressing legacy issues - taking the past out of the policing present - has been one of the big talking points throughout his first year in post.

Indeed, writing in this newspaper earlier this week, the Chief Constable said it would be a "huge mistake" to stall on the proposals of the Stormont House Agreement.

McGuinness has also said the "essential legacy mechanisms" of that deal must proceed. That means the new Historical Investigations Unit, the Independent Commission for Information Retrieval and the Implementation and Reconciliation Group.

Policing and politics have more to think about than just the past. There are huge challenges in the present. Can Stormont survive the welfare reform stand-off and the further cuts around the next political corner? And Hamilton has made clear the implications of the budget squeeze.

So, there will be much to talk about on that stage at St Mary's on the Falls Road on August 6 - in a discussion that, at times, may well prove both uncomfortable and challenging.

  • Journalist and commentator Brian Rowan will chair the festival event

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