Belfast Telegraph

Irish Open and Sochi hopefuls show route to a better future

By Paul Connolly

As the 20th – yes, 20th – anniversary of the original 1994 IRA ceasefire heaves into sight, you might have thought, way back then, that Northern Ireland would have put most of its sectarian difficulties aside by 2014.

Not a bit of it, of course, as anyone will tell you, and as a quick scan of the Belfast Telegraph's output over the past seven days will confirm.

Of course, the intensity of the conflict is much, much shallower than before. But many of the stories and the issues underlying them are wearingly familiar. The letter-bombs posted to military recruitment offices in England may have lacked the technological sophistication of some years ago, but the same lethal intent remains.

The Giro d'Italia cycling race would never have come here during the Troubles, so that's progress, but the route and the event has been somewhat spoiled by concerns over paramilitary murals and flags.

The squabbles and legislative paralysis at Stormont and the lack of movement on so-called peace lines, sectarianism, integrated education, the continued spectre of paramilitarism and a whole raft of other issues continue unresolved, when 20 years ago most people were optimistic about the future.

Of course, life in Northern Ireland is not all about sectarianism and most people live their lives relatively normally, our economic exceptionalism apart.

A newspaper's job is to hold a mirror up to society and I thought that despite so much gloom, the Belfast Telegraph did a good job reflecting the happy side of life here.

The adventures of ice skater Jenna McCorkell and our other Olympic hopefuls; the great news that Newcastle and Royal County Down will host the 2015 Irish Open, the first shoots of recovery in our housing market, the thriving rugby, GAA and ice hockey scenes; the world-class gigs at the Odyssey: all were and are comprehensively covered.

It's just a pity that the old ghosts continue to take up so much acreage of newsprint and online space and getting in the way of genuine progress.

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It's refreshing to see the courts in England and Wales continue their march towards greater transparency. The latest to grasp the concept that open justice is a cornerstone of confidence in the administration of justice, are the family courts and the Court of Protection.

For years, these courts had been notoriously secret. However, many more decisions by these judges are to be published following guidance from England and Wales' most senior family judge.

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division of the High Court and of the Court of Protection, said the guidance was intended to bring about "an immediate and significant change in practice in relation to the publication of judgments".

He added: "In both courts there is a need for greater transparency in order to improve public understanding of the court process and confidence in the court system."

Some recent – I would say infamous – decisions in the family courts had led to controversies, including the jailing in secret of a woman and a court-forced Caesarean section on a pregnant Italian woman. Mr Munby's reaction to the controversies is not more secrecy, but to open the courts up. How very refreshing.

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