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Reconciliation can be complex, but achievable with goodwill

By Trevor Ringland

Published 11/08/2015

Troubled times: Riots in Belfast
Troubled times: Riots in Belfast

I was contacted by BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme last week because they had been told I was in favour of our society "drawing a line" under its past. I said that my view wasn't as simple as that.

Northern Ireland's past is a complex issue and "drawing a line", which I appreciate is a very simplistic, insensitive and insulting phrase for many, is one option. But we need to consider what such a process would look like.

In my view there are three main options for dealing with the past. Firstly, we could continue the fairly muddled and unsatisfactory approach we've currently adopted. Secondly, we could pursue a forensic approach to truth and justice, irrespective of the consequences. Thirdly, we could find a way to suspend criminal investigations, for the time being, and provide a limited form of "truth recovery".

Suspension could involve putting these investigations on hold for at least 30 years (or perhaps for ever) with the proviso that any return to violence or a deteriorating political situation could prompt them to be reopened.

That would mean no further prosecutions, civil actions, coroners inquests, or inquiries.

Instead there would be an emphasis on helping families who wanted information about the fate of their loved ones through a limited truth recovery process.

As regards the constitutional question, it has been resolved and we agree that it is determined by the principle of consent, within Northern Ireland. However, there are ongoing issues which allow the more extreme ideological elements to continue to divide our society.

The display of the Union flag should take place on designated days across all council headquarters and suitable Government buildings to reflect our constitutional status as part of the UK. It may also be desirable to consider a new flag specifically for Northern Ireland, which could command support across the community.

Where parades are concerned, good practice should be identified and adhered to in respect of both parading and protesting.

We also require genuine commitment to integrating education, at a political level. Full integration and sharing should take place from an early age.

Likewise, there needs to be a serious commitment to shared housing and meaningful strategies, developed with local communities, to build relationships around problematic interface areas.

Underpinning how our society deals with its past, there should be a "statement of wrongs", which emphasises that all those who used violence to promote political ends on the island of Ireland were wrong and unjustified. As a society, we cannot allow former paramilitaries to justify and glorify their violent actions. Northern Ireland could benefit from a peace centre, but it should not be controlled by political parties and it should not be used to promote a particular ideology. It should be somewhere where young people can come to learn about the consequences of conflict on individuals, their families and society.

As a backdrop to all of this, we need politicians who are prepared to make a qualifying commitment to practise their politics in a constructive manner. That means promoting inclusive versions of the British and Irish identities.

So, with all these aspects in place, we might have an environment where we could fairly ask families of innocent victims to forego justice, because we would have a society which was genuinely committed to reconciliation.

Unfortunately, this view was too complex for Talkback and the programme's producers did not provide me with the opportunity to air it.

Belfast Telegraph

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