Belfast Telegraph

Cohesive approach to Northern Ireland's legacy issues needed

Editor's Viewpoint

Dealing with the legacy of the past is an issue that seems beyond the abilities of the devolved administration to begin to tackle, never mind actually solve. Secretary of State James Brokenshire repeatedly emerges to urge the parties to fulfil the pledges in the Fresh Start agreement a year ago and set up the institutions to address the problem.

Repeatedly he also warns that no movement is possible until a firm agreement on the way forward is agreed by all parties, but such agreement remains elusive.

No one says that legacy issues are easy to solve. One only has to look at our report today on figures released by the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland to glimpse how complex the issue is. There are a staggering 1,105 registered charities whose main focus is on issues relating to the past.

Inevitably, these will be organisations of variable size and reach, but many will be in receipt of funding from statutory bodies such as Stormont or the European Union through its peace funds, as well as relying on the generosity of the general public. Those are resources which could usefully go to other projects with equally pressing needs.

The sheer number of the charities devoted to issues of the past show how diverse the needs of those affected are. Victims' groups can be divided along sectarian lines, with others devoted solely to the security forces, or even ex-prisoners of various allegiances.

That alone ensures they are not working toward a common purpose. Each of those groups will have different priorities and, while these charities may do valuable work, their energies are being dissipated.

It is 18 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, and a resolution of the past seems little closer. What is urgently needed is an overarching architecture or set of structures to address the problems in a cohesive and inclusive manner.

Failure to do so means that those who suffered most during the Troubles will have received least help or solace. The charities cannot be used as a fig leaf to cover the inaction of politicians.

The Charities Commission report shows that the Northern Ireland public are extremely generous, donating £1bn - equivalent to one tenth of the entire budget for the province - to charities. However, their generosity of spirit towards the politicians on dealing with the past is running thin.

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