Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 31 May 2016

Editor's Viewpoint: Insight into dark past must be spur to present

Published 04/01/2014

It is difficult to believe today that only 30 years ago plans to redraw the Irish border were being considered by British officials at a high level.

According to secret State papers, there were substantive proposals to hand over west Belfast and most of Londonderry to the Republic.

It seems incomprehensible that officials prepared a paper based on partition ideas presented by an academic and that this actually reached the desk of then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Wisely, this was dismissed by the Iron Lady, but it shows how far people were prepared to think in those days, especially when there was already a precedent for partition.

Fortunately Mrs Thatcher and her senior colleagues recognised this was not a practical solution, and if it was implemented it would have created even more hideous problems and human rights abuses.

However, this extraordinary initiative must be seen in the context of the times, and those were dark days indeed in the history of Northern Ireland.

Despite the current political impasse in the wake of the Haass talks, there is no doubt that the situation here has improved, and we can treat the 1984 suggestions for partition as a political and administrative whimsy that is best left to lie buried in the undergrowth of history.

However, we need to remember that even if things here have changed for the better, we cannot afford to rest and to allow the current deadlock to create further problems.

That is why we need to see from Monday some renewed efforts by politicians from the main parties to get back around the talks table and to re-ignite discussion on some of the more sensible proposals in the Haass document.

Meanwhile, it is incumbent on those in the DUP and UUP who objected to the main Haass proposals to explain why they did so, which they so far have not done.

We need to know the strength and depth of their objections in order to work out how these might be overcome.

So the sooner we hear from them, the better for everyone.

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