Actor Liam Neeson, in town to collect his Freedom of Ballymena award, summed up the Northern Ireland of today quite astutely.
He noted the enormous strides that have been made in the past decade in politics and society in general. And he recognised that those changes occurred not by accident, but through a combination of courage, generosity and persistence. Those are the virtues which are still needed today.
At times it is easy to get dispirited. The flag protests, the graveside orations lauding Dolours Price as a liberator, not as a terrorist, and the visit of the unwanted Martin Galvin to welcome another terrorist, Gerry McGeough, out of prison this week. It is like a rewind of our troubled times when violence, or the praise of violence, was a daily occurrence.
But it is not the same. We have seen a better life. Whereas during the Troubles, the enmities seemed intractable and political solutions impossible, we now know that old foes can make common peace and that, for all their faults, the politicians do want to put the past behind them. They have shown courage to agree to bring back devolved government and they showed persistence in the long debates over the various agreements which enabled this to happen.
There are still echoes of the past, nods to old idealism and to the backwoodsmen of all political persuasions who never really wanted change. Some still use the language of the past, but the province is moving forward inexorably. At times progress seems glacial in its slowness but, as Liam Neeson recognised, it is progress. We should be ever mindful of where we have come from and what we have to lose. We now live in a better Northern Ireland, a province which is more generous in spirit. We must not allow those who hanker for a return to the past to gain any foothold in society and undo all the positive work.