Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Time to tackle our painful past

One of the most vexed issues in Northern Ireland is how to deal with remembering the past. This is partly because of the horrific experiences of people on all sides, and also the difficulty of reconciling each memory of that past.

The pitfalls in handling this sensitive issue were well-illustrated by the Eames-Bradley report of several years ago. After long consultations it produced some useful ideas, but it never recovered from the recommendation of a £12,000 'recognition payment' for the families of all victims.

The search for a solution continues, and it is therefore a welcome sign that Secretary of State Owen Paterson is attempting to chart a way forward with a series of separate meetings with the Stormont parties.

One of the problems, however, is that so far there is no consensus, so finding a way forward will not be easy. The Secretary of State is giving a lead by holding the meetings, but he is right to point out that it is not up to the Government to impose a solution. This is a matter for the Northern Ireland people themselves, and for the politicians who represent them. This will require a large element of give and take, and all sides will be required to show particular awareness of the particular sensitivities involved.

The First Minister Peter Robinson has given timely advice by suggesting that this should not become a party political issue, and that in trying to deal with the past, everyone involved should not jeopardise the future.

The Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness is also right in declaring that remembering the past is "a nettle that has to be grasped." No-one wishes to get stung in the process, but that is not to suggest that pain and discomfort are inevitable.

In trying to deal with the past, the politicians are now embarking on a crucial journey which hopefully may come to a satisfactory conclusion. The sooner that journey is started, and finished successfully, the better it will be for all of us.

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