Belfast Telegraph

Failure to deal with past imperils future

Editor's Viewpoint

The continuing deadlock over how to handle the past is well-illustrated by two different articles published in today's Belfast Telegraph.

In London, hundreds of Army veterans marched in Westminster to support former soldier Dennis Hutchings, who is due to stand trial in connection with the death of a vulnerable man near Benburb in 1974.

John Pat Cunningham, who had learning difficulties, was shot when he ran from an Army patrol because he had a fear of men in uniform.

The Justice For Northern Ireland Veterans organised the London march to protest at the number of recent investigations into the conduct of soldiers stationed here during the Troubles.

The campaign group claims that these investigations amount to a witch-hunt of former soldiers, who were doing their duty in the most difficult circumstances.

However, there were counter-protests in London, Belfast, Londonderry, Strabane, Co Armagh and elsewhere by those who say that the Army enjoyed a "culture of impunity" during the Troubles.

The London march and the counter-protests show the depth of feeling that remains on both sides, and this is heightened by the announcement that the Government will not pursue the Libyan authorities over compensation for the victims of violence in Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, Victims' Commissioner Judith Thompson has said that if a Stormont Executive is not restored soon the Government may have to step in to deal with issues around legacy matters.

The commissioner also warns that the longer the issue is drawn out, the harder it will be to find a solution, and she underlined the stark reality that victims and survivors are seeing other people die without receiving answers to their questions, which they would receive in a "normal civic justice process".

All of this shows that the past here hangs heavily over the present and may threaten the future.

The message is continually clear that the past cannot be ignored, and must be an important part of the talks, which seem to be limping along at Stormont.

To overlook the past is to store up more trouble for the future. Whatever the difficulties, the onus is on the Government and the Secretary of State to help the parties to find a way ahead on this sensitive and complex subject.

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