Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Hard choices needed if we want to move forward

This was one of those weeks in Northern Ireland when the events of the past, and how to deal with them, created a storm and also illustrated what a long way we still have to go.

Attorney General John Larkin made major headlines by suggesting that it was time to try to draw a line under the past. He asked people to accept that there is little that the families of the Troubles victims can do to obtain full legal redress against the perpetrators of violence. He also suggested an end to inquiries, inquests and other investigative ways of trying to deal with what has happened.

As a lawyer he outlined rightly the difficulties of obtaining convictions for past murders and other acts of violence and suggested that with time these would become even more difficult. However, instead of initiating a comprehensive debate on this delicate issue, Mr Larkin seems to have united very many people against him.

Sadly, the whole question of victims and their families remains intensely sensitive, and the pain of those who have lost loved ones has not lessened over the years.

Despite the legalistic way in which Mr Larkin relayed his point of view, his clear analysis was a warning to people that Northern Ireland urgently needs some better way of dealing with the past.

The controversies of this week showed that the emotions are still extremely raw and that we have a long way to go before a lasting reconciliation with our past is really possible.

People who are, and have been, involved in the noble work of building bridges in Northern Ireland are apt to refer to "reconciliation" as a way of selling our imperfect "peace" to the rest of the world.

There is no doubt that some progress has been made, particularly since the Good Friday Agreement, but if lasting and real reconciliation is to be achieved, people in our society, both collectively and individually, will need to face hard choices and perhaps even to start thinking the unthinkable.

There is simply no easy way forward.

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