A dark and dreadful past, about which there is little consensus, is clearly a major stumbling block to building a reconciled, shared future.
The longer it takes to satisfactorily deal with the past the greater the risk of old toxic attitudes and practices being dragged into the present.
The time has arrived for political vacillation and procrastination to stop.
The eyes of so many people are firmly closed to the prospect of a better future primarily because their memories of hurt stay vivid.
If we are to find our way to a future of friendship, we must be prepared to build new kinds of relationships.
Recent experience, however, confirms that signatures on a peace treaty and former enemies sitting alongside each other in a power-sharing Executive are insufficient to provide the solid ground upon which peace can take shape.
Northern Ireland will continue to teeter in the shallows until the perpetrators of suffering on every side acknowledge the damage they have caused, or contributed to.
No matter how hard we try, none of us can hide from the past. If Northern Ireland's two traditions are to start living peacefully there must be acknowledgement by all who caused, or contributed to, the pain and some kind of resolve never again to resort to bombs and bullets to address differences.
The world is so full of pain and the most tragic is the pain that we could so easily end – and by simple words: "I was wrong"; "I'm sorry"; "Forgive me".
While no words will ever change the past, the reality is, without a genuine heartfelt apology, a great many will be deprived from ever seeing a reconciled, shared future.
When wounds are large and deep, a salve is necessary to speed along the road to health.
Words such as: "I'm sorry", and "Forgive me", can be the richest kind of healing balm to help relieve people from their pain and enable them to find a new dimension of inner peace.
Dr David Latimer is minister of First Derry Presbyterian Church