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As election results are declared, I pray it's not yet another false dawn

By Alf McCreary

By the time you read this, most of the election results will have been declared, and you will have a broad idea as to the future of Northern Ireland. As I write this column, roughly one hour before the end of polling day, there is no certainty about the outcome.

Like many people I hope against hope that there will be a new dawn, but we have been here so often before that it is difficult not to remain sceptical.

Time and again we have hoped for the best, and although the situation is not as dire as in the early days of the Troubles, there is much still to be achieved.

Some time ago, I made a public speech about my views of the kind of society we need in Northern Ireland. I was reminded of this recently during a television programme on the local NVTV channel 7 when I was interviewed by Alan Meban.

During my earlier speech, which was on the theme 'What kind of society do we want?' I said: "This community is known over all the world for its hatred, its passions, its coldness, its lack of mercy, its abiding death.

"We have a short fuse, and a long memory, we look forward, not back, to 1690 and 1916. We lack vision, we lack compassion, we lack statesmen, we lack politicians. We even lack ideas."

I went on to say: "I look forward to a society where I can walk without fear in Royal Avenue, or east Belfast, or the Bogside. I want a society where we will have politics and not a sectarian pantomime, where tomorrow is more important than today.

"I look forward to the day when we in Ulster will use our brains (and we have them) and not our brawn: where power will come from the pen and not the sword; from the ballot-box, and not the barrel of a gun.

"I look forward to the day when I can look into the eyes of my children, and grandchildren, and know that this is a fit place for a child to live."

I ended my speech by saying: "Both sides here want to win, but who in God's name is looking for a solution?"

It might shock you to know that I spoke those words in a Lenten address in St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast on March 16, 1976 - nearly 41 years ago.

During that year alone, nearly 300 people died through violence, including 245 civilians. In that year there were 1,908 shootings, 766 explosions, 426 devices defused and over £500,000 stolen in armed robberies.

From the outbreak of the Troubles in 1969, and up to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, a total of 3,289 people died, there were 35,000 shootings, 10,142 explosions, 5,104 devices defused, and nearly £30m stolen.

So much for my plea for a better way forward, away back in 1976.

You can forgive me for being sceptical about the future political path ahead. My heart tells me to hope, but my mind tells me to despair. I hope I am proved wrong.

The recent election campaign was distinctly unedifying. It is difficult imagine that Arlene Foster, who has done herself no favours since the RHI scandal broke, and Michelle O'Neill who shrilly spouts the Sinn Fein mantra, could ever really work together. During their television appearances the "poor me" stance of Mrs Foster and the simplistic over-confidence of Mrs O'Neill told its own story.

To the outside observer it looked as if they could not stand one another.

Today we are at the threshold of yet another attempt to bring lasting peace to Northern Ireland, not only for ourselves but also for our children and grandchildren.

Once again I pose the question which I addressed in St Anne's in 1976 - "What sort of a society do we want?"

It is my hope and prayer that we can some day move forward together as a civilised society, and that we can look into the eyes of our children and grandchildren and truly tell them that this is a fit place in which a child can live, and grow up to a decent adulthood.

Or will we always be trapped in our sectarian bog while the big world passes us by?


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