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Economics dictate present, not past, is now the priority

There should be no shock or surprise about this HET announcement. It had been signalled in recent comments by new Chief Constable George Hamilton.

And his words were absolutely clear – that in a budget squeeze the policing priority would be the present, not the past.

His recent speech to the British-Irish Association in Oxford was probably the most significant intervention by a Chief Constable on the subject of the past since the words of Hugh Orde more than a decade ago.

Orde spoke about the need to close the book.

"It's how you close the book in a way that allows victims to come to terms with closing the book and have some sort of satisfaction."

The past is not just about the police and investigations and courts and jail. Hamilton made that clear in these recent words: "To continue to ignore, hesitate or procrastinate on the past will have unpredictable and far-reaching consequences.

"It requires all of us to be selfless, to go beyond our comfort zones and have challenging conversations, such as the one initiated by the Attorney General almost a year ago," he said.

This was reference to John Larkin's controversial suggestion that a line should be drawn under all Troubles-era investigations. Hamilton said: "Judicial closure is increasingly unlikely in the majority of cases."

Then came yesterday's announcement – framed within the context and consequences of the financial squeeze.

But it also coincides with the latest efforts to achieve new all-party talks, including on the Haass agenda of flags, parades and the past. So, the challenge is about to be taken into another talks arena as soon as an agenda and process can be agreed.

Then the question becomes a matter of political will. Can agreement be reached? Or will the past continue to be a battlefield – unanswered, unsolved and unexplained, something that is destructive and divisive?

Just weeks into his new role, George Hamilton has opened up and opened out that debate.

His recent speech and the announcement on the HET will shift the debate and the focus.

The plans have been drawn a number of times and the issue now is about the will to do what has been proposed.

Belfast Telegraph