Belfast Telegraph

Martin McGuinness and George Hamilton debate: Meeting of minds good for the future

By Brian Rowan

The story of the George and Martin debate on Thursday is that it actually happened - or was allowed to happen.

Chief Constable Hamilton and Deputy First Minister McGuinness, on the same stage, discussing an unanswered past and how that might change.

The easy way out for both would have been to say they were not available. But both took the harder option to attend.

It was part of the West Belfast Festival (Feile an Phobail), an event I chaired inside a packed room that probably could have been filled twice.

There was a protest outside. Not everyone has bought into the Sinn Fein peace strategy, or the process of change known as new policing. So, there was a lot of security - a lot of whispering into walkie-talkies.

In the debate, there were tough questions for Hamilton and McGuinness.

I pressed the Deputy First Minister on IRA co-operation with any process on the past; suggested the republican line that the IRA has left the stage was a cop-out in terms of answering questions on the conflict period and said that Hamilton could take the easy way out by arguing there is no longer an RUC.

McGuinness pointed to co-operation with the commission on the disappeared as evidence that republicans will play their part when that time comes, or if that times comes.

"If" because the stand-off at Stormont could still have implications for the agreed legacy process.

There is also plenty for the chief constable to think about; the questions about publication of the Stevens, Sampson and Stalker reports, about how he and the police persuade families that they are serious about getting them the answers they are looking for, and how he addresses continuing concerns about the role of MI5.

So, the worth of Thursday will be judged on what happens next.

There were also moments of humour - including when the Sinn Fein president left the room.

At that point, Hamilton quipped: "Gerry Adams has gone away, you know."

Thursday night was another of those different and changing moments, which churchman Harold Good witnessed as a further building of trust.

  • Brian Rowan is a writer and commentator on security issues

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