Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: State papers show leaders saw a bigger picture

Editor's Viewpoint

Journalism is said to be the first rough draft of history. Given the constraints imposed on that profession by the need to keep producing that rough draft on a daily basis, journalists can congratulate themselves on getting so much of the basics correct so often.

But it is never, nor can it be, the complete picture of events which can only really be seen in hindsight. The release of state papers each year fills in some of the gaps in our knowledge of what went on at any specific time.

Even those of us who lived through the Troubles and saw a terrible history being created before our very eyes continue to be fascinated by what those papers reveal - often the minutiae of the discussions that took place between political leaders or their senior officials.

While it was clearly signposted at the time that the UK Government was opposed to the granting by President Clinton of a visa to Gerry Adams to enter the US, it is only now that we can see the full depth of the Government's anger.

Given Adams' full-hearted support for the IRA's campaign of violence which resulted in the majority of deaths during the Troubles and whose victims included Lord Mountbatten, two MPs, a Cabinet member's wife, two ambassadors and a number of children in shopping centres, that anger was not only justified but shared by many.

Yet this row brings into focus the need on occasion for political leaders to take unpopular decisions. Did the granting of a visa to Adams bring him in from the cold and pave the way to a ceasefire and eventual ending of the IRA's campaign?

Sometimes it appears the loathing felt towards a political figure in Northern Ireland was more subliminal. Former Attorney-General Sir Michael Havers emerged from anaesthesia after a cardiac operation to shout that Ian Paisley would have to be killed to bring peace to the province. It is ironic that Paisley along with Martin McGuinness - and their Chuckle Brothers rapport - helped to cement the peace process in one of the most amazing friendships.

The Troubles produced very fraught times between all parts of these islands, often resulting in strong words being exchanged, yet somehow political leaders were able to see a bigger picture and a big prize of peace.

It may not be perfect but it is immeasurably better than what went before and thousands of people are alive today who might otherwise have been dead.

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