Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Voices from the past offer hope for future

Seamus Mallon
Seamus Mallon

Editor's Viewpoint

Two voices from the past this week put the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement into perspective and struck a tone so different from the toxic exchanges which have led to the current political impasse at Stormont.

One of those voices was that of a man opposed to the Good Friday Agreement, former First Minister Peter Robinson.

While he has said there were elements of the accord he could never agree with, he nevertheless accepted that its guiding principle of compromise between competing political ideologies in Northern Ireland was essential.

He stressed that it was not enough for any one party to simply look after its own interests, it had to accept the others also had a constituency and that both had to work to solve problems which arose.

And he echoed the words of many in the province when he said it was a worse place for not having a devolved administration. There is, he added, no problem which cannot be solved.

The other voice was that of former Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon, who did not mince his words about the way the DUP and Sinn Fein have behaved in recent times.

But it was his comments on Irish unity which had the strongest message for nationalists and republicans. They, he said, had to convince unionists that unity would be a good thing for them. That could not be achieved if they felt under threat or were afraid of what the future might hold.

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How different those comments were from the statement by former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams that the use of violence to achieve political ends could be justified in certain circumstances.

By coincidence, his words came just a day before the emergence of a new dissident republican group, the Irish Republican Movement, which threatened to kill police officers and drug peddlers.

As both Peter Robinson and Gavin Robinson, the DUP MP for East Belfast pointed out, any suggestion that violence can be justified is dangerous.

Mr Adams claimed the IRA resorted to it because people were being denied their rights, but how did that justify denying many hundreds of people the right to life?

It is clear that trust has broken down between the DUP and Sinn Fein at the present time - but as the history of the Good Friday Agreement shows, trust can be rebuilt if there is a will to do so and if there is the spirit of compromise shown by Mr Mallon and Mr Robinson.

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