Belfast Telegraph

Ex-US president Bill Clinton said 'the past cannot be allowed to choke the future' - it was a laudable sentiment

By Mark Brotherston, NI Conservatives

Last week the former US president, Bill Clinton, told an audience that "the past cannot be allowed to choke the future".

It was a laudable sentiment. Dealing with what happened during the Troubles is still one of the biggest problems facing Northern Ireland, as we try to build a stable, prosperous society for future generations.

After the fiasco about letters to ‘on the runs’, a lot of families who lost loved ones feel that they will never get truth or justice.  As a society, we owe them some honesty about what can be achieved.

Justice should be pursued properly and effectively, or not at all.  We can’t have a system based on underhand negotiations and secret deals.

There are a certain number of things, some of which are related to the past, I believe are essential to building a hopeful future for Northern Ireland, beyond the mechanics of truth and justice.

Firstly we need all parties to accept that no criminal act was justified, if we’re to rebuild trust and send out the right message to our young people.

That means endorsing a ‘statement of wrongs’, which applies equally to republicans, loyalists and the small number of security force members who broke the law during the Troubles. It also means an end to celebrations of paramilitarism, supported by all parties and stiff penalties for infringing these rules.

There must be a genuine commitment to shared housing and integrated education, backed up by concrete action, rather than rhetoric. The fact that the number of peace walls are increasing is a damning indictment of the executive’s failure to break down divisions in society.

Currently victims of the Troubles are being asked to accept a pretty poor deal. There’s little action on bringing perpetrators to justice for their crimes and while the worst bloodshed may have halted, we can point to meagre progress in terms of building a successful, prosperous, stable society in return.

Equally, a poll this week confirmed that voters in Northern Ireland are more concerned with everyday issues around the economy, rather than the tribal politics practised at Stormont. Yet parties in the executive steadfastly refuse to change in line with public opinion.

Victims of violence deserve better and the people of Northern Ireland deserve better. They have made some difficult, unpalatable sacrifices and they should be rewarded with progress toward building a better society and progress toward better politics.


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