Belfast Telegraph

Setting our children free from mistakes of the past

The Mary McArdle affair forces us all to confront unpalatable truths about our recent history, says Trevor Ringland

The issues raised by the appointment of Mary McArdle as a special adviser to Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin remind us just how difficult aspects of our peace process have been for so many hurt by the conflict.

When it comes to dealing with that past, I feel there are two stories that are particularly relevant and that should be borne in mind to help us gain some understanding of why society broke down the way it did.

The first is what I would call the 'Alan McBride statement'. Alan, in a powerful message, said that, without taking anything away from the individual responsibility of those who planted the Shankill bomb, he also blamed the sectarian society that created their mindsets.

The other was a friend whose brother was shot dead by the Army. His brother was innocent and those responsible escaped conviction.

Having lost his elder brother, my friend was understandably bitter and open to persuasion by others who suggested that he take revenge. He was fortunate that his father recognised what was happening and sent him abroad.

My friend would admit that, without that intervention, there was a reasonable prospect he might have become involved with a paramilitary organisation.

However, most people did not get involved and, while I can understand why some did, I do not have to accept that their actions were justified. As individuals, we do have choices to make and we have to live with their impact, particularly if they affect others - as in Mary McArdle's case.

What she and others have to appreciate is the many, such as Ann Travers, who have said nothing in order to free up the space needed for our society to gradually move away from conflict.

My view is that the Troubles should never have happened. But they did and we have to find a way of ensuring it never happens again.

When it comes to history, the best I can do is take a simplistic view that we made a mess of relationships otherwise any debate becomes entrapped in whataboutery.

However, too many people are trying to justify their past actions by writing their version of history and trying to force others to accept it.

The ongoing inquiries and investigations keep picking at the wounds and prevent them from healing. There were more than 3,600 people killed and thousands injured in the Troubles. More than 12,000 nationalists/republicans and 8,000 loyalists went to prison.

We cannot undo the damage that was caused, but we can ensure that it never happens again.

Politicians, instead of showing leadership, too often use the past for political gain. After all, it was the SDLP who insisted that any settlement had to be inclusive and that meant involving those who carried out murder in the political structures if democratically elected.

Sinn Fein seems to forget that, if the security forces were to tell the truth about the actions of republicans and others, then the current peace process and political progress may well be hard to sustain.

In my version of history, I also blame the actions and language of Ian Paisley as one of the main causes of the Troubles and there is certainly a lack of humility from those on both sides who promoted the flawed and exclusive ideologies that fed the conflict.

Maybe it is time we had that big conversation between our whole society on how we really do deal with the past. We should never forget what happened, or those who suffered, and storytelling can play a powerful role in reminding us in a more constructive way.

But it is, perhaps, for those of us whose lives spanned those terrible years to take some hard decisions in order to free up the future for our children.


From Belfast Telegraph