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Editor's Viewpoint

Tolerance crucial for a lasting peace



Charlie Lawson at a bonfire in Fermanagh

Charlie Lawson at a bonfire in Fermanagh

Charlie Lawson at a bonfire in Fermanagh

When the IRA called a ceasefire on July 20, 1997, it happened amid a period of intense backroom negotiations and a war-weary population who had made it clear they wanted a lasting peace.

Mo Mowlam said she would be monitoring the ceasefire, with a decision on whether Sinn Fein would be permitted to join the all-party talks dependent on compliance with the truce.

Less than two months later, talks began at Stormont. Unionists at first demanded the Sinn Fein team led by Gerry Adams be excluded, before David Trimble’s UUP finally agreed to take part.

What happened after that is a matter of historical record, and few would downplay the significance of the events of that week 25 years ago.

The peace was imperfect — the emergence of the Real IRA and the atrocity at Omagh would follow, the terrible loss of 29 men, women and children shocking the world.

Others lost their lives in feuds and infighting, with the LVF refusing to recognise the peace process and going on to claim the lives of innocents.

We are thankfully now in a different phase.

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Remembrance and how people honour their dead remains an area of controversy. Yet as those who lost loved ones on Bloody Friday prepare to honour their dead this week, we see the importance of remembrance.

The IRA detonated 20 bombs on July 21, 1972, killing nine people and maiming more than 130 others.

Fifty years on, it is important that we find a way to not just allow space for victims to tell their stories and speak their truth, but also learn from the past, lest we repeat it in the future.

The guns have fallen silent, but we remain a society with considerable division.

Unionists would say the battle is now one to retain their culture.

The annual debate over bonfire size and safety, alongside the sectarian and offensive effigies on some pyres, has led to calls for mandatory regulation.

This week we also learned that former Coronation Street star Charlie Lawson faces an investigation by the Environment Agency after lighting a bonfire in Fermanagh.

The small fire in the centre of a field contained no posters or effigies and had been held up as an example of successfully self-regulated bonfires, yet it is now under investigation.

Northern Ireland has moved on enormously in the 25 years since that historic ceasefire announcement, but we must be mindful of our differences.

Showing tolerance towards each other is an important part of preserving the peace that was so hard won.

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