Wednesday 24 January 2018

President: Forgetting NI’s past will not help people move on

Michael McHugh

Forgetting Northern Ireland's troubled past will not help people move on and thrive, Irish President Michael D Higgins has warned.

The memories of victims must be valued through fitting memorials and measures to bring the communities together, he said.

Mr Higgins is due to become the first Irish head of state to make an official state visit to the UK next spring, and he said he wanted to strengthen reconciliation and friendship between the neighbouring countries.

He referred to how Latin American countries dealt with their legacies of violence.

"One common feature was very clear to me; any invented or false amnesia is not the solution - neither for the victims, nor for the future of society if it wished to genuinely move on and flourish," he said.

Northern Ireland's attorney general John Larkin QC has faced heavy criticism after suggesting an end to prosecutions for Troubles-related murders, and inspectors have warned of the multimillion-pound cost of the legacy of the conflict to the criminal justice system in inquests and other investigations.

Former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass is trying to achieve political consensus on issues as yet unresolved during the peace process - including how Northern Ireland addresses the potentially poisonous effect of its violent past on community relations and seemingly endless unanswered questions over killings carried out by all sides.

The president said: "Whatever mechanisms are ultimately agreed upon for this task, the overall needs of a flourishing and shared society must be at their heart and the memory of victims must appropriately be reflected and cherished in thoughtful memorials and initiatives that bring communities together, so that we all learn from the terrible failures of the past.

"Achieving an ethics of the memory makes, and will make, a demand on all of us, on all sides of history."

Mr Higgins was attending a reception at Belfast City Hall to mark St Columbanus Day. Lord Bannside, the former Democratic Unionist leader Ian Paisley, was among other guests.

The Republic's head of state lauded the legacy of the Queen's visit to Dublin in 2011, including her five words in Irish.

"These had a hugely positive impact on how people in the South (of Ireland) regarded the nature of the relationship between Ireland and the UK," he said.

"In my state visit to the UK next April, I hope to further strengthen this thread of understanding, reconciliation and friendship and to also avail of the visit to highlight particular themes which merit reconciliation and commendation, such as the very positive role of the Irish community in Britain."

Press Association

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