Thursday 23 January 2020

Editorial: 'We can only move forward with consent and empathy'

Leo Varadkar. Photo by Mark Condren
Leo Varadkar. Photo by Mark Condren


There are wounds that are very deep yet show no visible signs. Society can also conceal them, we ignore them at enormous cost, but even when we do try to tend them, they appear to defy healing.

The release of the current batch of State papers opens a trapdoor into our past. The files conjure up memories of what Lord Denning had dismissed as an "appalling vista", including the monstrous injustices visited on the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six. The peer held the view that the consequences of accepting British police officers were capable of lying were too terrible for the English legal system to be given serious consideration.

It seemed for much of this period in Anglo-Irish relations we were living through more of an ice age than a cold war.

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The scars of injustice ran across both divides. So state collusion, unsolved murder, deep cynicism and distrust must be treated equally. They fester if ignored. The legacies of the Troubles still have the power to torment and divide if viewed in isolation. Thankfully, the last few decades have been transforming if not quite transcending. These islands have enjoyed unprecedented peace and prosperity.

So it's in the present and the future we must look for the courage to take the next steps. Torrents of toxic water have flown under the bridges of the past. Moving on still requires understanding and consent. Yesterday Leo Varadkar noted a poll on Irish unity would be "defeated and divisive". Accepting such a poll may be getting closer, Mr Varadkar said there was no evidence it was justified yet.

Things are changing, as Mr Varadkar noted unionists "definitely don't" hold a majority any more. But he also recognised the nationalist vote is "around 40pc and that is well far short of the 50pc-plus-one that you would need to win a Border poll". For there to be significant movement, there must first be engagement and there must also be acceptance of diversity and difference. This is attainable once some semblance of government is re-established.

Demographics and societal changes have always been contentious. There may be something apt in discussing new frontiers and borders during this season. The Holy family were brought to Bethlehem by a census. Most people at the time had little idea what country they were in. They went where they had to in order to survive and got by as best they could.

Yet, out of this family came a figure who gave new hope and moral guidance to much of the world. Optimism and leadership are sadly in scant supply in the North. But failure to agree on a single direction has left it going round in circles without government for more than three years. A new decade might also dawn with new hope of doing better.

Irish Independent

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