Ed Jacobs looks at 2012 for Northern Ireland, exploring h ow Northern Ireland achieves reconciliation in 2012.
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Following Peter Robinson’s calls for Northern Ireland to work and look towards a shared future, one of the DUP’s senior MPs, Gregory Campbell has used a New Year message to seek to dig up the past once again.
Looking ahead to what he dubbed would be a “difficult” year, Campbell’s message, published on the party’s website, was clear: apologies were still overdue for Northern Ireland to be able to move forward.
Having called for a resolution to on-going negotiations over how the post of justice minister should in future be selected, he continued:
“The government of the Irish Republic can help solidify the growing acceptance by people in both our countries of the way forward being a mutually acceptable one by offering a long overdue apology for the way in which the government in the Republic helped to arm and assist the forming of the Provisional IRA in 1969.
“Those who were active in that movement can help bring closure by giving whatever information they have which might help regarding outstanding cases where no prosecutions have been forthcoming in all that time.
“2012 will be the start of a decade long series of centenary commemorations.
“From the signing of the Ulster Covenant in 1912 right through to the formation of Northern Ireland itself in 1921 we need to ensure that the fighting spirit which was essential 100 years ago remains evident today, especially to those who would try and change tactic to achieve what was beyond them a century ago.
“Whether they be dissident, real, continuity or provisional, all of the IRAs either past or present need to get the message that the Unionist community are determined that the future must be built and prepared for while giving no credence of sense of credibility to the revisionists in their ranks. “
For his part meanwhile, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has used his New Year message to reiterate his party’s commitment to a united Ireland.
Following a year which saw his Sinn Fein once again working hand in glove with their previous sworn enemies, the DUP, Adams concluded:
“As an Irish republican party whose primary political objective is a united Ireland, Sinn Féin will ensure that the issue of Irish unity is on the political agenda in the year ahead.
“Sinn Féin is also committed to delivering for citizens in the here and now, North and South. In 2012 we will continue to provide a coherent opposition in the Dáil and to deliver on an agenda of equality, progress and change in government in the North.”
Whilst statements such as these are largely an attempt to appeal to their grassroots and to remind them that both the DUP and Sinn Fein remain very separate parties, the fundamental differences in objectives between Northern Ireland’s two largest parties, laid bare once again, is a stark reminder of just how much progress has been made.
That the weapons used are no longer the bomb and the bullet but debate and dialogue is remarkable. Indeed, such is the progress that SDLP Leader, Alasdair McDonnell has declared that peace in Northern Ireland is now so stable that “not even the dissidents could rock it now.”
Yet for all the undoubted progress that has been made, the danger is that in the midst of back slapping, politicians simply do not live up to the hype they’ve encouraged around the need to bring communities across the North together. As McDonnell argues in his message for 2012:
“There has been enough back-slapping about achieving the peace. Stability alone cannot be the goal, it is just the precondition for progress. It is now time to start delivering on the shared future which was a clear and explicit promise to the people.
“Peace alone does not guarantee progress. At the time of the first ceasefire in 1994 there were just nine so-called Peace Walls. Now there are more than 50, every one a testimony to the failure to live up to the mandate of 1998.
“We need to put the healing of division back at the heart of the political agenda and we need to do it this year.”
It is against this background that Northern Ireland’s first female ombudsman has called for the establishment of a single unified body to deal with all the unsolved crimes of the Troubles and arrest suspects even in cases that are decades old. Speaking to the Guardian just before Christmas, Baroness Nula O’Loan, who was in post between 1999 to 2007, explained:
“There should be one unified operation to deal with the past and it must be independent. It is not a truth commission because it would require that all the parties to the conflict tell the truth and I see no evidence that the parties are ready for that yet. And I am not sure that they ever will be.”
Continuing by addressing the concerns of many about the substantial costs associated with many inquiries in Northern Ireland, she said:
“This unit should have full police powers to arrest, to search, to seize property and material, anything relevant to the investigation. If you had all those powers and a single unit you would get huge efficiencies because we would not have three organisations doing the same work effectively trawling over the same ground.”
Sitting at a computer writing this article, it is very easy, not living in Northern Ireland, to declare her views as eminently sensible in an effort to heal old wounds, but as an opinion piece in the Belfast Telegraph on New Year’s Eve warned it also poses a sizeable danger of re-opening wounds that time had almost laid to rest.
That said, with the language of shared societies and reconciliation now on the lips of politicians across the party divide at Stormont answers will now need to be provided as to how this is to be achieved. The answers might not be easy to achieve, but that’s what the politicians get both elected and paid to do, to work our answers to such difficult problems without resorting to violence.
As Alliance leader and the current justice minister, David Ford, has clearly argued:
“2012 must see the delivery of a strong cohesion, sharing and integration strategy and Alliance will not support anything but a robust community relations strategy.
“The New Year is a time for making resolutions. All politicians here must make one solid resolution for 2012 – that they are committed to ending division in our society, and this must be done through the delivery of the strongest possible CSI strategy. We have heard much talk about a shared future. Now is the time for action.
“A united community is essential for stability and to boost our economy. It is absolutely clear that divisions in our society act as a deterrent to potential investors. What sort of message does it send out to global business leaders that we live in a society that is beset with segregation?”
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