There is no doubt whatsoever that the events of yesterday have placed us into a new era, an unprecendented acceptance of several hertofore unacceptable precepts. Northern Ireland is no longer a protestant state solely in existence for a protestant people. The catholic, nationalist people of Northern Ireland have fully accepted and moved forward into this devolved separatist state. Many lives have been lost in the process of the creation of this state, and not just from the 1960’s. This is the resolution that was not achieved in 1920 and has now been achieved. Dermot Ahern has asked why so many lives had to be lost before we could arrive at this place. A more hopeful or telling question is why so few have been killed. In the Irish Civil War which lasted for 11 months, it is estimated that around 4,000 people were killed. In any other sustained period of violence in the world, death rates have been exponentially higher.
There is possbily something positive to be taken from these facts. Perhaps lurking beneath our surface we have the essential understanding and cohesion that is required to co-exist peacefully within the confines of our separate traditions. Danger exists here also, if we now decide that we will only have two traditions to choose from and create a false society. Room has to be made for social, religious, political, class, ethnic and cultural diversity within our society and that space must be protected vigorously. While the previous civic forum came in for much criticism, it might also be seen as a neccesary space for the preservation of identity outside those that have been enshrined so far.
I fully understand the comments that people have made about moving forward not being an easy or indeed in some minds an achieveable feat. Indeed one of the first acts aniticpated by our new leaders will be the appointment of the Permanent Victims commissioner. He or she will need to examine, listen understand and take forward the issues of the past, while allowing our present and future to move on. It will not be an easy task, and it is unlikely that everyone will be satisfied with the decisions and choices that will have to be made.
Mick’s money was on the smiling picture of Marty and the Doc. My image of where we are now is one I took last year at a 12th of July parade in Belfast. Underlying the smiles, remains the tensions and hatreds of generations. But we have much to build on for the future, as long as it is an inclusive, understanding and newly tolerant future.