Dealing with our past, never mind healing its wounds, has been an ongoing challenge since the signing of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement nearly twenty years ago. So far our politicians have not been able to form a consensus on how best to address the past.
In the absence of any formal political agreement, it’s crucial to keep the conversation going and to provide platforms for people from different backgrounds to offer their perspectives on the issues, and to challenge existing positions and narratives on what many believe is an insurmountable policy issue. Over the last few years, there have been some powerful reflections from victims of the Troubles such as Paul Crawford – or Paul Gallagher. They are well worth reading.
The interactive discussion “Healing the wounds of our troubled past” on Friday 4 August at 5pm in St Mary’s University College, Falls Road, Belfast will be another opportunity to bring together multiple perspectives including political, academic and practitioner to debate the difficult questions and themes that dominate the issue and determine whether there might be a clear path through the quagmire to something that looks like a resolution.
BBC journalist Tori Watson will ensure that the audience will have its opportunity to contribute to the debate right from the start of proceedings: there will be NO opening statements from panel members.
Politicians Nichola Mallon MLA and Mike Nesbitt MLA have loudly and consistently raised awareness of mental health issues of people traumatised from our so called “Troubles”. One international report in the past has indicated that Northern Ireland has the highest level of trauma per head of population in the world.
On the therapeutic side, David Bolton brings his years of experience of dealing directly with victims of trauma including those affected by some major events during the Troubles. In June, he published a book called Conflict, Peace and Mental Health: Addressing the Consequences of Conflict and Trauma in Northern Ireland.
Kate Turner, the director of “Healing Through Remembering,” has been instrumental in developing the annual Day of Reflection. HTR has described the Day this way: “a day to acknowledge the deep hurt and pain caused by the conflict in and about Northern Ireland, to reflect on our own attitudes on what more we might have done or might still do, and to make a personal commitment that such loss should never be allowed to happen again. …The Day is offered as an inclusive and positive experience that emphasises a commitment to a peaceful new society. We hope it will continue to make a contribution to addressing the hurts of the past and moving forward as a society.” (http://healingthroughremembering.org)
Academic Máire Braniff from the School of Criminology, Politics and Social Policy in Ulster University brings an international perspective (Argentina and the Balkans) to the discussion. She will be able to cite examples of lessons from these jurisdictions including the contentious issue of how a society remembers/commemorates events from the past.
In the forward to a recently published book, Forgiveness Remembers, by two clergy: Archdeacon Robert Millar (Church of Ireland) and Fr Paul Farran (Catholic), a retired London bishop wrote: “We cannot change the past, but we are responsible for how we remember the past. You do not create a kinder world by enforcing amnesia and banning any public remembrance of man’s inhumanity to man. But what we choose to remember shapes the future. In truth, we remember the future.”
It is hoped that the not to be missed Féile An Phobail event “Healing the Wounds of our Troubled Past” will play some part in breaking the logjam of the legacy issue.
Fr. Martin Magill is the Parish Priest at St Johns Parish, Belfast.