Legacy is being discussed at length at present, following the British government’s proposals to abandon prosecutions and investigations related to Troubles’ events. But there is another toxic legacy – the impact of past events on current political relationships. That aspect of legacy is discussed with Sinn Féin Vice President and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill in the latest Holywell Trust Forward Together podcast.
Michelle argues that political leaders must work hard to build trust, to enable the political system here to work more effectively. But she adds that the challenge of the pandemic has created a situation in which ministers have had to work together and this provides an example and basis for future working relationships.
However, she warns that is impossible to fully separate the legacy of the events of the Troubles from current political relationships. It is therefore necessary to deal properly with past events, with the government and all parties accepting responsibilities they have agreed to. She specifies that it is unacceptable for the British government to walk away from the Stormont House Agreement, which was itself a compromise. Michelle stresses that reconciliation should focus more on the future, than on the past.
Michelle also discusses the need for reform of the health and schooling systems. As a former health minister she remains committed to implementation of the Bengoa report proposals, moving towards a more strategic and effective health service, which is focused on service delivery rather than the buildings in which they are delivered. Michelle also calls for much greater all-island co-operation in healthcare delivery.
The role of citizens’ assemblies in resolving extremely challenging policy disputes in the South related to abortion and same sex marriage provides a way forward for the North as well, believes Michelle. She instances reform of the schooling system in a way that brings pupils together across the traditional divides as a possible application of citizens’ assemblies.
The interview with Michelle can be heard here.
The Holywell Trust Forward Together podcasts are funded by the Community Relations Council’s Media Grant Scheme.
Disclaimer: This project has received support from the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council which aims to promote a pluralist society characterised by equity, respect for diversity, and recognition of interdependence. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Community Relations Council.
Paul Gosling is editor of ‘Lessons from the Troubles and an Unsettled Peace’, author of ‘A New Ireland’ and ‘The Fall of the Ethical Bank’ and co-author of ‘Abuse of Trust’, the story of a child abuse scandal in Leicestershire. He is engaged by the Holywell Trust charity on peace and reconciliation projects and is Parliamentary Assistant to Sinead McLaughlin MLA, the SDLP’s economy spokesperson.