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Catalonia and Spain must learn from north's mistakes

THE peace process here has been used as a model for addressing political division in many parts of the world.

However, our mistakes in failing to avoid the worst excesses of that division in the first place have not been widely identified by others hoping to avoid potential conflict.

Both sides in the current impasse in Catalonia could usefully learn from our failure to stop a political problem from developing into a human tragedy.

Unionists and nationalists here have recognised the inherent dangers in the stand-off between the Catalan parliament and the Spanish government over Catalonia's demand for independence.

Police violence here against peaceful civil rights marchers on October 5 1968 is seen by many as the starting point of our conflict.

We can only hope that similar violence by Spanish police against peaceful voters on October 1 2017 will not have the same dire consequences. It is time for cool heads and careful words.

Yesterday's apology from the Spanish government for Sunday's police behaviour might have been helpful had it not also claimed that the Catalans were to blame for the violence. Blame is not a good starting point in conflict resolution.

Similarly, King Felipe of Spain's condemnation of the referendum without making any reference to police violence was almost Trump-like in tone and content.

The authorities in Madrid must learn to speak in more measured tones and they must also recognise that the manner in which they have denied Catalonia additional autonomy has fuelled the demand for independence.

At the same time the Catalan Parliament must accept that, while its independence campaign has significant support at home and abroad, forcing the referendum has hardened attitudes on all sides.

This is particularly true within the parliament itself where nationalists hold only a small majority. Socialist members opposed to independence have taken legal action in the Spanish courts to prevent the parliament from discussing the referendum result.

The demand for Catalan independence is a complex issue which can best be addressed by not allowing tensions to become worse. The European Union might like to play a role in seeking a way forward.

Although Catalonia has a long history of political turmoil, both sides in the present dispute must recognise that political talks are burdened with much less baggage when seeking a solution before conflict than after it.

In Ireland, we learned conflict resolution the hard way. The Spanish and Catalan authorities can begin dialogue now or, like us, they can postpone it for 30 years.

We can only hope that they will jointly benefit from our experience and that our mistakes might provide a useful backdrop to their dialogue.

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