Editorial: Building a shared future

IT was perhaps inevitable when James Nesbitt agreed to speak at an Ireland's Future conference in Dublin that the instinct of some would be to try to shout him down rather than engage and listen.

The successful actor, who comes from a unionist background in Co Antrim, was one of a range of voices who contributed to the forum earlier this month about the potential for new constitutional arrangements on the island.

In a warmly-received address, he painted a picture of a 'union of Ireland' where people from different traditions would feel their identify was not threatened and they were part of a progressive, inclusive society. He also cautioned against the use of incendiary language.

It was therefore depressing to see graffiti proving his point appear in Portrush earlier this week.

The message “1 x king, 1 x crown, no pope in our town James Nesbitt” was scrawled in large letters on the wall, with the sinister addition of a cross-hair.

Police are treating the graffiti as a hate crime and it has been widely condemned, including by prominent unionist figures.

Mr Nesbitt, who described himself as a "proud Protestant", said he was unnverved and saddened to be targeted.

He correctly asserted the right in a democracy for people to engage in public conversation about the future and insisted he was not promoting any particular outcome.

By contrast, the graffiti can only be regarded as a blatant attempt to stifle debate by people determined to drag society back to a darker past.

Mr Nesbitt deserves praise for his thoughtful contribution to the constitutional debate as well as his work with Troubles victims from across the community as a patron of the Wave Trauma Centre.

The value of such leadership in a divided society was also amply demonstrated by trade unionist and tireless community activist Baroness May Blood, whose death was announced yesterday.

A champion of people in the Shankill Road area of Belfast, she campaigned for rights in the workplace and played a role in peace talks leading up to the Good Friday Agreement through the Women's Coalition.

The 84-year-old also worked closely with the Integrated Education Fund, which eloquently described how she was driven by a "yearning to see Northern Ireland at peace with itself".

The example of Baroness Blood and others point to the possibility of a truly shared future where different perspectives and traditions are celebrated and cherished rather than maligned.