Government’s legacy proposals have potential

We’ve recently heard some more discussions about legacy, including the idea that loyalist violence during the Troubles was a justified reaction to the IRA’s campaign. Just like similar arguments from republicans, this is a damaging, misguided view, and it is depressing when it is articulated by people who are too young to remember the worst of the conflict.

In this context, it’s worth remembering the story of a victim of the IRA, who was a part-time member of the UDR and a heating oil supplier. The terror organisation placed an order for his company to deliver fuel to a local farm and he was ambushed, which was one of its common tactics. Although he was badly wounded by his assailants, thankfully he escaped.

After months recovering in hospital, one of the first things the victim did was to attend the Saturday evening dance at the local GAA club. He told everyone there what members of their community had done to him, supposedly in their name, despite the fact that many of them knew him well and were customers of his business.

He knew many people in the club would agree, even though they were unable to show their support publicly or speak out against violence. He knows to this day who carried who the attack, but they were never convicted, and the perpetrators will not look him in the eye when he meets them in his local town.

As a basis for dealing with legacy, we should at least expect an acknowledgment of the unnecessary hurt that using violence to pursue political ends caused. That’s why we should be worried by the fact that 70 per cent of nationalists apparently believe that the IRA’s campaign of violence was justified.

It’s no wonder that, with this notion flourishing, there are others who say that loyalist paramilitaries were equally justified, or that it was okay for some members of the security forces to act criminally too.

But none of these opinions is any basis for a constructive future and they only undermine the political campaigns that claim Ireland, or the UK, or Northern Ireland are for ‘all’ of us.

The late Maurice Hayes was completely accurate and set out a proper basis for our future when he told me: “There was nothing achieved through violence that could not otherwise have been achieved through peaceful means.” The best way to advance a constitutional preference in the longer-term, as well as enjoy a happier society in the short-term, is to make Northern Ireland work socially and economically, against the backdrop of great relationships across this island and across our shared islands. One where we value each other’s children as if they are our own.

The government’s proposals on legacy have attracted much criticism, but there is also potential if we can have some honesty about what truth and justice families and loved ones of our unnecessary conflict can expect. That requires a mature debate, that accepts violence was futile and welcomes the challenge set out in that GAA club so many years ago.


Bangor, Co Down

St Patrick


Ireland as

a nation


sn’t it great to see the Orange Order embracing their Irish heritage? Embracing the patron saint of Ireland, in the same way that they maintain themselves as the “Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland” (not ‘Northern Ireland’).

Yes, Patrick was from Briton and of Roman stock, but he recognised Ireland as a nation, and it was this nation which he hoped to unify as a Christian nation under the Church of Rome. Now, I personally don’t like that aspect of his aspirations for Ireland, which is why I don’t see March 17 as a day to celebrate the saint himself. Instead, I see it as a day to celebrate our Irishness, to celebrate the ancient recognition of our island as being a nation of people. While I see a lot of the bad things that Christianity brought to our nation, I do also see the good too, and I do still believe that Patrick’s intentions for Ireland were good. I believe he had a love for Ireland and it’s people. Whether the Orangemen are celebrating the day for Patrick’s Roman Catholic mission to Ireland, or as a celebration of their Irishness and being part of the Irish nation, it’s hopefully a sign of progress.


Keady, Co Armagh

Attempt to


the people


oris Johnson told us “there will be no border in the Irish Sea”. Brandon Lewis told us “there is no border in the Irish Sea”. Rishi Sunak told us “this new deal removes any sense of a border in the Irish Sea”. Chris Heaton-Harris tells us that the administration required to bring goods across the Irish Sea (our main trade route) will “trend towards pre-Brexit levels”.

Alliance, Sinn Féin, SDLP and various trade bodies told us the initial version of the protocol was as good as it gets. They now tell us the latest version is even better. All these assurances bring to mind the Ralph Waldron Emerson quote: ‘The louder he talked of his honour, the faster we counted our spoons’.

The attempt by the government to hoodwink people by involving the king and calling the slightly adjusted protocol the Windsor Framework is beneath contempt. The new slightly adjusted version of the protocol will still increase bureaucracy and costs for everyone in Northern Ireland. My reading of the latest protocol is that the EU can use any infringements (and there is always infringements) to ratchet up the bureaucracy over time. A sense of what the resulting ‘all-island economy’ will feel like could be gained by trying to do your weekly shop in Dublin with your Belfast wage packet.


Dromore, Co Down

Taoiseach’s unhelpful

GFA remarks


aoiseach Leo Varadkar is woefully ignorant of the constitutional provisions of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). According to him the GFA “says that there can be a border poll, when it’s clear that a majority of people north and south would vote for it”. There are three glaring errors in this short statement. The GFA actually says that the Secretary of State shall (not “can”) call a border poll when it appears likely (not “clear”) to him that a majority of those voting in the north (not “north and south”) would support Irish unity. That is, “shall” means the Secretary of State has a mandatory legal duty to call a border poll, “likely” means with a probability greater than 0.50 and “north” means that the level of popular support for Irish unity in the south is not a factor that the Secretary of State legally takes into account.

It’s unhelpful for the taoiseach not to have even an elementary grasp of the Agreement he is celebrating.


Toronto, Canada