I can tell you about tragedy. I can tell you about families torn asunder by violence. I can tell you about deep-seated and ultimately ignorant hatred that ripped the civility from society and the childhood from citizens. I can tell you about a desire for revenge that still pollutes our province. And I can tell you about thousands of souls who have a void they cannot fill because of loss, misfortune and deception. My own story mirrors these; I grew up with the Troubles and the prospect of peace was so frightening that I, and others, were scared to vote for peace in 1998 because it was the undiscovered country. We were scared to vote for peace but vote we did. The people spoke and we got peace. Our politicians then set about dismantling that peace. And that is unacceptable.
What I cannot tell you is why so many people who claim to care about victims, continue to elect the people who have promised so much and delivered so little for victims. If victims want to be told lies, then they should elect whomever they voted for last time. If they want truth, they need to think differently. Every time they are lied to, they are re-traumatised. Every time there is a new revelation, they are re-traumatised. And that is unacceptable.
We have to draw a line – not over the past but during the present. Nothing we do tomorrow can change what happened yesterday. We must redouble our efforts to ensure there are no more victims yet new victims are created every day. Tomorrow a child will wake from sleep, prepare for school and, for the first time, comprehend that the Peace Wall that overshadows his house is not just to keep the monsters on the other side away from him, to keep him safe. He will realise it is also to keep a child safe on the other side, from him. We build these walls and we proliferate hate and fear. We segregate children along sectarian lines and we act surprised they grow up into sectarians. And that is unacceptable.
The Troubles did not end in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement. It was an important first step for our society to begin to repair itself. Most, like me, didn’t read the documents but voted for peace. We voted for what the agreement represented rather than the detail in the lines. We voted for agreement, we voted for change and we voted for an end to the tragedy. When I see how far we have come and yet the length of the journey ahead, I wonder if Northern Ireland can develop the stamina to stay the distance. Our society is still as fractured as it was. And that is unacceptable.
What we got was a political stalemate; a dysfunctional coalition. We have a government where the Finance Minister and the Enterprise Minister actively work to undermine the Culture Minister and the Regional Development Minister. Where there there are ministers who positively cackle with glee at the difficulties faced by other ministers in the same government. This allows them to block progress if it comes from the other side but more significantly it permits them to do nothing. And that is unacceptable.
I do not intend to forget the past. I will never forget the horrors visited upon us by those who profit from sectarianism. I cannot return to those days and I feel the pain of those who seek both truth and justice and who are being denied both. The politics of the present and the future must continue. The past should now be about truth and investigations that may lead to justice. If we permit the past to colour our future politics, we will continue to re-traumatise victims from the past as well as creating new victims every single day. And that is unacceptable.