By Ian Bothwell
News Letter
29 February 2012

AL Hutchinson has opened up fresh debate on how to deal with the past. It comes with the usual suspicion as to why and who it may please. But all things considered the idea of an amnesty deserves a settled and mature response.

Many victims who have hopes raised by new information from HET want justice and sincerely believe that they will feel better when someone is jailed for years.

I’m not convinced that this will be the case nor am I convinced that there is the political will to sentence and imprison.

The need for a home-produced solution is urgent and needs to be found if our fragile relationships are not to disintegrate further; it needs to be found if we are to prevent dissident republican groups from stealing away what they see as the unwanted ground of cooperation.

We in the community sector need to have the courage of our deep conviction, pursue a solution and run the risk of being misunderstood, rejected or isolated.

In some circles the guilt of the past is great but it can never be as great as grace. We need to do more than sing about Amazing Grace – we need to practice it and offer it freely across our religious political barrier and historic pain.

Meanwhile, the suffering penetrates mind and heart, robs victims of sleep and rest while others who actually carried out the deed cannot find forgiveness because the framework is not in place to allow them to actually talk.

At the end of the day we do need to use words and there is also a need for politicians to give the signal that it is okay to talk and find peace.

There is also a need for three tiers of society to join together to help find a solution. We need a legal framework from lawyers; political leaders need to give permission to people to participate and church leaders need to give creative leadership – perhaps a series of special Sundays over a year where victims could have special prayers for strength and comfort.

Mercy is something not discussed even in our Christianised culture of Northern Ireland.

Although we do teach the story of the Good Samaritan to children we fail to release the impact of mercy on our own victim world. It is meant to be a way of life not just for the story book.

Mercy has the upper hand on justice and it is a big thing to ask. But it may be the only way to lay to rest the past, which in doing so would give us a legacy of peace for the future.

As regards to south Armagh being a no-go place for Protestants, that is only the case if we don’t invest time in relationships with our Catholic neighbours. Community consultants from all sides have pooled resources to help Crossfire Trust to where we are today.

Many republicans are proud that we have been recognised and given the Queen’s Award for Volunteering, as we have reached out to serve all sides.

They have a high regard for honour and recognising the suffering of the past. Given the right thought and consideration, accommodation can be found to honour all victims.

Some of the best community workers on both sides have done things in the past which they would now shrink away from.

It will be a day of kindness when victims chose to forgive, let go, embrace mercy and grow in understanding as to why good people did bad things.

We need to love. To love is to sit and listen, feel and understand and travel in a pilgrimage of community to a better place of function and cooperation.