19 March 2006

Unionist group's new line on peace

Sunday Life

Ciaran McGuigan
19 March 2006

A think-tank made up of a group of Ulster Unionists last night published proposals for a major reconciliation programme for Northern Ireland.

The paper, 'Drawing a Line Under the Past', proposes that small, private forums be drawn from across all communities across Ulster to allow people to share their experiences.

The forums, proposed to be away from the glare of the media spotlight and non-judicial, are designed to "acknowledge, empathise and increase mutual understanding among participants".

The paper's authors, who include prominent Ulster Unionists Trevor Ringland and Roy Garland, have already met with a variety of groups, including a republican ex-prisoners group based at Clonard Monastery, loyalists from the Shankill Road, and members of the political wing of the INLA, the IRSP.

Members of the SDLP and Alliance parties, as well as ministers in both governments, have also held discussions with the group which calls itself 'The Unionist Group'.

The paper, which has already been passed to Secretary of State Peter Hain, reads: "Many people who lost close relatives and friends wish to talk about their experiences.

"They want to be frank, open and confident with people around them but this is only possible when the setting and context are carefully and sensitively established.

"Truth is subjective and there is a serious risk that enquiries seeking forensic or objective truth would prove partial, inconclusive and unlikely to address the hurts in society.

"It is impossible to draw a single line under the past for all time whereas healing can take place when people relate to each other and reflect together on their narratives in private, in small respectful groups and before respectful, responsive and challenging audiences drawn form both major traditions and their subcultures."

The group warn that any reconciliation model would need to be established in such a way a so that it could not be "exploited to rake over the coals of past grievances".

They also proposes that a shared space could be created in each town across Northern Ireland where trees could be planted to "reinforce a sense of hope and bring communities together".

Days of Reflection, memorials and oral history projects should also be established, according to the paper.

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