A handshake is a good start but it's no substitute for truth and reconciliation

This week in Galway, 17 years after the Good Friday Agreement was signed, the heir to the British throne met with the leader of the provisional republican movement that murdered his great uncle and mentor 35 years ago.

A truth process is needed to match the peace process, says Conall McDevitt
A truth process is needed to match the peace process, says Conall McDevitt
For the record three others were also murdered: Paul Maxwell (15), a local boy; Nicholas Knatchbull (14), who was Lord Mountbatten’s grandson, and the dowager Lady Brabourne (82).

The image; a simple handshake between two 66-year-old men, summing up everything that has changed since the peace process began. 

To the world it is tangible evidence that things are different because they are in their own way symbolic acts of reconciliation. 

The slow long process of reconciliation is now under way. It’s a process that is taking place within Ireland as well as between Britain and Ireland. Two ‘old enemies’ finally have the confidence to explore the many relationships that make each country seem so familiar. The simple handshake summed it up.

Charles is a victim of the Northern Ireland troubles like thousands of others who lost loved ones. They are the one group still to see something from the peace process because for all the symbolic gestures, there is no truth process agreed to match the peace process, and that is holding society back.

I hope last week’s meeting will give the British and Irish states, the provisional republican movement and their political leaders the courage to face up to the past and develop a truth and reconciliation process. 

By doing so, they will allow Northern Ireland to move on and focus on the things that matter today: jobs, education, healthcare.

If they don’t, the handshake will become another powerful symbol for the history books but one that some will see as a PR stunt and an image that projects a reality that might just not yet exist.

Conall McDevitt is CEO of Hume Brophy, a former member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and was the SDLP’s director of comms during the Good Friday Agreement talks

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