In the years since the ceasefires and the Good Friday Agreement we have been exceedingly inept here in Northern Ireland at our attempts to investigate our recent troubles. Perhaps the reason for this lies in the very fact that they are so recent. Whether it is the Historical Enquiries Team or the Consultative Group on the Past or the never-ending flow of inquiries into various paramilitary and state killings, the end result has usually been a report that pleases one side of the sectarian fence and leaves the other side indulging in that favourite pastime of ours, whataboutery.
There was a time when I would have supported something along the lines of a South Africa-style truth commission but not now. The one piece of truth that has been uncovered over the past decade or so is that we are incapable of dealing with our past, at least not at the moment. Two and a half years ago I wrote a short post on this website regarding the Consultative Group on the past where I suggested it was time, in a political sense, to start concentrating on the future. I stated:
The best way to "deal with the legacy of the past" (as the CGP claims it is doing) is to stop dwelling on it and move on. I don't mean this to sound cold. I am not for one moment suggesting that the past be swept under the carpet or simply forgotten about, not that there would ever be any chance of that happening. We live in a society addicted to graveside orations and the commemoration of past battles so no one need worry about a sudden bout of mass amnesia hitting the province. However, the endless stream of costly committees and inquiries dealing with controversial elements of our past are achieving nothing other than keeping old wounds open.
Someday we will be able to deal with our past, but do not expect it to come anytime soon. Until then I suggest we, to use a horrible cliché, draw a line in the sand and just get on with things. Spanish people have only in recent times found themselves able to discuss their civil war which ended more than seventy years ago. The unwritten 'pacto de olvido' is probably the best template available when it comes to the way in which we in Northern Ireland confront our past. Sad? Indeed, very sad. But also true.