A future Conservative Party government in the UK that does not deal with the legacy of the North's Troubles risks fresh violence in the region, a leading commentator warned today.
Former vice chair of the North's Policing Board and a high profile figure in the peace process, Denis Bradley, helped draw-up a blueprint for dealing with the fallout from the conflict and bring Protestant and Catholic communities together.
But today he warned a conference in Belfast that he feared his plans, which include proposals for a commission to examine murders from the Troubles and probe the causes of the conflict, will be binned by the Conservatives if they take power.
His comments came as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown prepared to play host to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tomorrow at Chequers before she goes on to meet political leaders in Belfast as they broker a deal to bolster the peace process.
Mr Bradley said that dealing with the ancient animosities in the North was a huge task, but he argued that to fail to do so risked old hatreds affecting future generations.
“The polls are presently predicting that the Conservatives will become the new government,” he told the annual conference of the loyalist Progressive Unionist Party (PUP).
“If what I am hearing is correct then the Conservatives will bin this report. In its place they will suggest a memorial hospital and a moving on, leaving the past behind.
“It will not be as crude as that but it will amount to leaving the past to be dealt with by the passage of time and the death of those who feel most affected by the effects of the troubles.”
He said that many people in Northern Ireland might be attracted to the idea of ‘leaving the past behind’, but he warned that history cannot be forgotten.
“Buried memories fester in the unconscious minds of communities in conflict only to emerge later in even more distorted and virulent forms to poison minds and relationships,” he said.
“The animosity between the communities continue, as is clear not least in the politics of the Stormont Assembly. When future generations ask ’why?’ they will, if reasons are not considered and recorded, make-up their own minds about what happened based on age old beliefs of the communities they come from.”
He called for a ring-fenced budget to deal with the legacy of the Troubles and to breakdown community divisions once and for all.
Mr Bradley said he feared the political waves being created over the devolution of policing and justice powers from Westminster to the Northern Ireland Assembly risked washing away the political institutions.
Sinn Féin has demanded swift action on the issue, but the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has said it will not agree to the move until it believes the conditions are right.
The party also faces hard-line opposition to unionists ever sharing responsibility for the region’s justice system with republicans.
Talks with Prime Minister Gordon Brown in Downing Street this week saw the parties agree a financial package for the devolution move.
And while the DUP said other conditions must also be met, the development was seen as a major step forward which will provide a more positive background for the arrival of Secretary of State Clinton at Stormont on Monday.
Mrs Clinton is scheduled to leave Britain on Sunday night for a number of engagements in Dublin, before meeting political leaders in Belfast on Monday.
Mr Bradley said determined action was needed to tackle sectarianism.
A former Catholic priest, he helped foster early talks between the British government and republicans, and today said that the main Christian churches in the North should carry out public acts of reconciliation to help undermine sectarian attitudes.
The Conservative Party has formed a political alliance in the region with the Ulster Unionist Party and will fight for seats in the next general Election.
Mr Bradley warned that mainstream unionism was also inclined to draw a line under the past and was reluctant to address its own role in the decades of conflict.
He quoted a former leader of the PUP, which has links to the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), who once said he met senior unionist politicians when he was an active paramilitary.
Mr Bradley said: “Mainstream unionism deludes itself by proposing that there were rotten apples in the barrel and that the Loyalist paramilitary groups were as reprehensible and guilty as the IRA but they vehemently and doggedly refuse to accept that they had any responsibility for the conflict.
“In their own assessment of themselves they were innocent and pure of any wrongdoing. David Ervine’s memorable and telling statement that when he was involved in the conflict he knew the colour of their wallpaper has always been a thorn in their side but it has not brought them to a more truthful place.
“I could accept that misrepresentation more easily were it a true and complete delusion. But when people sit before you and give a formal input that proposes that unionism was innocent and devoid of blame and then has a cup of coffee with you and tells you the exact opposite, that unionism was to blame for some of the conflict; that is hard to swallow.
“Unionism, telling itself that it had no responsibility for the tragic conflict that happened here, will never be at peace with itself.”
He added: “The dignity and courage of many victims and survivors is a testimony to their strength and an invitation to all in society to do everything in our power to stop our differences and prejudices spiralling downwards into the kind of violence that we have known in the past.
“It is in all our hands to make sure we, as a society, do not create a new generation of victims.”