Dealing with the Past in Northern Ireland


Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate – TRANSCEND Media Service

Education and Job Creating for All Our Young People

15th December, 2013

Almost daily in some area of Northern Ireland another person, out of deep pain and desperation commits suicide.  Many of these suicides are in their early teens, and these heart-breaking acts, a desperate cry for help, are now so common it often goes unreported.

There are many roots to the cause of this most final and desperate of acts which leave families grief stricken and carrying forever the memories of their beloved.   Their death often in spite of time passing will never dull the memories of happier days of laughter and joy nor the wish of those left behind, that it had been different.

The almost daily suicide rate in Northern Ireland does not get the headlines given to other issues less important that a human life, such as  flags, the parades, the painting of kerbs and gable walls, the endless discussions of the past, and who did what to whom.  Surely we can move beyond the  ‘scapegoating’  the ‘blame game’ and the sectarian language often used and which helps keep our community divided and fearful  instead of working together  on a shared future.

In the meantime, especially in the communities who have carried the brunt of the ‘Troubles’, many people, particularly young people feel isolated, marginalized, and hopeless.   The job situation is desperate in these marginalized communities, and elsewhere, and there is little support for those who are not lucky enough to have the education and skills to get a job.  An education and work gives dignity, a sense of worth, and purpose.  In Northern Ireland we need peace, stability and real leadership in order to tackle the chronic problems of poverty and unemployment in inner cities and   rural areas.  I live in a rural area where many of our young people have, and continue to immigrate reluctantly to any country now where they are lucky enough to be accepted.   Increasingly even the option of emigration is being closed off and only those with education, job skills, and money are being accepted into other countries.  Also with the global economy and the outsourcing of jobs and fewer jobs for local labour, young people are forced into unemployment queues and hand-outs and a downward spiral of poverty.

One of our MLA’s has recently promised us  improved connections to  Canada  and I believe, we are going to need them because so many of our  people are again being forced out from their homeland and unwillingly have to go to Canada, and overseas, for jobs.  The airline connections are welcome but as someone living in a rural area where we have no connecting bus service to our local village and our village clinic is threatened with closure, perhaps it is time we looked closer to home and created jobs to enable people to remain in the country or city areas and with public services.

I welcome the visit of the American facilitators, Dr. Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan, and look forward to their report of their findings and recommendations as to how we Northern Irish people might reach agreement on issues such as the past, etc. In the final analysis it is the people of Northern Ireland   who must choose how to live together  and  more importantly put it into practise.   Only we can choose to forgive each other for all the terrible things we have done in the past, only we can choose to work for equality and reconciliation and to start respecting each other.

Dealing with the past is important but we must move to secure a future especially for the young generation.    We can continue to talk about the past and  spend millions more on ‘truth commissions’ but it is a long time since the start of the ‘troubles’ in 1969 and many people have since died and the ‘whole truth’ now is impossible to know.

I personally hope we do not choose to have a truth commission, and hope that we can move on as a people and society to a better future.

Perhaps in place of this truth commission, we could deploy the resources into training and job creation to give people opportunities for work.

The greatest gift we give each other is love and forgiveness and these values will move Northern Ireland to a better future.


Mairead Corrigan Maguire is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment. She won the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her work for peace in Northern Ireland. Her book The Vision of Peace (edited by John Dear, with a foreword by Desmond Tutu and a preface by the Dalai Lama) is available from She lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland. See:

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 16 Dec 2013.

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