In Northern Ireland, Catholics and Protestants are going to find it difficult, if not impossible, to move ahead toward peace until they put some of their past behind them. Recent days provided obvious examples.
Last Friday, violence broke out -- predictably -- during parades by the Protestant Orange Order marking the holiday known simply as the "Twelfth." The date marks a 1690 military victory by Protestant William of Orange over King James II's Catholic forces. It is commemorated by members of Northern Ireland's fraternal Protestant organizations staging fife-and-drum parades through out the land, some along routes directly adjacent to Catholic strongholds.
Unruly Catholics respond by throwing bottles and stones at the marchers. Sooner or later, the marchers begin throwing back and the melee is on.
The day has become the most divisive 24 hours of the year in Northern Ireland, with the marchers providing the fuse and the onlookers lighting the match. It is a historic observation in name only. Its true purpose is to inflame the passions of both sides for one day, thus helping to perpetuate the conflict.
There is another, more recent date looming in Northern Irish history, July 21. This year will be the 30th anniversary of Sunday, July 2,1 when an Irish Republican Army operation in Belfast killed nine people and injured many more.
An apology, albeit flawed
As this anniversary approaches, the IRA has released an apology for killing civilians on that day and since then.
The statement stops short of calling the IRA operations what they were -- acts of terrorism. And it makes a flawed attempt to treat anyone who has died in the conflict between Catholics and Protestants as equals.
After making a reference to "all of the victims of the conflict, combatants and noncombatants," it argues against "creating a hierarchy of victims in which some are deemed more or less worthy than others."
In point of fact, some are more worthy of mourning than others. Adults who die after taking up arms in hatred against others with whom they disagree over religion or political philosophy are only getting as good as they gave. A child attacked on her way to school or blown up in a market holding his mother's hand is a true victim.
That aside, the IRA acknowledgment is a step forward. But words must be followed by actions.
This apology will only have meaning if the IRA does everything in its power to stop acts of terrorism in Northern Ireland. That includes cooperating in bringing about the arrest and conviction of renegades who continue to pursue victory through violence and terrorism rather than pursuing peace through negotiations and compromise.