President Higgins warns against ‘pretend amnesia’ about the past

Past must not ‘overshadow and define either the present or the future to which we aspire’

President Michael D Higgins has warned against a "pretend amnesia" about the past. Dealing with the past was an issue that could not be "shirked", he said when speaking at Queen's University Belfast last night.

Speaking on the theme of “remembering, forgiving and forgetting”, Mr Higgins said an “enduring and just peace requires us to engage with the past”.

“To ignore it or to pretend amnesia would neither be ethical or workable; it would merely sow the seeds of future distrust and enmity,” he said at the launch of the international meeting of the Institute of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice.

“Engaging with the past is not easy,” he told the institute. “It involves a complex negotiation of the manifold stories, memories, hurts, legacies and emotions of all those affected by the Troubles. Finding a fair and comprehensive way of dealing with the past, one that will win the confidence of all, will be a huge challenge.


“In facing up to that challenge, let us at least ensure that our approach is characterised by a will to remember ethically, to view forgiveness as a true release from the past, and to move forward to a new chapter unburdened by any bitter memory of that past, free to make of our imagining, an emancipatory, inclusive achievement in conditions of an enduring peace.”

Mr Higgins told guests of how it was important also to “imagine” a better future.

“While a terrible and heinous act cannot, for the most moral of reasons, be dissolved or forgotten, it is only through an act of imagination and creativity that we can prevent that tragic memory from colonising the future.”

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times