Letter: Citizen involvement across the Irish Sea

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The Independent Online
Sir: Andrew Marr rightly warns against pushing Northern Ireland off the Westminster agenda and against rejecting out of hand offers from the US ('A bloody cheek . . . but not such a bad idea', 25 February). He also notes that 'the time is ripe for a transfusion of energy and enthusiasm'.

Independent readers might like to know that today marks the end of the six weeks of oral hearings of the independent Opsahl Commission established by Initiative '92 to broaden and deepen dialogue on ways forward for Northern Ireland. Hundreds of submissions, involving thousands of people, have been received from all shades of opinion.

The seven commissioners, coming from their respective bases in the US, the Continent and these islands, and chaired by the distinguished Norwegian human rights lawyer Torkel Opsahl, will now produce a report in two parts, one summarising the submissions and the other offering their analysis.

When that is available this summer, I hope that it will help Americans, readers of the Independent and others to understand the range of contrasting and complex views. I also hope that what is an innovative experience in participatory democracy will then, if not sooner, achieve some attention from the editorial team of the Independent, whose enthusiasm for citizen involvement seems to stop at the Irish Sea.

Long before Initiative '92, there has been enormous constructive energy and enthusiasm within and around Northern Ireland struggling in difficult circumstances. I quite agree with Andrew Marr that governments have a major responsibility, and the Major government a particular responsibility, for progress in Northern Ireland, but please also listen, as the Opsahl Commission has done, to the voices of 'ordinary' people who are, in fact, extraordinary.




25 February