THE night before yesterday’s historic handshake I was talking to a police officer who had been shot twice by the IRA and his brother killed in the Enniskillen bomb.
It was an important reminder of the terrible reality of our past and what we must ensure never happens again.
Then yesterday I found myself in Belfast’s Lyric Theatre when the Queen met Martin McGuinness. It was a meeting that I never thought would take place.
Also there were people from right across the spectrum of our society, who had made a very positive contribution to the new era that we find ourselves in.
If we are going to make sure that we will never repeat the mistakes of the past, it requires leadership at many different levels.
That has been shown over the years by many people and this was a significant step from those right at the very top. It should be an encouragement to others to build relationships and break down barriers and free up those who in the past – who for very understandable reasons – couldn’t do so.
I met the Queen a couple of years ago and I was introduced as being involved in cross-community work and she asked with genuine concern: ‘things are getting better aren’t they?’ I replied ‘yes, they are’ and I told her there were many people at a whole lot of different levels working away to build relationships.
So when I met her again today I reminded her of that meeting and told her things had moved on further since our last meeting.
She said she could sense that things were changing. You can tell she has a genuine concern for all the people of Northern Ireland and these islands that things do work through.
While yesterday was undoubtedly a very good step, at the same time we should not forget that has also been a very difficult step.
Particularly for the Queen in view of the fact that she lost Lord Mountbatten.
But also it cannot have been easy for Martin McGuinness when you think of his background. In many ways my generation has to take some of these difficult decisions to make sure that the younger generation never repeats the mistakes of the past. I think this was a positive contribution to making that aspiration becoming a reality.
We can’t undo the past, but we can make sure that it never happens again. Significant gestures such as this are important in building the foundations in making sure that this doesn’t occur and that surely is the best tribute to those who suffered so much.
• Trevor Ringland is an ex-Irish international rugby player who is on the board of Co-operation Ireland and a trustee of the RUC George Cross foundation.