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Last Updated: Monday, 31 May, 2004, 15:53 GMT 16:53 UK
'South African lessons for NI'
Paul Murphy
Paul Murphy to consult with senior figures in Capetown and Pretoria
Important lessons for Northern Ireland could be learnt from the way South Africa dealt with its past, the province's secretary of state has said.

Paul Murphy began a four day trip to South Africa on Monday.

He is there to look at the country's truth and reconciliation process.

Last week, Mr Murphy announced his intention to find some way to draw a line under the troubles in Northern Ireland.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to help South Africans overcome the divisions of apartheid.

It has been acknowledged around the world for its success in healing some of the deep wounds of the country's violent past.

We're not saying that's going to be absolutely the model for one second for Northern Ireland, but I think there are ways we can talk to people who have expertise and experience
Paul Murphy
Secretary of state

It began in 1996 and over two years looked into more than 20,000 human rights violations.

Attempts to adopt similar models have also been made in other parts of Africa, such as Sierra Leone.

Now it seems Northern Ireland may have something to learn from it as well.

Mr Murphy said: "Part of that is to be able to come and talk to people in South Africa about how their Truth and Reconciliation process worked.

"We're not saying that's going to be absolutely the model for one second for Northern Ireland.

"But I think there are ways we can talk to people who have expertise and experience, learn from them, particularly about the storytelling involved over the last number of years, and then take that experience back with us."

'Consultation process'

While no one is suggesting that the histories of Northern Ireland and South Africa are identical, there are similarities.

Both have suffered from years of hatred and mistrust between divided communities.

Mr Murphy did not commit himself to adopting an exact blueprint of the TRC, but he seemed to be impressed by the way South Africa had moved forward by dealing honestly with the past.

Last week, the government launched a consultation process on how best to heal the wounds of Northern Ireland's violent past.

Mr Murphy told the House of Commons there was a need to deal with the pain, grief and anger caused by the Troubles.

The secretary of state said he would be having discussions with a wide range of people with relevant experiences and expertise over the next few weeks.

Last June, Chief Constable Hugh Orde suggested that a type of truth and reconciliation process may be needed to bring closure to the past.

At that time, more than 1,800 killings, half of those carried out during 30 years of the Troubles in the province, remained unsolved.

Mr Orde said the perpetrators of hundreds of unsolved murders were unlikely to be brought to justice.

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