The shadow of the past


Thanks to all the good people who shared their thoughts on what they would say inside 90 secs about the past –  including those who said they’d use the time to mock me… You can hear what Alex Kane and I said here  – we’re near the start.

I thought it important to stress that the past for us doesn’t simply begin in 1969 or the 1970s –  as we should know in this decade of centenaries, the past here is a series of links in a chain, one event leading to another. The origins of our Troubles are rooted in the creation of the state of Northern Ireland – a state carefully carved out to ensure a permanent unionist majority  (a plan which looks less and less cunning with every census).  It was also a state that kept power firmly in its grasp by systemic discrimination and gerrymander; so when we talk about addressing the past (and I agree with Rev John Dunlop this morning – ‘cope’ is a far better word in terms of the past that ‘deal with’. ‘Deal with’ sounds as if we could master it. No chance.)…Where was I? Oh yes, talking of the past we need to factor in what kind of state existed here and how reaction to people seeking merely their civil rights was dealt with – and who were loudest in their bull-horn denunciation of those seeking their rights.

If you listen to the recording, you’ll notice that I am a bit pessimistic about things generally. Victims seek two things usually : justice and truth. Hardly too much to ask for, you may say. Unfortunately it is too much to ask for, because if justice were to be served,  there is a high probability that people who served in Cabinets in Downing Street would be identified with some very dirty work. So while it must be galling to people like those who lost loved ones on Bloody Sunday and to the Pat Finucane family and the Families of the Forgotten (remember them?),  they are not going to get justice. They’ll probably never get the full truth either, but at least that’s worth trying for. I would support the idea of an independent Truth and Reconciliation commission, where people could be open in narrating what part they played and what blame they shared. The kind of contribution we most definitely would not need would be the kind of contribution that the Panorama  programme offered last week: people speaking with arrogance about the lives they took, and being quickly supported in this attitudes by MPs and generals. And as I say, I believe someone speaking for the state here as it existed from the 1920s  to the 1970s should be included in telling what they did.

Not all would contribute. I doubt if the British government would come clean. I expect there are republican and loyalist paramilitaries who would not take part. But there’s a good chance many would, and that would provide, I hope, some ease for those who have suffered. And again I’d stress – the nationalist population here would feel that truth had had its day in the sun, so to say, if the discrimination and gerrymander that stunted so many lives were acknowledged by those guilty of it.

That done, we could  mark the past as Closed, at least as part of political dialogue. There’d be no deflecting of questions about financial or social matters by referring to what the questioner did or didn’t do in the years of conflict and  before. We’d have a slate and a state that had been wiped as clean as we possibly could do. To try for more than that is to allow us all to be ball-and-chained to our divided past.



6 Responses to The shadow of the past

  1. giordanobuno November 24, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

    A decision to create a truth and reconciliation process as you suggest has the obvious effect of removing any hope of justice for the families involved.
    If I had lost anyone during the troubles, and fortunately I did not, I would not want to be told by anyone that I must stop looking for justice. If I decided to stop myself,of course that would be different.
    I think such a process could only work if the families agree to it,on a case by case basis.
    Those families that do not agree should be allowed to seek justice for as long as they need to. Would you accept any less?

    • Jude Collins November 26, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

      Probably not, Gio. But you do see that, given the number of victims and the proven reluctance of several sources – notably the British government – to cough up the truth about what happened or even pass over relevant documents, pursuit of justice could – probably would – go on for ever. I don’t doubt that would be very hard for victims and I’d probably whistle a different tune if it was, as you say, one of my loved ones. But if victims keep hoping for justice, I’m simply saying they’re not going to get it. Horrible, terrible, but true. They’ll also be lucky in some cases – many cases – to get the truth.

  2. Jim Lynch November 24, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

    Don’t hold your breath for the British to take responsibility for their murderous behavior during the “troubles.”

    The British army and by extension the British government will take a same tack as Winston Churchill when he said;
    “History will be kind to me because I intend to write it.”

    • notaninch November 24, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

      Considering your contributions this last two days you seem to be having a good auld crack at writing history. Seems your last sentence today sums you up. Yesterday you quoted Gandhi and then proceeded to prove his point by using yourself as an example.

      • Jude Collins November 26, 2013 at 7:50 pm #

        Well thank you nai – I do have a degree in history but I’ve never thought of myself as a historian. Go raibh cead maith agat aris – thank you very much again.

        • notaninch November 28, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

          Considering I was responding to Jim Lynch it would seem you haven’t been paying attention in class.