Before answering that question, have a closer look at some recent statements and commentary.
Firstly, from Martin McGuinness, this sentence: “Unfortunately we are rapidly coming to the conclusion that the British Government isn’t serious – and never was serious – about resolving the outstanding legacy issues which were not concluded in the Fresh Start Agreement.”
That statement, on October 7th, also revealed that McGuinness had written to Prime Minister Theresa May.
On the same date, the Belfast Telegraph published an interview with Secretary of State James Brokenshire.
He has a speaking note response to the past that can be read through recent speeches and interviews; no amnesties, no re-writing of history and his pointing to national security responsibilities.
On Monday, the group Relatives for Justice told him that national security is part of “a policy of cover-up and concealment”.
Whether he intended to or not in his interview with Yvette Shapiro, the Secretary of State seemed to lower the bar in terms of expectations: “Whatever we achieve will not do everything for everybody.”
Brokenshire spoke of a chance to do some good – to give some answers.
In his planned “public phase” or consultation on legacy issues, there is a need for straight answers about what can be achieved and what will not be achieved.
The IRA and loyalists will have their own form or equivalent of national security – secret organisational information that will not be disclosed, that will be shielded from any information process, that will be redacted from the record.
If a public phase is about explaining and understanding realistic expectations, then all of this needs to be made clear – honesty about truth and no more leading people up garden paths.
On the same day as the Brokenshire interview and McGuinness statement, Winston Irvine warned that if loyalists were not formally included in the design and implementation of a legacy structure then the likelihood is they would withdraw their support from such a process.
A process without loyalist participation would mean a process without loyalist answers.
So, what if the design is already set in political stone – the proposed Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), the Independent Commission for Information Retrieval (ICIR), the Implementation and Reconciliation Group and the Archive?
Is it Brokenshire’s intention to offer this on a take-it-or-leave-it basis? Could he run with that structure and leave other battles for further down the road?
Up to this point, there has been no indication that he is interested in yet another protracted negotiation on fine detail arguments. So, what if this national security issue is unresolved and what if there is no clearer signal of IRA and loyalist intentions?
What then for the legacy process?
In the word puzzles of the past few days it is not clear whether we are looking at entrance strategies, blame strategies or exit strategies.
The last question is the one with which we began – do we want to answer the past or avoid the past – face it or hide from it?