‘Answering the Past or Avoiding the Past…’ – By Brian Rowan


Which of the above are we trying to achieve?

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?

6 thoughts on “‘Answering the Past or Avoiding the Past…’ – By Brian Rowan

  1. All sides want the past buried. There are too many uncomfortable truths and secrets that all sides will never let be seen in the cold light of day.

    To show what uncomfortable ‘secrets’ are hidden, one only has to read They Killed the Ice Cream Man, to see that all sides have too much to lose for the ‘real truth,’ to be allowed to unfold.

    Victims are ‘acceptable collateral damage,’ no matter what politicians from whichever side may publicly ‘claim.’

    And yes, I fall into this constituency, because my father was shot dead by the Provisional IRA and I am currently going down the Police Ombudsman route, but I have zero confidence in anything useful happening in going down this road.

  2. Truthseeker is right. Those that harp most about past (apart from victims) are those who hope to avoid all blame and see that blame put totally on their opponent’s shoulders.
    Unionism and DUP in particular fit my last sentence as they scrubbed Eames/Bradley and that was not a bad settlement for vast majority of us. I am a victim and where I come from we ALL are victims or else know many victims in an intimate way.
    Those once referred to as Extreme Moderates also want to avoid blame and put it where they Think it belongs, many of this type have had little contact with real victims from any community. Their smugness drips from them at times. As for UK – well they are just addressing their own needs and care little for victims they made, allowed to be made and even less for the victims from their own forces.
    When going to war has been part of a State’s past for centuries then to them victims are just like bullets, soldiers boots, petrol etc – its impossible to have a conflict without any of these things.

  3. Here is something to think about, which no one has covered before to my knowledge.

    Republicans are crowing for full disclosure of so called, ‘State’ killings, yet the Republican Movement and its fellow travellers were responsible for nearly 1700 deaths.

    How about a trade off – will not be popular, and the screech of a ‘hierarchy of victims,’ will be long
    and loud, but everyone can see a hierarchy already exists.

    For every 3-4 deaths that Republicans come totally clean on, the ‘State’ releases information on
    1-2 of deaths due to their involvement and a reciprocal number from Loyalists.

    If The Smithwick Tribunal was an example of Republicans ‘co-operating,’ how can the Unionist
    Community have any belief that Republicans will be forthcoming and upfront?

    I am not holding my breath on this winning favour!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *