‘Everyone has questions to answer’

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As the debate on how the past progresses it is essential that all conflict actors are engaged in a process that charts a way forward.  How the current debate is framed is itself contested.  In advance of the publication of the De Silva report into the killing of Pat Finucane I argue that the spotlight is again on the British state to account for their role in sustaining and perpetuating 40 years of conflict.

Brian Rowan in his piece ‘Finucane – Trying to Unearth the Ugliest of Truths’ asks the questions “not just about what happened but why”.  In this contribution I will seek to share some observations while also arguing that it is simply the wrong starting point to juxtapose the actions of non-state actors alongside those of the state and its actors.

 

Anne Travers

 

How the debate on the past is framed is itself a contested matter.  The reality remains however as expressed in the words of Guatemalan human rights lawyer Frank La Rue: “You cannot build the future of society if society is not willing to acknowledge the past.”

While Republicans and Loyalists have a moral responsibility to account for the ‘human bomb’ or the practices of the ‘Shankill Butchers’ there is a different threshold when it comes to the state in accounting for their actions.

It is the British state that has primary responsibility to uphold the right to life and to protect human rights in this jurisdiction – the real question is why the British state failed to protect the lives of so many who were either killed directly by the state or as in the case of Pat Finucane with the assistance of Loyalists who as Brian Rowan describes as “puppets in the plot”.

While I struggle to answer the ‘why’ question I am convinced that the actions of the state whether through torture in interrogation centres, the use of juryless, Diplock Courts, summary execution or emergency legislation contributed to the duration of the conflict and as an outcome indirectly contributed to conditions in which more lives were lost.

Broadly there were four phases to the conflict in the North of Ireland.  Phase 1, militarisation, from 1969 to 1974 – during this phase of the conflict, the British army was responsible for 90% of the 188 state killings. Phase 2, normalisation from 1975 to 1980 – is the period of when the number of state killings dropped dramatically to 54.  Phase 3, counter insurgency 1981-1994 again demonstrates that tactics and results changed again.  Phase 4 was the era of the peace process.

It is a matter of historical fact that the British state was involved in state criminality in the North of Ireland across each of the first three phases – a criminality that has left hundreds dead and thousands injured and imprisoned on extracted confessions.

The killing of Pat Finucane happened in Phase 3 at a time when the British state’s approach was to engage Loyalist groups in targeted killings. In this way they believed their role in Pat Finucane’s death would be concealed.

State interference in the Cory recommended Finucane inquiry, the introduction of the Inquiries Act, the formation of the PSNI Historical Enquiries Team, the lack of accountability of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and generally in the Inquest System all signal that state accountability for past human rights violations will remain as elusive as ever.

The fact is that the British state equally uses the law to deny human rights and demands for truth continues to undermine confidence in the rule of law and its ability to address past violations.  The challenge before Sir Desmond De Silva is that he must identify what state actor “planted the seed” that led to the death of Pat Finucane – if not there is a real danger that confidence will again be undermined in the rule of law.

Over the last forty years the British state constructed their conflict frame to present the conflict in ‘a politically strategic way’.  Significantly the British approach was to ignore its own culpability and lack of independence in the conflict – which stands in contrast to the experience of so many (from within the Republican and Unionist communities) who lost loved ones directly and indirectly at the hands or instruction of the state.

It is perhaps therefore more than coincidence that the Eames-Bradley Report has been disregarded as it also highlighted that, “elements of the state, on occasions, acted outside the law.” (29 May 2008)

On recommending the Bloody Sunday Inquiry to the House of Commons in January 1998, British Prime Minister Tony Blair stated: “Bloody Sunday was different because, where the State’s own authorities are concerned, we must be as sure as we can of the truth, precisely because we do pride ourselves on our democracy and our respect for the law, and on the professionalism and dedication of our security forces… I believe that it is in the interests of everyone that the truth is established, and told.”

The reality is that the British state cannot honour that commitment into the countless other state killings.  The dismissal of a public inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane as agreed at the Weston Park negotiations is a clear act of bad faith.

This reluctance to honour their international human rights commitments speaks volumes about the British attitude to truth and justice.  That is the challenge before Sir Desmond da Silva – it is to shine the light into the dark recesses of the British state.  More generally there is an accountability gap when it comes to the British state accounting for their role as a combatant in the conflict here.

We now have a growing body of questions around the suspension of inquests on ‘national security grounds’ into state killings, the fundamental questions raised into the PSNI investigation into the killing of Gerard Lawlor, the question from the families in Enniskillen or indeed Anne Travers and the Finucane family.

All of which speaks to a deepening bitter debate and a moral and political imperative to design a genuine process that seeks to engage all actors in a process designed to address legacy issues. Such a process cannot involve nailing people to the wall but focus on corporate responsibility.

In conclusion this concealment of truth should concern all in this society who are committed to building a better future that is defined and shaped by confidence in the rule of law.  Indeed there are many unanswered questions from the past.  If however this society is to move on it is no longer an option for wider society to claim ignorance about the context, nature and consequences of past abuses.

The outcome of the de Silva investigation will set the tone as to how the next phase of the dealing with the past debate progresses.

Interpreting the words of Frank La Rue it is over to the British state to take the lead in acknowledging their contributions to past conflict horrors in the North of Ireland over the 40 years – perhaps then other actors may follow suit.


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About Author

John Loughran is a Member of Relatives for Justice a support group that works to support families bereaved through the conflict. He is also a member of the Victims and Survivors Forum. He has recently completed an LLM in Human Rights Law focussing on the contribution of ‘unofficial’ truth projects to wider processes of dealing with the past in the north of Ireland.

12 Comments

  1. Excellent post John, and many interesting points to consider.

    What I find amazing and from a political perspective it is very clever and well played on the part of the State is how they have maneuvered themselves into a place where they are no longer considered by the MSM as an active participant in the Troubles, a serious actor who were either directly involved in extra-judicial violence or out-sourced these activities to loyalist paramilitaries (a rather macabre Thatcher privitisation programme?).

    Instead they act as some kind of ‘independent arbitrator’ to keep the peace here. Why a light has not been shone on these activities more may be for a few reasons, (i) they (MSM) buy the narrative of not being a player in this tale; (ii) they ignore it. With either the MSM in the North does not come out smelling of roses in this instance.

  2. Some interesting points i would agree, but, one element that seems to have been left out of this observation (wheather on purpose or not) is the Irish Governments actions or clearly “lack” of action when dealing with terrorism. As quoted in your first paragragh and from a Unionist point of view which this observation is clearly not “you cannot build a future of society unless society is not willing to acknowledge the past”. Either way there are alot of people that need to step up to the plate and answer questions that no matter what oath they have taken need to be answered for the sake of all victims.

  3. I’m not by any account saying let’s forget the
    past, for we cannot, but we must at least acknowledge that it is the present,
    rather than the past, that holds much more inherent threat, and which has the greatest
    potential to destabilise the future we are all trying to build.

    In concentrating all our efforts and energies
    on dealing with the past, we may be in danger of neglecting or side-stepping
    the present.

    The present itself has many challenges, not
    least the Dissident Republican threat, intent on recreating the murder and
    mayhem that was our past.

    If we are to have inquiries, or have access to
    truth, the present is a much more imperative reality that we cannot ignore, as
    it holds the potential to drag us back into the past, and is displaying all the
    traits of this past in acts of terror being instigated on our streets.

    On a daily basis we are drip-fed assessments about
    this present from ‘security sources’ that indicate these groupings are
    infiltrated left right and centre, and certainly the fact that a lot of their
    planned operations appear compromised would seem to verify these claims.

    Yet, if the level of infiltration is so
    overwhelming, if the intelligence that comprehensive, if the community support that
    low, if the groups that ‘micro’ in nature, and the numbers that small and disorganised,…the
    question is, why haven’t they shut them down?

    And there are other questions; because the
    genesis of these groupings came from splits in the Republican Movement, over
    various issues such as the support for policing etc, so the people and particular
    groupings, many would naturally assume, are well known within Republican
    circles, thus the weapons, expertise and support they draw on and have access
    to, do not exist in the realms of conjecture alone.

    It has been stated elsewhere on this site, that
    genuine initiatives from our past, such as ‘Common Sense’, ‘A Scenario for
    Peace’ etc, although progressive and ground-breaking in content and nature,
    could not be heard over the sound of guns and bombs. Does the same not apply to
    any initiatives being put forward to deal with our past? Is the sound of guns
    and bombs still not too loud?

    All of which makes a process to deal with our
    present of utmost concern.

    • John – there is a threat in the present, and while it should not be understated nor should it be overstated. The dissidents cannot re-create the IRA ‘war’ and do not pose anything like the same threat. There is a need for an initiative/dialogue that confronts that threat and this is work for the broad republican/nationalist/Catholic community. There is also a need for a process that begins to answer the questions of the past – the questions from all sides. The challenge is to try to do both – address the questions/issues of the past and present.

  4. “Ain’t war hell, boys” is a statement from ‘Full Metal Jacket’.

    When I analyze our shared past I don’t see my Country intent on waging ‘war’ in this region of the UK by any means necessary.

    Indeed I’d argue that when the Stormont Government lost control of the ground here, and a beaten, over whelmed RUC required the support of troops to maintain the rule of law that it was an embryonic PIRA who stated it was ‘at war’.

    As an organization PIRA where initially part funded, armed and certainly manipulated by the other state on this Island – the Irish State some of who zealously burned with delight at a chance to be fighting the ‘oul enemy again.

    Too young to have played a part in the Stormont years of Northern Ireland, my inheritance as I grew up in the small area of the Woodvale was to have violence erupt around me as 423 souls lost their lives to PIRA. Now some will argue that ‘some of them’ deserved it because 13 where members of the NI Prison Service; 22 where members of the UDR, the HS R IRISH or the TAVR; 32 where members of the RUC; 65 members of various Army Units who served in the Borough but get this, 291 where innocent civilians. The ‘British’ in Ireland where truly getting killed in my area, and it was a state sponsored PIRA killing them – all 423 of them. No inquest, inquiry or forum for those victims?.

    When Op. Banner (the Army name for it’s deployment in Northern Ireland) began the worse case scenario had troops here for a maximum of 3 years, and (ideally) out by July 1970. The events that prolonged that deployment are varied?

    Tactics that had worked successfully against guerrilla armies in Malaya, Borneo and Dhofar failed here and so many tactics where evolved and the streets here where the training ground. No one had a “Communal Uprising on your Doorstep Manual” – there was never a pamphlet for here. The pamphlet was written in response to changing paramilitary action – as the paramilitaries changed tact so the Army reacted. However, it is a reality that Army & Police activity deterred most paramilitary operations – for every 1 paramilitary success, at least 9 where thwarted. Societies woes would have been much worse but for Army or Police activity and while that fact may sit uncomfortably with someone who has lost relatives to Army or Police action, it is the reality.

    Not withstanding, in the murky world of acceptable levels of violence, guerrilla warfare and intelligence gathering there exists many egos and control perfectionists. I’ve no doubt that some of these individuals by silence, a nod, a wink or what ever possibly could have guided agents to participate in criminality that led to death and injury. The case of Fred Scapptici playing both sides would indicate this as valid.

    It is also quite feasible that given a declaration of ‘war’ by PIRA that individual senior Officers or Politicians took up the mantra and selected individuals to die to prove the singular point of “see what could happen if we so desired” before letting matters revert again to an acceptable level of violence. Given my past, I have no doubt that some Army action where possibly due to this.

    Is there ‘truth’ (not perception) available from this cloudy pond of clandestine HMG and IG interference in our society? Given the reality of sectarian guerrilla warfare is there a real opportunity for truth there? I don’t believe so at this time, formally.

    We cannot forget our past but our efforts must be firmly fixed on the horizon. Truth begins within and when individuals can look at ‘the whole’ with non sectarian and non nationalistic eyes then come together in the spirit of truth that is a start. If a formal process evolves from that then at it’s heart there must be a priority to the innocent victims of State or Paramilitary.

  5. The Realities of Republicanism and Reconciliation

    Whilst the whole spectrum of social injustice continues to adversely impact on working-class communities, and has left those who already experience their lives at the edges and margins of society, feeling even more disenfranchised, neglected and discarded, with inadequate political delivery in regards to health, education, employment, investment, environment and social welfare; Republican/Nationalist politicians, elected to govern on all
    our behalf and at our behest, on a mandate to make our quality of life better, decide in their wisdom to concentrate on……FLAGS!

    Do they not know that we are in the midst of a recession and the ever-tightening squeeze of austerity measures? That hundreds are losing their jobs and dole queues growing? That many businesses are shutting down? That young people are leaving school with little or no education and diminished prospects?

    The reality is that a flag, or the absence of it, will not put food on peoples table.

    Republicans may hold the balance of power in the City Hall, albeit with crucial Alliance support swinging the pendulum in their favour, yet instead of using this advantage to
    improve the quality of life of people, we have instead a concerted focus on flags, that won’t make a blind bit of difference to anyone’s life in real terms.

    Yet in the same breath as proposing to remove the Union flag, Republicans claim they want to reach out to Unionists and reconcile with them, and this decision will hardly progress that prospect. Indeed, it could be rightfully argued that it has left them feeling that their identity
    as British Citizens is being eroded.

    Republicans further have the audacity to claim that restricted flying on designated days is some sort of historic ‘compromise’ with Unionists. Yet a compromise by its very definition is
    something that is negotiated and agreed and this is clearly not the case.

    Just how this strategy will assist Republicans/Nationalists in their stated aim of reaching out to and reconciling with Unionists, and thus dealing with the past, remains unclear, never mind reassuring or convincing them that their interests can be met and their identity best respected within any All-Ireland basis.

    Furthermore, this proposal certainly denies a fundamental fact of the Good Friday Agreement. That is, the existence of Northern Ireland as an integral part of the UK.

    The Common Sense document, the UPRG’s 1987 blueprint for power-sharing, clearly set out the parameters of what is possible regarding settlement and what would be deemed as a step too far:

    “Whilst we have no doubt that compromise and accommodation can be reached between
    Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, it is impossible to compromise on the existence of Northern Ireland itself – it either exists or it doesn’t. At present it exists and is a part of the United Kingdom. This situation may not be the whole-hearted wish of everyone in the province but must be recognised to be the wish of most.”

    Indeed, under the Good Friday Agreement, the Union is our current political reality, with the principle of consent underpinning that reality, and until consent is given or received for
    changes to that reality, the flag of the Union should reflect that current reality.

    The question on many peoples’ minds is: is this not the same type of unregulated, unwarranted and contrived actions that Republicans/Nationalists used to accuse Unionists of whilst in governance?
    That they delivered for sectional interests and against the wishes of, and without the mandate of, a significant section of citizens? If so, then Republicans are displaying all the signs of the old arrogance that they would readily accuse successive Unionist Councils of.

    We understand that Republicans/Nationalists ay not like the reality, that we are a part of the UK, and wish it to be changed and whilst we uphold their right to pursue alternative political
    aspirations, within what is an aspirational parity, afforded under the Good Friday Agreement, it is clear that this Agreement did NOT remove us from the Union.

    This decision was taken without adequate public consultation.

    The consultation exercise that was commissioned was not only restrictive in nature but was also significantly outdated, yet given these inadequacies, this still received approximately 17,000 responses,with the vast majority of these in favour of retaining the national flag,
    something that has been totally ignored. Furthermore, surveys among staff are
    understood to have identified that the proposed changes would impact onrelations within the working environment that is the City Hall, yet these findingswere also totally ignored.

    Given the potential ramificationsof this decision on community relations, should this decision not have beenreferred to parliament buildings rather than left at a local authority level?
    Or at least been made subject to a community-impact-assessment before
    implementation to accurately assess those implications and prepare for them?

    Given all these points, clearlythere are now abject failures at what is the heart of civic-governance.

    Furthermore, a lot of Unionistswould also begin to question the actual legal validity of this decision. Indeed,under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement all political decisions have tohave significant cross-community support to be implemented, yet here we have a
    Council decision that didn’t have that threshold of valid cross-communitysupport. Obviously the same legislation not apply to Councils in regards todecision making, given it is a civic building, as that which applies toParliament buildings in Stormont?, Why are they not bound by the samelegislative framework is now a valid question?
    After all, it is a civic-building, which is inhabitedby politicians, whom make political decisions, and thus is part of the widerpolitical architecture) Even as a civic-building, wider public consultationshould have been a necessary consideration, or at least an acceptance of theconsultation they did do, rather than rejection of the findings that did notsupport or give a civic-mandate for their actions.

    Indeed, the possible implications ofthis decision have been clearly expressed by the First Minister: “The decisionto pursue the removal of the flag from city hall and other council buildings,despite warnings of the likely consequential impact on community relations, was
    foolish and provocative. Those who talk most about building community relationshave by their actions in the council substantially damaged relations across thecity.”

    Also it certainly doesn’t seemlike anyone in the Republican/Nationalist camp has given any serious thought tohow this will play out on the street, as the big picture tends to invariably
    play out locally in Northern Ireland politics.

    Such is the anger and frustrationon the ground at this play of pretend-politics, that already there aremumblings that if the Union flag is removed from the City Hall, then it will be
    flown from every lamp-post across the province. In this context, the political
    process and the power-plays being conducted within this domain, may invariably
    impact on the peace-process as it is experienced at the grassroots.

    And what then?

    North Belfast UPRG think-tank

    footnote: In line with the Mitchell Principles, that ushered in the Good Friday Agreement, we remain committed to democratic and exclusively peaceful means of resolving political issues, and renounce and oppose any efforts to use force or threaten to use force towards this end.

    • John,

      I think what we see from time to time emanating from the Republican Movement goes back to the example post their ’94 cessation and the abbreviation of TUAS. At the time there was great debate on the terminology – did it mean Tactical Use of Armed Struggle OR Total Un-Armed Struggle?

      Today the term is Reconciliation – is it authentic or a sound bite used as a political weapon?

      I personally didn’t give a hoot on the flag being flown on designated days – it happens elsewhere throughout the UK so for me the ‘issue’ was a non runner or event, and a majority of Unionists are actually of my thinking. It was on the horizon since Unionism lost it’s majority on BCC.

      However after the Council vote (democracy in action) then the idiocy of the minority turning to violence in response there was a vindictive, almost racist gloating by some in the Republican community who saw it as ‘victory’. Key individuals in Republicanism, who frankly should have known better, where behaving like little kids through social media as they wallowed in the defeat of ‘Unionism’. it certainly has left me questioning motive (and I’m moderately minded, now).

      Clearly, some in Republicanism continue a sectarian vendetta to eradicate the British-Irish culture on this Island. What they failed to do by guerrilla war they wage by political war. They make wide sweeping generalizations regarding the Unionist community that are simply not true. Republican individuals (I hope, individuals) appear intent in defeating & demoralizing
      Unionism tactically using every political or social leverage & advantage to criticize, erode and challenge the British-Irish tradition. Some laud a moral superiority that in reality is not true and a total hypocrisy….. while they’re busy ‘killing’ the British-Irish tradition, our unemployment continues to rise, poverty increases, our education system a basket case etc.

      I hope someone with their finger on authentic reconciliation stops them.

      • Glenn,
        i value all the points you have made, and i know from your previous replies and posts throughout this site, that you are indeed of moderate opinion, but also that you call it like you see it and feel it, without having to tow any particular party line and thus not constrained by the realities of what many contributors are subscribed.
        But yes, the gloating, the wallowing, the vindictive attitude, the arrogance… i, and many others, certainly would question where these attributes fit with a reconciliation initiative…

        • John, thank you.

          I’d like to clarify:

          The vote in the Chamber was democracy – and it was to that simple numerical count that I was alluding. The motive that brought about the count was nothing more than a political manipulation to erode a symbol of British-Irish culture despite (as you clearly indicate) no civic opposition to the flag 24/7-365.

          Individuals within the Republican Movement picked an issue that would surely fire the passion of those who embrace “Flags & Emblems” as a means to identify who or what they are (personally I don’t but I’ve nothing against those who do and thus my ‘don’t give a hoot’ comment).

          Orchestrating a political conspiracy the SDLP & SF created an ‘issue’ and the rest is now recent history following the support of Alliance.

          As said, the orchestration and the gloating have left me slightly dumfounded with regard ‘authentic reconciliation’. Indeed I ponder if we’re not becoming more polarized by this and other actions at local government across Northern Ireland.

          If anything, the BCC decision has made me accept that I must lobby, lobby and lobby again to get the Unionist electorate out: the fact is that had people who did nothing at the last election, done something by voting, those who embrace flags & emblems would not be in this position?

          Regarding my writing: I write with passion from a wide experience in the hope that I can show, by example, that no one owns this process – all have a part to play. Eamonnmallie.com gives people a platform to voice their views and all (individuals or groups) should have no fear in expressing their opinion. I accept my perception is but one, and there are countless others.

          Finally, I’d enter politics again tomorrow but seriously, where would a passionate maverick like me fit? Best wishes John to you et all.

          • Glenn’
            yes i agree wholeheartedly that voting and getting the electorate out is both the lesson here as well as the key to change things and it would be nice to share ideas on that sometime.
            But even at that, many would not want any reversal of political-fortune in the great-vote-harvest, to become synominous with the politics of sectional or indigenous interests, or for that power to be used as a baton to batter the other into submission.
            That’s just playground-bully politics!
            And i know that many share your moment of reflection in regards how this can be even more divisive and thus polarize things further, and worse still, as we have begun to see, play out in the street.
            But sadly that doesn’t seem to have been a consideration here…

  6. The realities of Republicanism and Reconciliation

    Whilst the whole spectrum of social injustice continues to adversely impact on working-class communities, and has left those who already experience their lives at the edges and margins of society, feeling even more disenfranchised, neglected and discarded, with inadequate political delivery in regards to health, education, employment, investment, environment and social welfare; Republican/Nationalist politicians, (elected to govern on all
    our behalf and at our behest) on a mandate to make our quality of life better, decide in their wisdom to concentrate on……FLAGS!

    Do they not know that we are in the midst of a recession and the ever-tightening squeeze of austerity measures? That hundreds are losing their jobs and dole queues growing? That many businesses are shutting down? That young people are leaving school with little or no education and diminished prospects?

    The reality is that a flag, or the absence of it, will not put food on peoples table.

    Republicans may hold the balance of power in the City Hall, albeit with crucial Alliance support swinging the pendulum in their favour, yet instead of using this advantage to
    improve the quality of life of people, we have instead a concerted focus on flags, that won’t make a blind bit of difference to anyone’s life in real terms.

    Yet in the same breath as proposing to remove the Union flag, Republicans claim they want to reach out to Unionists and reconcile with them, and this decision will hardly progress that prospect. Indeed, it could be rightfully argued that it has left them feeling that their identity
    as British Citizens is being eroded.

    Indeed, in the aftermath of a the violence after the City Hall protest, the gloating, the wallowing, the vindictive attitude, the arrogance were there for all to see, as one commentator indicated senior Republicans were seen as “behaving like little kids through social media as they wallowed in the defeat of ‘Unionism’

    Many would now question where these attributes fit within a reconciliation initiative..

    Republicans further have the audacity to claim that restricted flying on designated days is some sort of historic ‘compromise’ with Unionists. Yet a compromise by its very definition
    is something that is negotiated and agreed and this is clearly not the case.

    Just how this strategy will assist Republicans/Nationalists in their stated aim of reaching out to and reconciling with Unionists remains unclear, never mind reassuring or convincing
    them that their interests can be met and their identity best respected within any All-Ireland basis.

    Furthermore, this proposal certainly denies a fundamental fact of the Good Friday Agreement. That is, the existence of Northern Ireland as an integral part of the UK.

    The Common Sense document, the UPRG’s 1987 blueprint for power-sharing, clearly set out the parameters of what is possible regarding settlement and what would be deemed as a step too far:

    “Whilst we have no doubt that compromise and accommodation can be reached between
    Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, it is impossible to compromise on the existence of Northern Ireland itself – it either exists or it doesn’t. At present it exists and is a part of the United Kingdom. This situation may not be the whole-hearted wish of everyone in the province but must be recognised to be the wish of most.”

    Indeed, under the Good Friday Agreement, the Union is our current political reality, with the principle of consent underpinning that reality, and until consent is given or received for
    changes to that reality, the flag of the Union should reflect that current reality.

    The question on many peoples’ minds is: is this not the same type of unregulated, unwarranted and contrived actions that Republicans/Nationalists used to accuse Unionists of whilst in governance? That they delivered for sectional interests and against the wishes of, and without the mandate of, a significant section of citizens? If so, then Republicans are displaying all the signs of the old arrogance that they would readily accuse successive Unionist Councils of.

    We understand that Republicans/Nationalists may not like the reality, that we are a part of the UK, and wish it to be changed, and whilst we uphold their right to pursue alternative political aspirations, within what is an aspirational parity, afforded under the Good Friday Agreement, it is clear that this Agreement did NOT remove us from the Union.

    Bottom line, this decision was taken without adequate public consultation.

    The consultation exercise that was commissioned was restrictive in nature, yet even given this inadequacy, this still received approximately 17,000 responses, with the vast majority of these in favour of retaining the national flag, something that has been totally ignored. Furthermore, surveys among staff are understood to have identified that the proposed changes would impact on relations within the working environment that is the City Hall, with 42% stating that they wanted the policy of flying the constitutional symbol retained and only 35% wanting it changed, yet these findings were also totally ignored.

    On the survey of visitors to the City Hall, there were also 402 responses, with 54% total of respondents indicating that they were happy with the Union flag, breaking down into 36%
    ‘pleased and proud’ of this and 18% ‘comfortable’ with the display on a daily basis, indeed 39% indicated that they ‘had not particular feelings’ about the display of this flag, leaving a massive 8% against the flying of the flag (that consists of 5% ‘uncomfortable’ and only 3% ‘offended’. therefore a decision was taken to support the views and opinions of just 8% of people. Indeed, even 56% of Catholic visitors had ‘no particular feelings’ about the flag within the findings of the equality impact assessment (EQI).

    Hardly democracy at work!

    Given the potential ramifications of this decision on community relations, should this decision not have been referred to parliament buildings rather than left at a local authority level? Indeed, it is good to see that Edwin Poots is calling for a “re-opening of the debate in parliament buildings”.

    This decision at the very least should been made subject to a community impact assessment (different from an EQIA) before implementation to accurately assess those
    implications and prepare for them?

    Given all these points, clearly there are now abject failures at what is the heart of civic-governance.

    Furthermore, a lot of Unionists would also begin to question the actual legal validity of this decision. Especially in the context that Senior Council in the EQIA identified that there was a “low risk” of a discrimination case, and also that “the policy of flying the Union flag att he City Hall every day is prima facie legal” in nature.

    Furthermore, legally, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement all political decisions have to have significant cross-community support to be implemented, yet here we have a
    Council decision that didn’t have that threshold of valid cross-community support. Obviously the same legislation not apply to Councils in regards to decision making, given it is a civic building, as that which applies to Parliament buildings in Stormont?, Why are they not bound by the same legislative framework? (After all, it is a civic-building, which is inhabited
    by politicians, whom make political decisions, and thus is part of the wider
    political architecture) Even taken as a civic-building, wider public consultation should have been a necessary consideration, or at least an acceptance of the consultation they did do, rather than rejection of the findings that did not support or give a civic-mandate for their actions.

    Some Republican have the bare-faced cheek to claim that this was democracy in action.

    Granted, it had democratic overtones in that it was a majority vote taken at Council level, but when you scratch beneath the thin veneer of this, the undertones was the rejection of a civic-mandate in their consultation exercize that clearly wanted the flag retained, so they in effect ignored the underlying civic-voice, within what is presented and operates as a civic-chamber.

    The real ignorance to people power, in regards to consultation, itself a core principle within a representative-democracy, and what the Greek words Demos Kratos is a derivative from, is Not representative democracy as many would recognise it and indeed aspire to.

    You do not consult, receive the answer you don’t like, and then implement against the findings anyway…

    That is, not unless you subscribe to some Ogligarch version of democracy…

    Or unless you want to wallow in a vindictive gratification, against all things British and Unionist…

    Indeed, as another commentator seen it “in the aftermath of a protest turning violent, there was a vindictive, almost racist gloating by some in the Republican community who saw it as ‘victory’. Key individuals in Republicanism, who frankly should have known better, where behaving like little kids through social media as they wallowed in the defeat of ‘Unionism’” That hasn’t went unnoticed by the wider Unionist people.

    Indeed, the possible implications of this decision have been clearly expressed by the First Minister: “The decision to pursue the removal of the flag from city hall and other council buildings, despite warnings of the likely consequential impact on community relations, was
    foolish and provocative. Those who talk most about building community relations have by their actions in the council substantially damaged relations across the city.”

    Also it certainly doesn’t seem like anyone in the Republican/Nationalist camp has given any serious thought to how this will play out on the street, as the big picture tends to invariably
    play out locally in Northern Ireland politics.

    Such is the anger and frustration on the ground at this display of ‘playground-bully politics’, that already there are mumblings that if the Union flag is removed from the City Hall, then it will be flown from every lamp-post across the province. In this context, the political process and the power-plays being conducted within this domain, may invariably impact on the peace-process as it is experienced at the grassroots.

    And what then?

    Indeed, many now believe that Republicans have consciously ditched the peace-process phase, declared it defunct, as it is now being seen as both counterproductive and contraining of their wider ‘political-project’, and having forsaken this element, republicanism are now forging on regardless with all the political weaponry at their disposal.

    North Belfast UPRG think-tank

    footnote:

    In line with the Mitchell Principles, that ushered in the Good Friday Agreement, we remain committed to democratic and exclusively peaceful means of resolving political issues, and
    renounce and oppose any efforts to use force or threaten to use force towards this end

  7. Angus McTavish on

    I find myself struggling to maintain objectivity and overcome my visceral reaction to John Loughran’s twisted and distorted version of the the truth in NI and redrafting of moral principles. It seems easy in this facebook era when people seem to be able to say what they should not to each other and in which one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, to alter social conventions regarding right and wrong.

    Our peace process is anchored on the precedent that we must begin to leave the past behind, rather than let it dictate the parameters and limits of our progress. This might be best illustrated by Martin McGuinness describing Peter Robinson and Ian Paisley as “friends” and the DUP/SF summoning every ounce of political realism required to conduct their political partnership in the cause of governance. On the other end of the scale we have the Relatives for Justice/Pat Finucane Centre/Victim and Survivors Forum, peddling a mixture of elements of truth, conjecture, rhetoric, speculation, propaganda and outright lies, in pursuit of the only “truth” they wish to find; that being their own version.

    In addition, their breathtaking eschewal of confronting the barberism and ruthlessness of republican violence give clear indication of their motivation and intentions; to “pove” the innate wickedness of every person who ever served the crown, or claimed British citizenship. That said, there are clearly individuals and even some small groups within the ranks of the security forces and the intelligence agencies, who have questions to answer. However, the crucial consideration here must be that the same legislation and statutory instruments which Pat Finucane and subsequent barristers used to evade prosecution and incarceration for their terrorist clients, are available to those at whom such questions are directed. Whether or not so few soldiers/police officers/intelligence officers have ever been prosecuted, is an indication that they learned to play the game more effectively than their opponents, is largely irrelevant. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander and no amount of attempting to redraw the boundaries or redefine the rules will force people to admit crimes they did not commit, or do not regret.

    I strongly suspect that even in the event that the torturous process of negotiating the perameters and legality of some form of TRC could be agreed between people so far apart, republicans are not likely to receive a fraction of the “proof” of wrongdoing which they hope for. Indeed, my conviction is that whilst there may well be erroneous acts which individuals or small groups within the security forces must own up to, there will also be stories of selfless acts of bravery, heroism, magnanimity and unbiased dedication to saving life. These will surely be in stark contrast to the motives and dark deeds of the terrorists on both sides.

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