The Truth of a False Dawn

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As the Hass Circus gains momentum leading up to Christmas the politicians, Peace Building Industry, Facebook Warriors and Phone in Show Neanderthals jump around the ring performing their well-rehearsed repetitive acts.

Nineteen years after the Ceasefires, 15 years after the Belfast Agreement it has finally dawned on some people that we needed to deal with the past. That is where it becomes difficult and especially in the current atmosphere impossible.

The politicians shuffle about looking forward to 2014 with nothing on their minds except the New Year elections and their coveted seats in Councils, Stormont and Westminster. They will go to the electorate worried only about what percentage of the vote their party’s will get and not in what state the country is.

The Peace Building Industry and experts will trawl out pieces of other truth recovery programmes from the four corners of the world and they will construct their own academic masterpiece of how we will get to the truth. The Victims Groups are diversely split as to how to deal with the past and these politicians, the peace building industry  and the Hass Talks give them a false dawn that they will somehow see years of a process that will see ex combatants queue up in some “dock” to give the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. No matter how much one may sympathise with their position it is not going to happen. Buzz phrases like “limited” immunity etc . . . are phrases from Fantasy Island.

The Truth! Whose truth is it anyway? Will the Paramilitaries from either side tell the truth? Will security forces, politicians  British and Irish Government’s tell the truth? Will individuals participate in any process that exposes them to prosecution, persecution or even “limited immunity”? I cannot see any former combatants from either side queuing up to take part in any process that leaves them as individuals and their families exposed to persecution or prosecution. Victims themselves have no collective strategy for dealing with the past. They even disagree on who is a victim and who is not thus creating a hierarchy of victimhood. If hanging was still possible some would want people hanged and I can understand that.

I believe that ex-combatants would in many cases contribute to a collective response to victims coming from the RHC, UVF and UDA organisations but with the passage of time, change of leadership, feuds and many past leaders and combatants dead I don’t think there could be a collective response that would satisfy many victims. Therefore the creation of this imaginary ‘Dealing with the Past’ process only deceives victims and creates hope, expectation which will be more painful and hurtful when it falls short of the mark.

What of the future, our children and grandchildren? Are they to be constantly held hostage to a past for which they had no responsibility? Even the remote prospect of an elementary process would involve a decade of recrimination and persecution that would be of no benefit to victims, wider society and certainly not to future generations. In any negotiations it is not what you want but what is achievable.

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About Author

William 'Plum' Smith is a former Red Hand Commando prisoner. He chaired the 1994 Loyalist ceasefire press conference and is currently writing a book on the life of Loyalists in prison .


  1. I think that you hit the nail on the head with your statement on the hierarchy of victims, in truth all of us who lived through the troubles are victims at many levels, and whose truth is the acceptable truth. One thing I know for sure, unless someone builds a time machine we cannot change the past, so lets take the opportunity to change the future by stepping out of our victim suits and putting on suits of hope for the future.

  2. 3,300 murdered no prosecutions – convictions over 3,500 murdered- blown to bits men womem children, babies, killed – why and what for? 47,500 injured why what was the point? How many deals have been done by state, themselves alone, and the clowns who pull the strings. There will never be a truth commission- shameless, could not tell the truth love the power to much political football fudge ,why would they ever tell what dirty things that they did for control.

    ” more to the point votes, over lost lives this is what really counts, money matter, empire building !!!!most “Ruthlessness”

  3. yes – the obstacles are enormous – the sad part is that there could’ve been a time in the past to legitimately address claims on all sides but the governments weren’t willing to allow it. Plum is right that no one would risk testimony why would they and what does limited immunity mean anyway? Soldiers, govt operatives aren’t included in the mix here because they are given immunity. the Brits have never come clean, will never come clean about their role in exacerbating the divisions in two communities for their own benefit. I recall talking to the son of a man who was killed in the greysteel massacre – his words: i know who killed my daddy, I’ve seen him. He’s an old man now. Do i want him to go to jail? No but I want to know why it happened. Sad to say, but that 100 year embargo is to ensure that all are dead and dead. The future is bleak if we can’t honestly deal with the past and that includes those in power who called the shots. IMHO

  4. The sad thing coming out of all this is quite simple, politicians here were given a mandate in 1998 in the form of the Good Friday Agreement. A democratic referendum on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland, even with all its ills the bar was set for the sake of our children to move forward. It is quite clear 15 years on and as we enter into election mode for 2014 we have been denied the chance to move beyond conflict related issues while the politicians from both sides play out a regular sham fight to ensure their positions for themselves and in some cases their families in places of work in Storming assembly and councils throughout the province. Playing to the hawks is a dangerous political game to play especially with the current situation we find ourselves in. While conflict raged no one could hear the compromise for the sounds of bullets and bombs and to a certain degree the noise of today’s environment, as plum rightly says is having the same effect. It looks like we will be hostages of our past until such times as politicians can see further than the next election campaign which sadly for us is like a revolving door. Well done Plum for a thoughtful and composed article.

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